With Assassin’s Creed III, the story of Desmond Miles came to an end. We’ve been with the young man since the very beginning, and we watching him grow right before our eyes to become the savior of mankind. It was supposed to end then and there, and yet here we are with a new entry to the series: Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag.
Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag
Developed by Ubisoft Montreal / Published by Ubisoft
Available on the PC, PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One and Wii U. Reviewed on the PS4.
*Review copy provided by Ubisoft.
Should the series died with its main protagonist, or is it back with a vengeance?
In Black Flag, players take on the role of Edward Kenway. Dreaming of a good life that he could provide to his newly-wed wife through the get-rich-quick promise of piracy, Kenway becomes a pirate, which quickly leads him to become entwined in the never-ending war between the Assassins and Templars.
Without giving too much away, I can safely say that Black Flag’s story is one of the best in the series, mixing a good old swashbuckling adventure tale with the deep lore of the Assassin’s Creed universe. Kenway’s transformation from a selfish pirate to a hero is an enthralling one, and the bright and varied cast of characters, from legends like Blackbeard to original characters like Adewale do a great job at setting the impressive atmosphere featured in the game. The voiceover performances in the game also add to the experience and are fantastically done, breathing life and personality into characters that could easily fall into comical territory. This game features some of the best pirate performances to date.
But what’s a good story if the gameplay sucks? Well, you’ll be glad to know that Black Flag features some of the tightest gameplay in the franchise to date, and adds so many new things that it’s also the freshest one in the series since Assassin’s Creed II.
The first thing you’ll notice is that you’re no longer trapped in one big location, such as what was seen in previous entries. Instead, players are treated to a slice of the Caribbean, complete with various islands – both big and small – that you can visit when you gain access to a ship. Each one is unique and incredibly detailed, with hundreds of trees, sand, rock formations, and more. It’s gorgeous stuff and it’s insanely fun to explore these locations instead of running through the same old villages over and over again. Some of these locations hold missions, while others serve as hiding places for hidden treasure and other collectables.
Speaking of ships, they make a triumphant return this time around, as you’ll be piloting Kenway’s Jackdaw for a good amount of time in the game. In addition to sailing the open seas, you’ll be able to engage rival ships with the traditional tools of the trade, such as the broadside cannons, ram, and swivel guns seen in Assassin’s Creed III, and new weapons like heavy shots, mortars, chain shots, and more. As you can very well surmise, naval combat has gotten quite an upgrade, and it’s amazingly fun to take to the seas and engage with any ship that’s in your path. Adding to the pirating chaos is that once a ship is weakened, Kenway and crew can also choose to board the ship, and after fighting off some of the surviving crew, can keep the ship for Kenway’s fleet, use the wood and metal for repairs, or lower the series’ signature wanted level, which can also affect you while at sea this time around.
Going crazy at sea and ransacking everything in sight isn’t without purpose, however, as the game features a deep upgrade system for the Jackdaw. By collecting elements that can be gained by taking over other ships, like metal, wood, and cloth, players can either strengthen their ship in various ways – cannon power or hull armor for example – or decorate the ship by crafting new sails and figureheads. Striving to improve your ship in order to take on larger ships is a crazy addictive feature that’ll you’ll be spending a lot of time with, and thankfully it isn’t boring.
Remember the fort missions from Assassin’s Creed III where you had to infiltrate and take down the flag? These side-missions reappear in Black Flag, but now involve the Jackdaw taking down naval forts piece by piece before going to land and hunting down the man in charge. These missions range from easy to pretty difficult, and really test player’s skills as well as the strength of their ship.
Also new is the ability to hunt down creatures in the open sea and deep dive into sunken wrecks. Hunts are pretty simple, though they can be quite challenging at times. Kenway gets into a small boat and arms himself with harpoons, and it’s up to the player to fling them at the moving creature. These creatures aren’t still targets though, and swim away after being harpooned and try to take down the rowboat, so players have to continuously throw harpoons (of which there is a limited amount) in order to stop them in their tracks and kill them before they destroy the boat. Just like raiding ships, hunting is also used for upgrading, but instead the upgrades are for Kenway, like weapon holsters, health upgrades, and more. Hunting on land also makes a return as well.
Then there’s also deep diving, which tasks players with going into the water and retrieving treasures. It’s not as easy as you’d think though, since Kenway has a limited amount of air, and plenty of predators lie in wait, like sharks and eels. Thankfully, players can hide amongst debris or seaweed, and collect air using barrels dropped by your crew members. It’s a new mechanic that’s very welcome, and provides some really thrilling gameplay moments.
When it comes to land, Black Flag plays just like its predecessors. You play as Kenway and take him around exotic island locations, like Kingston, Havana, among others, as you complete missions on your quest to get rich and find out what’s going on between the Assassins and Templars. Every element you’d expect from previous games, such as free-running, free-flowing combat and story-based missions makes a comeback, albeit with a tropical make-over. You’ll be facing off against privateers and other foes appropriate to the era this time around, and its good fun thanks to more weapons, more guns, and some minor improvements to the gameplay systems and menus that makes things much more fluid this time around.
In addition to the story missions, there’s also a lot of stuff to do on the side lines. There’s a bunch of collectables hidden around the world that you can acquire, like animus fragments, documents, treasure maps, bottles, and more, and side missions like assassinations, Assassin quests, Ship hunts, managing Kenway’s fleet, etc. There’s literally a ton of stuff in this game, it’s so entertaining it’ll keep you busy for hours on end.
And that’s only about Kenway, because the signature real-world gameplay also makes a comeback, although not as you remember. Without giving away too much, you’ll be navigating the real world through a first-person viewpoint, and find out what’s going on by hacking computers with feature some neat little mini-games, including one inspired by Frogger.
Finally, the game also features the return of the excellent multiplayer mode, which has players from around the globe hunt each other down in an arena full of clones, and team up as a wolfpack to hunt specific targets. While these modes have some small, new additions, the gameplay remains mostly intact and plays just like you remember it.
While the game is top-notch and is definitively one of the best in the series, there’s unfortunately a couple of issues that still haven’t been fixed, such as the fact that Kenway sometimes stops and crashes into obstacles that he would normally be able to climb over, and he occasionally jumps in the wrong direction, leading him to unintentionally fall to his doom. While these are minor and don’t really get in the way of gameplay, they can occasionally lead to frustration and a restart or two. And then there are some graphical glitches, like weird ragdoll physics and pop-up. Nothing too big or drastic, but present nonetheless.
In the end, Black Flag could have easily succeeded and stood on its own without the Assassin’s Creed moniker, and yet by carrying the name it makes it the best entry in the series yet. If you’re a fan of the franchise or just love pirates, you owe it to yourself to check out this gem of a title.