Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag Review
I will freely admit that I had my reservations about Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag . I loved last year’s Assassin’s Creed III and had no qualms about rewarding Ubisoft for a fantastically ambitious project, recognizing the many upgrades and additions to the gameplay that made it a positive step forward for the franchise. However, I also wanted the developers to take a year off, as this “annualization” concept puts a definite strain on innovation. And yet, I’m once again astonished by the product that Ubisoft can deliver in such a short span of time.
The latest AC adventure is polished, massive, engaging and it does feel relatively fresh. This freshness begins with the visual presentation, which is lighter, airier, and somehow even more expansive than ever before. There was a certain severity with ACIII’s landscape and towns, which was appropriate given the surroundings; it was the birth of a nation. However, the setting in Black Flag is brighter and more free-wheeling, and it encompasses the full romantic majesty of the legendary pirate lifestyle. Character detail isn’t overly impressive but the animations, world design and effects are all exquisite and a joy to behold.
Once again, Ubisoft has recruited super talented voice actors, and the result is another authentic-sounding production. Combine the stellar voice performances with a fantastic, sweeping orchestral soundtrack that beautifully complements the era, and you’ve got an audio tour de force. Some of the effects can get a little muddled, especially when engaged in naval combat, but the breadth of the sound presentation is nigh-on unparalleled. There’s just so much going on; ambient effects, voices, realistic background noise in a port or city, and the high-powered, explosive combat all contribute to the game’s high level of gloss and immersion.
With a huge emphasis on freedom, the high seas await. Many a port town is ripe for exploration and even plundering, and there are seemingly countless islands to discover. The sun shines brightly on a deep blue ocean, and one can’t help but fall in love with the golden age of piracy. Those living in such a hectic and uncertain time (circa 1715) give the game a richness of personality, and the lighter tone lends the adventure an almost bemused countenance. It’s as if the entire game is saying— “Pirates may be violent criminals, but they also know how live the carefree high-life!”
The Caribbean is full of places to explore, and the team did a great job of implementing eye-catching gameplay sequences that keep you riveted. The bright, sunny locales are a perfect contrast to the more somber tombs you may find in your travels, and those colorful characters are everywhere. The highly accomplished graphical presentation allows you to really feel the sin-packed lure of piracy, and you’re constantly surprised at the sheer size and scope of this wonderfully appointed virtual world. You can explore for hours upon hours upon hours , often getting sidetracked and losing any focus the main narrative may have.
The latter may sound like a drawback and for some, maybe it is. But it’s the default flaw in any giant game that encourages so much player freedom: If you’re the wandering type, you probably won’t remember each step of the plot with perfect clarity. That’s just because there could’ve been a good five or six hours between plot-advancing missions; optional exploration is quite addictive, after all. It’s all the more addictive when you realize that your adventuring is rarely thwarted; there’s very little that’s stopping you from doing whatever you wish to do. The map is wide open from the start, and each and every area seems to have something new and interesting to offer.
Whether you’re going fishing for fun, raiding a loot-laden tomb on a hidden island, tracking down another clue concerning the Templars, acquiring various missions, or simply sailing about, you will always enjoy your travels. That’s part of the problem, though, because it really does put the main storyline on the back burner. Black Flag embraces freedom more than any series installment yet, but it does this at the unfortunate sacrifice of a cohesive plot. Oh, it’s there , but it’s not especially impressive and it’s just complex enough to demand your attention…more attention than you’re willing to give it, given everything else the world has to offer.
As for control, there have been minor issues that have always plagued these games. For those who understood how the free-running mechanic works, these are only minor eccentricities. For instance, the character might run up a wall when you never wanted him to, or he may leap in a direction otherwise intended. This is an unfortunate downside of the movement mechanic, which is actually quite complex when you stop to consider the number of points the character can interact with in the environment. Once you’ve firmly grasped every aspect of the control system, you probably won’t have too many problems. But irritating miscues do remain.
Furthermore, there are other hitches and glitches that are most commonly associated with huge open-world games. There’s so much going on, there’s so much to do, that perhaps this is unavoidable. Those who appreciate the massive scope of Black Flag won’t say that such glitches cripple the gameplay, but they can certainly have a detrimental impact on your experience. If you go out of your way to do all the side missions and fully explore this lush, vibrant world, it’s almost inevitable that you’ll encounter some sort of bizarre hang-up. You just have to accept that this will happen.
While the series has always thrived on single-player immersion and a long, involved narrative, the multiplayer element has become more appealing over the years. Playing online offers a refreshing respite from the realm of shooters and multiple various modes encourage highly strategic thinking, timing and tact. This really is about assassins versus assassins; it’s about blending in, devising the perfect plan and stalking your prey with grim, deadly precision. It also reminds you just how challenging it is to tackle human assassination targets as compared to AI targets. Speaking of AI, it’s a little better than it has been in past franchise entries, but there’s still room for improvement. It should be one of the team's next-gen goals.
The combat is better than ever, as the free-flowing system full of brutal attacks and awesome counters really shines. Add in the naval combat, which was excellently implemented in ACIII and greatly expanded upon in Black Flag , and you’ve got a dynamic game that utilizes vastly different forms of fighting. From sneaking and stabbing to cannons aboard ships to all-out duels, this one has it all. Yes, you will likely find many of the combat situations – and the missions of which that fighting is a part – to be familiar. But that familiarity isn’t a bad thing, especially when there are some refinements and the overall production values are so high.
The story isn’t exactly amazing, but it’s interesting that Ubisoft has opted for something a bit more…well, fun. There have always been very dark, historical overtones in each AC entry, and many of the emotionally dramatic sequences have been gritty and visceral. This time, to go along with a brighter general design, we get a storyline that is a bit more straightforward; protagonist Edward Kenway is mostly about the loot and living large. There are still a few expected twists and turns involving the age-old Templars but rather than delving deeper into that element, this game focuses more on the concept of piracy. And let’s face it, that’s not complicated. It’s a nice change of pace, but I worry that they may permanently toss aside the plot intricacy I’ve always appreciated.
Lastly, there are several intriguing first-person missions that take place outside the Animus. These are all optional but they provide us with a really cool alternate perspective: You’re a new Abstergo employee who is working to create an entertainment product based on Edward’s life. This eventually leads to clues about future series entries, and involves plenty of sinister corporate business. However, when you’re done, you’ll definitely want to get back to the gargantuan, brilliantly devised virtual world within the Animus. It’s begging for you to explore every island, town, and expanse of ocean, and that’s precisely what keeps you coming back for more, again and again.
Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag is a rousing, spirited display of glorious adventure on the high seas. The world is your oyster and you’re gonna take advantage at every turn. It’s more about freedom and less about following a linear plot (which some may like), and the AI and control still isn’t spot-on perfect, but it’s tough to ignore the inherent vast, epic grandness. It’s one of those games that draw you in with its unparalleled atmosphere and style. Despite any aforementioned reservations I had, I’ve succumbed to the lure of the legendary pirate lifestyle and if you play Black Flag , you might end up in the same boat. Get it? Get it?! Sure ya do.
The Good: Beautifully detailed and designed world, full of vibrant life and possibilities. Great voice performances and music. A diverse array of missions and activities. Memorable action sequences. All forms of combat are a joy to experience. Overall epic size and scope.
The Bad: Lingering control and AI issues. Story is brighter and more fun, but lacks some of that expected depth.
The Ugly: “A pirate’s life may be ugly to the moralist, but it’s just plain gorgeous to the hedonist.”
Waiting an extra couple weeks so I can get this for the PS4, knowing that I could be playing it now, is one of the hardest things I've ever done.
Ben you gave Black Flag a much higher score than I expected. A lot of other reviewers bashes on the lacking story and the fact that the game play itself feels outdated.
I haven't seen a lot of that from other reviewers. The game has surprisingly rated a bit higher compared to AC3, from what I can tell. I say that's a tough feet for a series that can't stay down for longer than a year.
That's crazy, a PS3 version scoring higher, never would have seen that in the dark days.
While I'm not much for pirates, the idea of exploring exotic landscapes in search of stuff seems like a lot of fun for this kind of game. I look forward to eventually playing it.
I hadn't planned to buy this but with Watch Dogs being delayed, I decided to give it a go. Good to know that I'll get some fun out of it.
Same ,wanted to wait for a price drop but with no Watch dog , i ll have to pick this up along Kz .
As much as my opinion is loathed here as I'm sure, I kinda wish this wasn't an Assassins Creed game. It would have been a fantastic pirate IP that could have stood alone and became its own yearly franchise as I'm sure Ubisoft would turn it into. Fun game though. Still wish Haytham could have gotten his own game.
ok after a little humble pie its nice to actually be surprised about something for a change.
first GTAV, and now this.
this is actually oh so much better designed than AC3 was, i mean most missions are so open and theres tons of foliage and crap to hide in to avoid enemies.
i wish they were a bit more varied though, almost everything is hiding in bushes wish there was more trees you could leap from.
its funny how the assassins creed part, well at least the gameplay, is almost perfected.
but the new parts, the pirating, well oh dear.........
ship battles and the inventory are so poorly thought out.
for instance the mission im up to the game constantly keeps telling me to upgrade my ship before i can enter it and btw im only like 4 hours in.
but to upgrade my ship i need 150 metal to upgrade the guns, and 100 for the armor.
VERY few ships have 1 metal on them, let alone 150!
and the only ships that do have ANY metal on them are military ships, ie the basic equipment i have aint gonna last long against them.
i tried taking down a level 23 ship last night the lowest level ship ive seen carrying metal, and i lasted literally less than a minute!
so you need to upgrade your ship so you can complete the main mission, but the only way to do that is get more metal, and the only way to get more metal is to take down military ships which require me to upgrade my ship but i cant because i dont have enough.
well thought out that was!
they should of made it that beginner upgrades require the much more commodious and easier to board wood or cloth, than build it up once you have become stronger.
hard to say anything about the story yet because i havent gone very far, but so far whats pulled out was really interesting.
it was nice to see that video detailing the events after AC3 hopefully you learn more about that.
it would of been nice to watch a refresher video though i really need to go back and watch the ending again ive forgotten everything that happened.
one thing ive always hated about AC though is how scattered everything is.
this just seems even worse, i mean you can find heaps of background info but you have to wonder around abstergo hacking every single PC, thats not exactly fun.
wish it was more confined like AC1 you had vidiks PC and lucys that was about it, not a whole building with hundreds of PCs per level!
i just wish that all the pirate naval crap which is dragging down the rest of the game would be removed.
thing is it could actually be ALLOT of fun, and would make a perfect game in its own right.
the Caribbean is a stunning place to explore, but its not suited to a AC environment.
AC has a architectural beauty, not a tropical beauty.
AC has massive landmarks and expansive rooftops to run around on.
not palm trees and tiny villas.
people have been BEGGING for a decent pirate game for years!
but these 2 things just really dont meld with the AC universe very well, i really wish ubisoft would rip them out and create a all new ip which will do these mechanics justice.
not just shoehorn them into something that totally does not suit it!
Last edited by ___________ on 11/5/2013 3:27:04 AM
So, it's the closest that Ubisoft has gotten to the quality of ACII to date? Nice. I should have played the rest of the series by the time I get a PS4, so this will be a priority purchase then.
Also, LOL at the CoD ad. It's massive and only has XBOX logos. I'm like... on PSXE, really?
The ad service PSXE uses basically splashes game related things on game related sites, but even if that weren't the case Microsoft would buy up the space knowing it's a Sony site.
Go to Amazon and run a search for PS4, Xbox One is right there. Run a search for Xbox One, there's no PS4. They are evil.