Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag – Review

Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag – Review

It could be a safe thing to say that the franchise has been dipping as a whole in the past couple of years, and ultimately many people were let-down with Assassin’s Creed III, myself included. And, that let-down led me to be extremely skeptical of where Assassin’s Creed IV was going, and what it was going to be in general. I lost faith in the developer, and ultimately had the mind-set that the game was going to be a pile of wank from day one.

It’s a really uplifting feeling to be wrong about a game, and especially for a game to smash the stereotype/stigma that yearly releases are complete crap, and rushed puddles of mess. Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag is quite possibly the most surprising game I’ve played this year, as well as one of the only games I’ve played that’s proven that yearly releases in a franchise doesn’t have to be a bad thing.

Edward Kenway; one bad-ass motherfu*ker

When I popped my copy of the game into my console (playing on my Xbox 360; so this is from a last-gen standpoint) I had immediate feelings of bad memories of the last game in the series (III) and was worrying that everything I disliked from that game would transition over to Black Flag, and weaken the experience as a whole. However, it seemed that my mind & opinions pulled a complete 180 within the first few moments of the game, and I was immediately pulled into the world and its characters. Something that no Assassin’s Creed title has done before, and I have to praise it for that.

The environments are extremely vivid, and gorgeous especially on a last-generation console (however, I can’t see much of a difference on the Xbox One, or PS4. I’ve seen both in action). The water, vegetation, and the all around aesthetic of the game is the most visually appealing in any Creed title yet, and that could be the main reason I’m so drawn to this game then the past iterations. I always felt the environments in the series were stale, and boring but they seemed to change everything with that in Black Flag, and it feels like an actual world. Complete with aquatic life, and jungles filled with predators, and other animals (I realize Assassin’s Creed III had wild-life, but everything involving that is a step-up in this title). It’s just an experience in itself to explore these remote islands, jungles, and shipwrecks just to see the wildlife, and of course…avoid man-eating sharks. Which these moments being extremely tense, and terrifying. There’s nothing like swimming through seaweed to avoid detection from sharks, and quickly running out of air and having to make a dash for the surface, all while avoiding being eaten. It’s scary tense.

*cue Jaws themesong*

We’re also given a character with Edward Kenway who has turned out to be my favorite protagonist in the series thus-far, and a major improvement over Connor Kenway in the last game. Edward is the grandfather of Connor and is just an all-around more enjoyable, and better written character than Connor. Edward is a pirate, and he isn’t a kind soul by any means. Doing whatever he can for a bit of coin, but he also deeply cares for those he loves and that’s commendable. He still has a human side, behind the dark demeanor. There’s a lot of character progression in the game with Edward, and towards the end it starts feeling like he begins to accept that his way of life is bad, and is working towards changing it, and becoming a better person for the sake of those he’s lost, and wronged. I have to applaud the developers on this one as he may just top Ezio on being the best protagonist in the series, and that’s saying a lot.

I like Edward so much that I’d really like to see him make a return in Assassin’s Creed 5 (if we get one), and considering how Black Flag ends (I’m pretty much an hour or two away from finishing it). However, he’s so well-written and enjoyable as a character I wouldn’t want the risk of more games possibly weakening his story, and experiences in Black Flag. Just a small concern I have, and that I had in the past regarding Ezio, but luckily his stories and what-not turned out okay even though Revelations was also a slight disappointment.

Everything feels improved this time around, with a few minor exceptions that I’ll touch upon later. The combat definitely feels better this time around, and everything seems to transition much more smoothly then past iterations, even though I feel like the counter-system is a little more difficult to use, and I usually just end up mucking up the counter, or throwing the dude to the ground where as in past-titles I’d just counter everything, and dispatch enemies with relative ease. I imagine this was done from a development standpoint to make the countering not so over-powered which would make sense. I just find countering to be a bit more difficult to do this time around, or I’m just rubbish at the game.

Naval combat also feels improved than what we had in Assassin’s Creed III. The ships control much better, and it doesn’t feel like a chore when I have to battle an enemy ship in the open sea. I love those moments, and it makes me feel like a true pirate. Especially boarding a ship, and wiping out the crew after immobilizing the ship. But, it’s a neat little feature that once you defeata ship, and wipe out the crew you can repair your ship using parts from the defeated ship, lower your wanted level, or even add the ship to your armada to complete “Naval Missions” where you send out ships to complete missions, and bring back money, or loot. Similar to the Brotherhood missions in the previous games. That just feels completely bad-ass, however some stuff in the ship related side of things is a bit of a letdown, mainly having to tail ships for some missions (boring as knobs) and upgrading your ship for some missions. I’m all about upgrading, and making you the best you can be, but for some reason having to upgrade my ship to complete some missions really bums me out as for me, making money in this game feels like a bit of a grind. If anyone has tips, let me know. Whaling, and hunting seem like good alternatives!

Free Willy…er nevermind.

From a plot stand-point, the game feels disconnected from previous titles in the series, and more-like Ubisoft wanted to try to make a pirate game (which they succeeded in, mind you) and isn’t as strong as previous games in the series, but still offers up an interesting tale, with interesting characters. Quite possibly the most interesting characters in any Creed game yet, but again just feels detached from previous games in the series, except for a few key points. On the plus side, it makes the game feel like the perfect stepping stone for people who want to get into the series.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I can’t completely praise the game as there are a few hiccups that really bother me, and I’ve mentioned a few already. The other thing that really sticks out for me, and bothers me quite a lot is how repetitive some of the main missions feel to be. Now, I know this is to be expected in the series, but when I have to tail a target every few minutes (kind of an over-reaction) it just gets extremely stale, and I’m rushing to get through it, and get back to the fun, meaty parts of the game. Sure, you’re playing an assassin and have to tail your targets, listen to their conversations, and then kill them but I’d just like some alternative methods in taking them out. Maybe, give bonus points or something to players who do tail, and the like but also give the players the option to take them out how they see fit. Don’t want to tail that prick for five minutes? Take him out from a distance using pistols, or kill a guard, take their disguise, and murder them that way. Give variety to the ways we track down, and kill targets, not just the boring “tail this dude” method.

In the end Black Flag is quite possibly the strongest game in the series, and as it stands right now it’s my game of the year for 2013. We have brilliant characters, an extremely gorgeous, and captivating setting, fluid & enjoyable combat, and just wonderful environments to explore, and some very tense moments during ship battles, and shark attacks. This game is extremely fun to play, and is the perfect stepping stone to get someone into the series even though it’s sort of disconnected from previous games in the series, and that could probably bother some people if they hadn’t touched the other Creed games, but for someone like me I would of felt perfectly okay not playing the other games, and just getting my hands on this one.

It does have flaws like I mentioned, with a some-what weak storyline, and lots of repetitive tasks but the good of the game outweigh the bad, and for me it’s quite possibly the best Creed game yet, and in the end completely washed the bad taste out of my mouth that Assassin’s Creed III left and proved to me that a yearly release for a series doesn’t have to be shit, and can be quite good.

So, go pick up Assassin’s Creed IV. It’s a great game, and everyone who calls themselves a gamer needs to play-through this game. Definitely a great swan-song for the Xbox 360, and PlayStation 3 but also a great game to bring in the Xbox One, and PlayStation 4. Whichever platform of preference you have, the game will deliver. Especially for people who have never been big on the series before, like myself. The game delivered, and is one of the best games I’ve put in my console.

But, if you’re one of those people who prefers a number rating then I’d give Black Flag: 8.5/10


Justin Ross

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