Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag Review


Last year’s iteration of the Assassin’s Creed series felt fresh and rejuvenated thanks to new gameplay mechanics and an entirely new backdrop. This time round we’re off to the high Caribbean seas to stab and pillage in the salty boots of pirate assassin, Edward Conway, but has Ubisoft retained that freshness or is this one booty that’s better left buried?

Game: Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag
Developer: Ubisoft Montreal
Publisher: Ubisoft
Reviewed on:

AC4 box

Leaving Desmond Miles’ story mostly behind, Black Flag pits you as an unnamed Abstergo Entertainment employee as he takes up his first day on the job. Abstergo’s entertainment side of the business sells memories to the general public, and your job is to build one based on the pirate Edward Conway’s adventurous life. Welshman Conway is completely refreshing as neither a true Templar or Assassin; he’s a privateer looking to make as much money as he can to improve his life back home, playing both sides to his own advantage. Early on in game he assumes the role of an Assassin’s Brotherhood member to collect a payment and soon finds himself embroiled in the conflict.

The whole story is a far more relaxed, light-hearted move from a series that was often bogged down in weaving plots and heavy conspiracy. It suits the 1700’s Caribbean backdrop to a degree by allowing humour and even some mild self-awareness to creep into the fray – it’s definitely a far more accessible title for players new to Assassin’s Creed. Whilst the plot itself isn’t particularly mind-blowing, there’s enough about the setting and the likeable protagonist to keep you engaged throughout.

Ubisoft expand on the great visuals from Assassin’s Creed III to make possibly the most ‘I wish I was there’ game of recent times. The world is well realised as the cliched pirate-dwelling Caribbean seas you might see in your favourite Disney movies and certainly doesn’t lack appeal, or detail for that matter. The contrast of lush jungle, sandy islands and crashing ocean waves have been implemented excellently, and same goes for the sound design. The wind howling on the ocean whilst your crew sing out a jolly shanty is a great example of the immersive detail that’s gone into Assassin’s Creed IV in all departments.

There’s a few gripes with camera angles, especially when you’re embroiled in combat on ships and viewpoints fail to keep up with the action, often leading to you getting hit by off-screen enemies. I also found the game erratic from a frame rate perspective at times, stuttering in some places and super-smooth in others – although it’s hardly surprising for a cross gen title. Regardless, Black Flag is beautifully detailed, a joy to traverse and particularly large in scale. You’ll be impressed with what Ubisoft has managed to squeeze out of your Xbox 360/PlayStation 3’s CPU, no doubt.

As per usual the free running, climbing and stealth mechanics are all here as expected. The streamlining to a single button of the free running elements from the previous outing still serve the game well, but also still carry the same flaws. You’ll often be bouncing off and scaling objects you merely wanted to navigate around, all of which becomes more frustrating in perilous moments when movement needs to be spot on. Combat also remains similar, but swordplay is somehow more enjoyable in this swashbuckling scenario than it has been in past games. The scripted movement and timed button presses still make for an authentic looking (and satisfying) visual experience, but if there was one negative it would be that when the screen begins to get a little crowded, the combat mechanic does lose a little of its strategy.

The open-world is huge with a plethora of places to explore and booty to collect. Once in game you’ll soon acquire Conway’s ship, the Jack Daw, that you’ll be sailing around the seas using the enjoyable ship combat and controls from Assassin’s Creed III. The Jack Daw can be upgraded to take more punishment and deal more damage, as well as host a number of crew members that can be obtained through freeing them from capture or simply hiring them at towns. Swinging onto another ship after pummeling them to a halt allows you to engage in swordplay before looting them – it’s completely thrilling and serves as only one example of how well the game provides the correct tools to really immerse yourself in the role.

Whilst there’s plenty of waypoints to aim for, Black Flag captures the open-world feel best when you’re at the ship’s helm sailing freely, exploring for no other reason than to create your own adventure – it’s a great feeling. Want to hunt sharks and wales? Skin island creatures for crafting upgrades? Search for buried treasure using maps found on skeleton corpses? There’s a lot to get lost in, but it feels relevant and more meaningful than the previous game because the setting is so inviting, and task placement more focused. Assassinations can still be picked up in towns that further the core gameplay of older titles, too. Planning your route to a target without being seen is a minigame in itself and can be mulled over forever if you’re a perfectionist with your work.

The main missions are good without being as spectacular, especially compared to the opening ship sequence that is full on action. Alot involve familiar tasks such as the tedium of following a conversation through a street whilst not being seen, or finding a key holder in a large area using your Eagle vision (highlights NPC movement) to open a locked area. The first 5-6 hours are spent generally introducing you to all the different facets available in game, albeit with a good pace that was missing in Assassin’s Creed III.

Once again multiplayer also makes a welcome return. Assassin’s Creed’s take on stealthy hidden-in-plain-sight gameplay still serves as a refreshing alternative to a generation of deathmatch shooters. As before, the goal is to find and assassinate other human players as they attempt to blend in with NPCs and despite very little change to the way multiplayer works since last year, it’s still a nice addition to the package. The single player could honestly keep you going for 30+ hours if you’re dedicated to all it has to offer, so once both multiplayer and single player are combined as a package, there’s a lot to keep you going.


Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag is not only my favourite game of the series, but it might be the best pirate game I’ve played full stop (and yes, I’m a massive LucasArts fan). It still retains many of the bugs and annoyances that’s plagued its predecessors whilst the story is a little cliched and uninspiring. Despite those negating factors you’ll still gleefully accept the role you’re asked to undertake, especially in a setting that’s so entertaining and one that’s backed up with such impeccable presentation to boot. For those with an aversion to random bouts of swashbuckling, and/or having their timbers shivered, it’s probably best avoided. For everyone else, it’s time to set sail.


Began gaming on a hand-me-down Commodore Vic-20 back in the mid 80's and hasn't managed to shake the addiction yet. Genres of choice include anything that contains bullets and/or bouncy balls. Has been known to dabble in Destiny content.


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