Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag Review

5 min

Over the last five years, Assassin’s Creed has catapulted itself into the conversation of mainstream blockbuster franchises with the likes of Call of Duty and Halo.  Last year Assassin’s Creed III sold over 12 millions copies, cementing the future of the franchise and proving how monetarily significant the saga of Templars and Assassins had become.  With a movie in pre-production and cosplayers donning white hoods for every convention and expo under the sun, Assassin’s Creed feels like it is currently at the height of its power.  Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag capitalizes on it’s place in time, delivering a game that falls perfectly within the frame of what fans have come expect from an Assassin’s Creed title, while providing lighter and more adventurous tone than last year’s uninteresting drama.  Assassin’s Creed is back, for better or worse.

Traveling back nearly seventy years before its numerical predecessor, Black Flag tells the story of Edward Kenway, the grandfather of last year’s protagonist Connor, and father of last year’s antagonist Haytham.  Black Flag represents the second chapter in what Ubisoft has dubbed, “The Kenway Trilogy”, exploring the family’s ties to the war between Templars and Assassins.  Edward is an instantly likeable character with his desire to be a self-made man, his pluckish rogue qualities ring as endearing while he battles the government elite in the West Indies.  Kenway dreams of the open seas, but looks to achieve his desired wealth on his own terms, privateering (a nice word for pirating) instead of enlisting in the King’s navy.  Edward could not differ more than his stoic grandson, cracking wise while staring down death and brushing off authority while seeking his own best interests.  Edward feels more akin to a young Ezio in Assassin’s Creed 2, unafraid of death or any man.

While the writing in Assassin’s Creed IV is a marked improvement compared to last year’s effort, the game is unimpressive from a technical standpoint.  The gameplay is the biggest culprit here, as Assassin’s Creed’s unrefined mechanics continue to be bafflingly mediocre, especially the free-running mechanic that occasionally has a mind of its own, running Kenway up ladders instead of ducking into alleyways, or jumping down to kill a random guard instead of the desired target.  The controls have felt subpar since Brotherhood and after three yearly iterations, it has become obvious that the teams at Ubisoft have no interest in fixing these issues, most likely because of time constraints due to the yearly release schedule.

Assassin’s Creed is most fun when you are participating in activities that break the mold of the standard franchise entry.  The game has a plethora of side missions and distractions, which feel devilishly addictive.  Collectibles range from the expected chests and animus fragments, to more inventive options like shanty songs that you chase through the terrain.  While searching for the hundreds of collectibles you can unlock the game’s maps through the eagle-perch synchronization, but also by taking naval forts.  Naval battles are the highlight of the game, offering a rush that is completely unique to this entry.  Seafaring battles begin when Kenway opens fire on opposing ships, then a mix of different tactics come into play based on your opponent.  The variation between enemies and terrain keep stategies feeling fresh and the player off-keel.  Firing cannons and steering your ship is fun, but it is in the boarding of a ship or the assault on a fort that the game truly wins you over.  Leaping between ships, hurdling over walls is a blast and captures a primal quality of these battles.

The ocean offers more unique experiences, such as the disgustingly authentic whaling mini-game, deep sea treasure hunting, and other more secretive experiences.  On land you can hunt templars and animals, pick up assassination contracts, recruit crew members, steal from plantations, and find other small experiences with which to waste countless hours.  Assassin’s Creed IV feels like it has more secrets, collectibles, and side missions than any of its franchise brethren.  It can be overwhelming, but if someone is looking for longevity, it is a blessing as you could drop more than 40 hours into completing the game.

The world in which you can spend all of these hours is a mixed bag.  Part of Assassin’s Creed IV’s dated look could be contributed to console fatigue.  Assassin’s Creed IV might be tapping out all of the power in it’s respective consoles, while still looking mediocre.  The rough graphics and poor terrain does not feel like the fault of the PS3 or Xbox 360, it feels like, even with next-gen power, Assassin’s Creed IV might not be a very pretty game.  Even for the scope and size of Black Flag, the foliage looks flat and made of cardboard, character’s are clipping all over the place, the whole game has a plastic feel to it.  Simply traversing the world can turn into an annoying hassle as player get stuck on geometry or fail to position themselves to interact with the correct trigger.  These are all the same bugs that Assassin’s Creed has been dealing with for half of a decade and Ubisoft seems incapable to solve them.

After you get past the graphical shortcomings, the rest of the world is quite beautiful and delivered with the convincing immersion the Assassin’s Creed series is known for.  What is lacking in graphical prowess is made up for with ambiance, the people going about their business, the song being sung in a tavern or on your ship, the crew’s response to their captain coming on board.  The wildlife that populates the wilderness of Assassin’s Creed IV feels more dynamic and more natural than the frontier of Assassin’s Creed III, incentive is given to hunt the surrounding wildlife as different hides and bones are needed for upgrades.

For as likeable as Edward Kenway is, the story that he is a part of is exceedingly dull.  Edward bounces between working for pirates with hearts of gold and the stoic order of Assassins.  The two storylines dance around each other, almost representing the dual life that Kenway is forced to live, however this duality rings false.  The story revolving around what the narrative calls, “the pirate republic”, is eye rolling, painting the pirates of history to be misunderstood heroes.  Aside from the original game, Assassin’s Creed has always been scared to paint history with varying shades of grey, always needing to distinguish a clear evil and good.  It feels like Ubisoft is afraid to make pirates like Blackbeard unlikeable, they get close, but Blackbeard never crosses a line that he so often crossed in history.  The story of Kenway’s pirate relations is not great, but the story involving the Assassins is even worse.  The ongoing war between Assassins and Templars, while mildly interesting originally, seems to be stretched so thin it is almost painful to watch.  Silent and solemn Assassins contrast with paint-by-numbers evil Templars, each chasing after a special artifact that can unlock great power.  The previous sentence could have been used to sum up every single game in the series . When the science-fiction elements of Assassin’s Creed are understated the games fair much better, but Assassin’s Creed IV shows its hand early, with Kenway instantly accepting strange factions and powerful relics.  The lack of Desmond is refreshing change of pace, but every time you disconnect from the Animus, you also disconnect from the action.  Unfortunately, these latter complaints are something that have become a staple of the series.  Even Ubisoft seems to recognize that the strength of the game is in it’s immersive historical context, but stuffs more Assassin/Templar nonsense into the narrative out of some feeling of tradition.

This is the biggest compliment and complaint about Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, it feels like an Assassin’s Creed game.  The series has always chosen interesting time periods and populated them with incredible detail.  When you think about the third-person action-adventure historical-fiction genre, there is no other developer or publisher attempting to make games like Assassin’s Creed.  This brave choice in time period and historical background is what is great about Assassin’s Creed, and what is great about its fourth numerical effort.  However, complimenting the franchise’s consistent successes are its equally consistent flaws.  The level design can tunnel you through the experience, the narrative can get bogged down in garbage, and the technical aspects are subpar.  These are all afflictions that come from getting a tight two-year window for release.  Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag delivers everything you would expect from from the franchise, both good and bad.

Leave your vote


Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Log In

Forgot password?

Forgot password?

Enter your account data and we will send you a link to reset your password.

Your password reset link appears to be invalid or expired.

Log in

Privacy Policy

Add to Collection

No Collections

Here you'll find all collections you've created before.