Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag Review (PS3, Xbox 360, PS4, Xbox One, PC, Wii U)

black flag

Assassin’s Creed IV Black Flag is an incredible smart, sprawling sequel that places great emphasis on freedom and fun while trimming down most of what weighed down Assassin’s Creed III’s ambitious yet uneven adventure. Ubisoft’s turn with the genre begins in 1715 and presents it with a much appreciated lighter tone that isn’t afraid to make fun of itself in the name of an entertaining journey.

Sailing across the massive expanse of The Caribbean, exploring the amazingly detailed and unique islands, and finding yourself swept up in all sorts of swashbuckling trouble provide some of the most rewarding and memorable game-play I’ve ever experienced in an Assassin’s Creed title.
No matter which platform you decide to experience Black Flag, you can rest knowing that it was by far one of 2013’s greatest looking games ever. The current gen versions (PS3 and 360) build upon the framework set by AC 3 by showing well-lit tropical locations and amazing water effects on the open seas. I’m sure the next-gen versions are just as great but I can’t say much on those versions as I didn’t experience Black Flag on either systems.

Black Flag learns from AC3’s initial ten hours of hand holding and it makes up for its predecessor by throwing you into the action right away. After an exhilarating first mission, in which you find yourself in the shoes of Edward Kenway, grandfather to AC 3’s Connor, the word blossoms and allows you to explore its waters. The size of the world is mind-blowing and the fact that its brimming with fun and rewarding activities made me want to just forgo all the main story missions and just explore. This is when Black Flag is at its best.

It treats you like an adult and allows you to explore the vast open word at your hearts content. Do you want to discover every nook and cranny in Kingston in search of Templar secrets? Or would you rather buy a fishing boat and hunt every manner of sea creature alive and use those spoils to create upgrades for your character? Perhaps you’d rather just sail around and take in all the visuals. Black Flag is all about embracing the freedom and making your own path through the world.

The freedom to tell your own unique story also follows to the multiplayer which refines the cat-and-mouse game-play that was originally introduced in Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood. You have to blend in with your surroundings and try to trick the other players into thinking you’re just an NPC. This provides moments of tense and entertaining mayhem. Just like in previous versions, it’s a much welcome alternative to the typically standard team death match that exists in most forms of multiplayer in other games. Yet its not substantial enough to keep coming back to.

The series signature feeling of momentum is also back, and its better than ever. It does an amazing job of marrying the vertical urban-city based travel of Assassin’s Creed II, with the energetic frontier movement of Assassin’s Creed 3. Having said that, Edward will still occasionally disobey your commands by jumping erratically off rooftops and climbing up walls that you may not have wanted to traverse. These nuances combined with the possibility of having to restart a mission when the guard you’re trailing to acquire a key suddenly disappears; are few and far between.

Ubisoft wisely avoided the convoluted plot that the franchise has become. Instead Black Flag’s plot paints a much lighter tale that embraces and harkens back to the classic pirate stories. I thoroughly enjoyed the fact that Edward is so unlike his Assassin relatives. He’d much rather pursue money and other riches than worry about the war between Assassin’s and Templars. This makes it a refreshing change of pace which was desperately needed.

The lighter tone is also evident in which Black Flag seems to be less violent then past entries. Death animations are short yet sweet, with a shockingly lack of blood. Ubisoft’s restraint here is amendable considering the series is centered around going stabby on your enemies. This restraint makes the combat more fun and less serious. Then again, Black Flag does fall back on the series favorites, like forcing you to tail a victim at a safe distance for minutes on end while he or she spouts out exposition.

While some might find the story a little heavy handed and underwhelming, I was surprised to at how much I enjoyed my time out of the animus. These first person missions are optional yet are really great. As a new Abstergo employee, working on developing an entertainment product based on Edward’s life, you’ll soon find yourself taking part in a bit of corporate espionage that will ultimately lead you on to discover a whole lot of secrets in regards to the future of the series.

The immense freedom and open world of Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag kept me happily occupied longer than any game in the series so far. Even though the main story isn’t the strongest, at no point was I ever bored or didn’t have anything to do. The simplistic nature of sailing around the Caribbean and going wherever I please is a complete joy. Black Flag delivers a world overflowing with gorgeous places to explore, cool secrets to discover, and a whole lot of enemies to stab.
Final Rating: 9/10

Contributor: [Adam Buskirk]

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