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Assassin's Creed 4: Black Flag
Assassin's Creed 4: Black Flag

PC | PlayStation 3 | PlayStation 4 | Xbox 360 | Xbox One
Genre: Action
Developer: Ubisoft Official Site:
Publisher: Ubisoft
Release Date:
29th October 2013
Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag Review
Review By @ 06:31pm 29/10/13
(Please note, this review was written from a PS4 review build of the game, we're currently updating our "Platform Reviewed" tags - Ed.)

As a fan of the Assassin’s Creed series from the problematic but potential-ridden series opener, it’s been a rollercoaster ride of triumphs and tragedies as the franchise has progressed. Assassin’s Creed II improved upon the samey gameplay of the original, but the series stuck with protagonist Ezio for another few games and started to dip in quality. While fellow AusGamers critic Naren loved the hell out of the last entry, Assassin’s Creed III, that was the game that solidified my disillusionment with the franchise. For the record, Naren and I had some pretty spectacular yelling matches about our respective stances.

So, despite my affection for pirates (anyone else remember Sea Dogs?) and my hopes that this franchise I once loved could right itself, I went into Assassin’s Creed IV Black Flag with seriously curbed expectations. But what a blast it turned out to be.

You play as Edward Kenway, a Welsh privateer-turned-pirate whose simple needs revolve around the pursuit of personal fortune. Instead of starting off with backstory or games of hide-and-go-seek, Black Flag throws you right into the thick of an explosive sea battle. A couple of on-screen prompts remind you of the basics of combat and movement before you’re slashing away at landlubbers that are trying to take your ship. Awesome.

As it stands, to talk too much more about the narrative would ruin the overall satisfaction of a story arch that has neat twists right from the opening scene and persists throughout the game. Suffice it to say, Kenway effortlessly establishes himself as the best leading man in an Assassin’s Creed game, as his selfish goals are tempered by an increasingly compelling backstory that’s simple yet effective at offering believable depth to his motivations. The supporting cast also fares quite well in terms of three-dimensional characterisation, which makes for some emotionally impactful dramatic beats as the story unfolds.

The future elements, unfortunately, don’t fare as well. Yes, they’re back, and with a different character to play as, but they feel incredibly disconnected from the main storyline, and not just because of the jarring first-person presentation. Ubisoft deserves kudos for taking these future sections less seriously, with some funny tongue-in-cheek moments, but they still feel more intrusive than inclusive, and disrupt Kenway’s far more interesting plight. Outside of being told to walk between various objectives, there’s some disjointed puzzling that takes place in the sci-fi sections, too. Thankfully they don’t outstay their welcome and last no longer than 5-10 minutes.

At around 13-hours long, the main campaign is well worth playing through from start to finish, but you’ll be hard pressed to ignore the plethora of piratey distractions off the beaten sea-path. Whether you’re rolling on the ocean or free-running on the sand, Ubisoft Montreal seems to have made it its mission to throw as many temptations as possible at you to lure you away from whatever you were hell bent on achieving. There’s a range of side missions on land, properties to buy or upgrade, bar brawls to be had, and random Englishman to assassinate. Even chasing collectables has more meaning this time around, particularly with the inclusion of musical sheets that add new morale-boosting tunes to your crew’s repertoire that they sing whenever you’re taking the Jackdaw out for a spin.

The Jackdaw is the name of Kenway’s ship, and you’ll soon learn to love it as much as he does, despite the fact he named it after a less-than-intimidating bird (something he cops flak for from his pirate chums). Hard-earned or blatantly stolen booty can be used to upgrade many aspects of the look of the Jackdaw, but you’d be mad to visually customise before you’ve turned it into a fully armed and operational vessel that can hold its own against hostile fleets or Man o’ War ships. You can bolster the defences, up the number of cannons associated with your deadly broadsides, add a crippling ram, and/or bolt on deadly additions such as front-firing mortars or rear-facing fire barrels.

A handy spyglass lets you appraise potential enemy combatants, with an at-a-glance red rank rating often determining the wisdom of whether you should open fire on a better ship in open waters. Of course, just because they’re a higher rank, doesn’t mean you can’t take them down if you introduce some good ol’ fashioned strategy into the mix. Ship battles play out at their best when you’re taking on tougher odds and/or greater numbers and, in turn, the rewards are usually sweeter. Damaging a ship enough makes it vulnerable to boarding, but you can just as quickly choose to scuttle a sinking tub to quickly secure half of its cargo.

A successful boarding grants full access to cargo-claiming rights, but can also be used as a bit of a cheat if you board a ship in the middle of a battle. The other ships rather kindly back off and wait until you’re finished boarding before reengaging you in combat. Considering that a successful boarding affords three options—repair the Jackdaw, spare the crew to lower your wanted level, or send the ship back to Kenway’s fleet—it’s an easy way to avoid Davy Jones’ Locker if you find yourself cannon-ball-punching above your weight, or if you drift too close to a hostile fortress that have a tendency of sinking the Jackdaw within moments.

Seafaring distractions aren’t merely limited to aggressive options, either. You can jump into a longboat and hunt a variety of big fish with your trusty harpoon. As you might imagine, these sea creatures don’t take too kindly to being harpooned, and these events can quickly descend into a fight for your life as the ocean-dwellers take the fight back to you. Black Flag has borrowed the crafting system from Far Cry 3, as besting sea creatures or killing animals on land rewards the player with a variety of skins that can be used to improve Kenway’s armour, ammunition pouches and the number of straps he has for carrying flintlock pistols.

Hunting treasure on land is complemented by exploring underwater wrecks that can reap piles of plunder once you’ve purchased a diving bell for the Jackdaw. Underwater air pockets and barrels help keep Kenway’s lungs full, and there are also underwater threats, including sharks whose hungry gaze must be broken by hiding in patches of seaweed.

As far as visual fidelity goes, it’s damn impressive on the PlayStation 4 for next-gen early adopters wondering whether a current-gen upgrade purchase is worth the dosh, or for those searching for a great example of eye candy in a third-party next-gen title. Better still, it’s also a practical inclusion in more ways than just enhancing immersion, such as in stealth sections where stalking prey through vegetation makes for seamless Kenway tracking as he shifts through the flora. The sound design is also incredibly immersive, and the voice acting is top notch.

It’s a damn shame that some of the longstanding detractors of the Assassin’s Creed series rear their ugly heads again in Black Flag. Enemies still insist on attacking one at a time, but this con is somewhat countered by the inclusion of a variety of enemy types that force you to switch between offensive and defensive tactics. Hard-fail stealth missions are still a thing and they’re made even more frustrating by the fact that the free-running system still tends to sporadically glitch out at the most inconvenient times, sending you back to the last checkpoint after Kenway decides you wanted him to jump off a roof, instead of mantle to the next level. Sigh.

The greatest compliment I can afford Black Flag, though, is that I wanted more at the end of my time with it. With such an expansive map to explore and so many alluring distractions on offer, this is the kind of game a player could easily lose scores of hours exploring. I didn’t get to take the multiplayer for a spin, but the solo experience has enough on offer to ensure engagement long after the credits roll on the main quest.
What we liked
  • Best interpretation and setting for the Assassin’s Creed recipe
  • Kenway is the most fully developed protagonist yet
  • Fantastic narrative and fleshed-out characters
  • Alluring temptations abound everywhere
  • Damn pretty and immersive
  • Ship combat is incredibly addictive
  • An epic world with a great mix of activities
What we didn't like
  • Occasional parkour stuff-ups (at the worst times)
  • Enemies still attack one at a time
  • Jarring future sections
  • Enemy ships patiently wait while you board another
We gave it:
Latest Comments
Steve Farrelly
Posted 07:26pm 29/10/13
I'll hook anyone who gets the news title post to this review, and its other meta component to the review subject, with some sweet swag :)
Posted 07:32pm 29/10/13
Rainbow beard? more colourful than Black Beard!
Posted 07:52pm 29/10/13
Wouldn't that be a gay pirate?
Posted 08:35pm 29/10/13
"Best interpretation and setting for the Assassin’s Creed recipe "

Are you jus saying this because ACII+BH+Rev got stale? Or is it actually more awesome than renaissance Europe?
Posted 08:36pm 29/10/13
When you said anyone, did you mean the first person? Because yeah... Rainbows, for the fashionable pirate.

Alternatively, since it's light, not paint, you could mix them all to get White Beard.
Posted 08:50pm 29/10/13
Either the rainbow beard pirate from Barney & Friends, or an online piracy joke?
Posted 09:49pm 29/10/13
Sanguinicus, I'm saying it because it is, in my opinion, the best application of the Ass Creed formula. The free running stuff works really well during boarding encounters, as well as on land. Sure, buildings are more spread out, but this adds to the challenge of the game, as you have to make use of bushes and trees (as in Ass Creed III) to stalk prey.
Posted 10:32pm 29/10/13
any updates on when this comes out on PC?
Steve Farrelly
Posted 11:27pm 29/10/13
Yeah anyone. No one's landed the meta joke (think more secondary than anything, like there are two elements that combine). Also, make sure you read Nachos' review!
Posted 11:31pm 29/10/13
Qmass, its set for November 22nd I believe. I'm super excited for this Assassin's Creed, three was a real let down with a terrible shoehorned story that could have ended hours ago and still hold the exact same premise. Hopefully the ship combat has been improved upon, absolutely loved that.
Posted 12:39am 30/10/13
Any clues Steve?
Posted 01:15am 30/10/13
Is the joke that none of the colours are the actual beard colour?
Posted 01:15am 30/10/13
"High Seas" 'cos Black beard has 'joints' commin' out of his hat!
Posted 01:42am 30/10/13
This might be way off, but is it a reference to sam and max, the alias of the money laundering guy!? Cause ubisoft are laundering with the same product over and over lol.

Or a reference to the guy who wrote a computer virus whos alias was both roygbiv and pirate roberts from princess bride
Posted 01:44am 30/10/13
I'll also probably get it on pc, when it's on sale. Could be OK, but not too keen after ac3.
Posted 02:31am 30/10/13
Was this a competition?
Posted 02:38am 30/10/13
ROYGBIV Beard + black beard = grey beard?
Posted 09:16am 30/10/13
Is it to do with your 'obvious affection for pirates' ?
Posted 09:59am 30/10/13
All that glitters ain't gold? There's a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, or something like that?
Steve Farrelly
Posted 11:27am 30/10/13
All of these are awesome! (Not the one I had in mind though), will let you all know tomorrow what's up
Posted 11:29am 30/10/13
Is it to do with Muppet Treasure Island? Kermit the Frog sung Rainbow Connection, and was captain of the ship in Muppet Treasure Island. The ship is called the Hispaniola, which I can't really relate to anything.

It was mentioned in the review that you can find musical sheets that add songs to your crew. Is one a muppets song, possibly either Rainbow Connection or one from Muppet Treasure Island, such as "Sailing for Adventure" or "Professional Pirate".

That's as far as I can get on this train of thought.
Posted 02:54pm 30/10/13
It's not to do with the color tags used for the platforms at the top of the review is it? All the colours there are part of/and can be used to make the spectrum of colours in the rainbow(aside from the PS3 and 360 tags) with the backing element being the yellow. Something to do with a spectrum of platforms not that the current gen consoles are out?
Posted 04:20pm 30/10/13
-Occasional parkour stuff-ups (at the worst times)
this has been a problem since the first game, and Ubisoft has spoken about it a few times.

-Enemies still attack one at a time
In ACIII this was not the case. Sometimes two or more enemies would attack you at once, allowing you to do a double counter.

-Enemy ships patiently wait while you board another
Well what do you expect? You board the ship while your ship is getting blown to hell. Also if they are allies they would risk hitting their own ship. It would be VERY hard and ultimately turn people off boarding ships if it was like that.
Posted 05:14pm 30/10/13
Richard of York gave battle in vain.

Richard of York (Richard Plantagenet, 3rd Duke of York, 6th Earl of March, 4th Earl of Cambridge, and 8th Earl of Ulster) was a great-grandson of Edward III.

Characters name is Edward.

In Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood, there is a contract mission in London City, entitled "Pretenders", where the Assassins are to "naturally" kill Margaret of York on behalf of Henry VII.

Any closer?
Posted 06:03pm 30/10/13
sir isaac newton was alive during the golden age of the pirates and he also created his own colour wheel (ROYGBIV). within the lore of the assassin's creed games, the templars used and influenced his works to further their own goals.
Posted 07:54pm 31/10/13
So, Steve, what's the go here? How far off were we all?
Steve Farrelly
Posted 05:53pm 01/11/13
Man, a lot of you came up with some cool s***, even cooler than what my original was. I'll contact the people who did well in this privately and send some swag your way :)

The ROYGBIV thing was me poking fun at pirates named after beard colors. The fact that there are seven colours and seven seas was like bonus meta. That was it. Sorry for not making it as deep as most of you did, but hey, that's why the AG community rules!
Posted 12:07am 02/11/13
haha none of us were even close.
Posted 12:28am 02/11/13
The first reply was rainbow beard, which is dead on.
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