Review

Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag

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As near as I can tell, general fan reaction to the Assassin’s Creed series hit its zenith with Assassin’s Creed II: Brotherhood and seemed to level out with Revelations, before taking a rather precipitous dive with the release of Assassin’s Creed III – a game that all but the hardcore fans found underwhelming.

It’s been a roller-coaster ride for this annually released open-world action franchise, but it’s a series that I’m very happy to see soar to great heights once more with Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag.

What You Need to Know

Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag whisks players away from the ‘civilised’ worlds of developing Europe and America to the much more lawless and free time period and location of the Caribbean isles circa 1715, this time putting you in the role of one Edward Kenway (grandfather to Assassin’s Creed III’s Connor), a man obsessed with wealth and success to the point of leaving his life in England behind to go on pirate adventures in newly charted waters of the known world.

The game is very much focussed on this solo campaign which takes place in an immense open world filled with islands and islets separated by vast rolling seas, over which you will travel with your ship which requires upgrades that allow you to access new areas, while the larger land formations are densely packed with things to do and missions to complete in a familiar third-person action perspective fitted with the series’ signature parkour traversal and staged combat.

All the while, you’ll be treated to some truly intriguing first-person sequences that tell an altogether different story set in the modern day as you discover that Abstergo Entertainment, essentially a videogame company using Edward Kenway’s memories for entertainment, isn’t everything it seems as the storied battle between the Assassins and Templars continues more fiercely than before.

The multiplayer component to Assassin’s Creed IV shouldn’t be dismissed, though, and offers a way to put your Assassin skills to the test against real players online, with distinct characters and upgrade paths to choose from.

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What’s New?

Compared to the naval battles and sea-based exploration of the previous game, Assassin’s Creed IV’s implementation feels a lot more fleshed out and complete. At any time you’re able to set sail on the high seas of the Caribbean or navigate through shallower waters while stalking (and outright obliterating) enemy vessels to claim cash and resources, with the chance to board these craft once you’ve conquered them to cut down any stragglers in a true-to-fiction pirate battle.

The developers seem to have thought carefully about how to best take advantage of the pirate themes and setting, too, with new activities like deep-sea diving (to look for treasure, naturally) and treasure map hunts to distract you, as well as the chance to hunt sharks and whales, test your piloting skills against rogue storms and waves, and destroy looming enemy-held forts able to sink you with a mortar volley, all in an effort to stamp your authority on the seas.

On PlayStation 4, Black Flag truly shines with extra graphical details like better water effects and shadows, as well as higher resolution textures and extended draw distance making the world feel that much more expansive. While the game looks great, I’m excited to see what the developers are able to create without being held back by previous generation technology.

What’s the Same?

At its core, this is still very much an Assassin’s Creed action game with buildings to climb, roofs to sprint across, ledges and poles to jump across and, of course, enemies to slay with those hidden wrist blades. Hunting and crafting makes a return here, too, with the chance to improve your equipment with different animal skins. It wouldn’t be an AC game without vantage points to conquer before ‘synchronising’ with your environment to uncover hidden loot and even more things to collect!

You’ll Enjoy Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag If You Liked…

… Any previous Assassin’s Creed game and their signature third-person parkour-style traversal.

… the naval battles of Assassin’s Creed III.

… sailing the seas in The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker and discovering secret islands and activities.

… venturing into the unknown in Star Control 2 or Mass Effect 2 while upgrading your ship to improve your chances of survival.



What I Liked

- 5.) Unlike previous Assassin’s Creed games, Assassin’s Creed IV began at a brisk pace with just enough intrigue to keep me invested in the world.

- 4.) The mysterious story of Abstergo Entertainment and Abstergo Industries’ involvement in the extraction of Edward Kenway’s memories for their own nefarious means is excellently told through the first-person and is a fun way to break the fourth wall of the series.

- 3.) The satisfaction of sizing up a larger, more powerful vessel after destroying a small fleet of surrounding ships and engaging in intense naval combat on the high seas is thrilling, especially when my strategic manoeuvrings and a few well-placed mortar strikes paid off.

- 2.) Assassin’s Creed IV is filled with genuinely likeable, sympathetic characters brought to life by outstanding voice acting and performances.

- 1.) The game’s world is truly immense, detailed and filled with side activities to take part in (accentuated by the extra graphical fidelity afforded by the PlayStation 4), with treasure hunting and deep-sea diving some of my favourite things to do (when not boarding an enemy ship).

Favourite Moment

Letting loose and sailing at full speed on an open stretch of shimmering water with blue skies above and an inviting tropical jungle island slowly emerging on the horizon, all while my crew belted out a swashbuckling sailor song in perfect harmony.

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What I Didn’t Like

- 4.) Despite other PlayStation 4 games running well without graphical oddities on my monitor and TV, I was puzzled to see noticeable visual ‘flickering’ over the entire screen in this version of the game. After a bit of research I tried dropping my PS4 resolution to 720p (as opposed to the current 1080p) and the flickering disappeared. Hopefully this will be addressed with a future patch.

- 3.) The feeling of freedom on the high seas (and while exploring) was sometimes jarringly cut short when entering into areas of the game ‘not available in the current memory’ (or basically not available until the game thinks you’re ready, or gated for story purposes), which tended to ruin the pirate fantasy.

- 2.) Assassin’s Creed IV continues to be plagued by awful missions involving chasing after enemies, tailing people at a distance and eavedropping on conversations – missions that, even when handled well, are some of my least favourite things to do in gaming. Ubisoft’s developers need to take a long hard look at how to replace (or improve) these in the future.

- 1.) Another plague upon the Assassin’s Creed franchise is the series-long twitchiness of the controls. Sometimes running in a straight line isn’t as simple as it should be as the character attempts to interact with people and other objects, and because of the automatic nature of navigation, he’ll snap to climbable surfaces and ledges that I didn’t intend to reach. I never feel completely in control when playing an Assassin’s Creed game, which very quickly becomes incredibly frustrating.

Least Favourite Moment

Seeing my character twitch from perch to perch as I tried to perform a simple jump manoeuvre from one ledge to another before losing control of him as he leapt to his death, cracking his skull on the ground far below.



What’s Extra?

Over and above the story-based campaign in Assassin’s Creed IV, there are months worth of side activities to indulge in (depending on your style of play), from collecting additional sea shanties for your crew to sing at you, dozens of opportunities to hunt for loot while diving under sea or exploring islands, lots of equipment to craft, weapons to buy and upgrades to fit to your ship, improvements to make to your own port town, forts to overtake by force…

If the solo side of things isn’t enough for you months from now, though, the game’s sixteen-player online multiplayer will become your home, with opportunities for deep character customisation and chances to hone your skills to perfection. As in previous games in the series, the multiplayer in Black Flag isn’t your standard deathmatch and requires patience, skill and the power of observation to get you through to victory. Then, if you get bored there, you can always set up your own custom games in the Game Lab.

The Bottom Line

While my previous gripes with Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag remain on PlayStation 4, it’s still an outstanding new entry to this fan-favourite open-world action series and the game I’ve been waiting for since Brotherhood, now accentuated by improved visuals on new generation consoles and further attention to graphical details.

It’s unfortunate that I can’t recommend it without hesitation due to my problems with the controls and a mission structure that waxes and wanes between excellence and tedium.


Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag was reviewed on PlayStation 4

Note: This review has been updated with features and impressions from the PlayStation 4 version of the game – read the original review over here.



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