Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag – Review (PS4)

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Truth be told the Assassin’s Creed series has been in decline of late. Brotherhood was, for me at least, the pinnacle of the series with both Revelations and Assassin’s Creed III failing to live up to expectations. With Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag can Ubisoft arrest the slide?

Following the conclusion of the Desmond Miles arc in Assassin’s Creed III, here you take control of an unnamed protagonist who has taken a job at Abstergo Entertainment – a games company making historical adventures. As you’ll know if you played any previous titles, Abstergo is a present day front for the Templars. What’s interesting in this title is that you are able to spend time exploring this game company even outside of missions that require you to do so. Your job involves using the Animus (a kind of virtual reality system) to explore the memories of people from historical periods. And for Black Flag that is 18th Century pirate Edward Kenway who also happens to be the grandfather of Connor, the player character from Assassin’s Creed III.

The first thing I noticed was a definite shift in tone following III’s bratty Connor and serious story. Black Flag indulges in pirate lore and gives us a cast of fun, if at times sinister, crew mates and fellow pirates. Kenway falls into the assassin fold rather than trains for it but luckily he’s a natural and it doesn’t take long for you to get caught up in the ever raging Assassin v Templar war.

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The game looks fantastic, certainly on the PS4 version I played, with rich foliage and some great water animation. The cutscenes are nicer looking versions of the PS3 ones and you have to consider how much better Black Flag could’ve looked if it wasn’t spread across current and last generation consoles.

Naval combat returns from III but here it is a main facet of the game, rather than the side activity it was in the previous game. It is easy to get to grips with and I found that I hardly used fast travel while playing – I was happy to just sail wherever I needed to go. As well as enemy ships you will now also need to deal with storms and you’ll have the option of deep-sea diving and hunting sea life, if you wish to.

Gameplay has been refined and Kenway’s animation is much improved. There is still the odd bit of clipping through objects but for the most part you are in a believable recreation of the Caribbean of the time, even docking in Kingston for a while 🙂 Climbing has been streamlined and there are lots of ways to take on enemies. Life bars on assassination targets, one of my biggest criticisms of Assassin’s Creed III, seem to have been fixed. So you can sneak past guards and kill a target without raising the alarm.

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Main missions still have a similar feel to others in the series and are beginning to show their age a little at this stage. For example, there must be a more interesting way of structuring an eavesdropping mission? For the most part I didn’t mind the missions but there were a few that felt a little repetitive and unoriginal. There are a wealth of side missions and collectibles though, so you won’t be short of something to do if you want to take a break from the storyline.

To be honest that’s how I’d recommend playing Black Flag. If you just mainline the main story you’ll likely find yourself doing a lot of similar stuff whereas doing some side stuff between each mission, for me at least, kept the game fresh and I had a thoroughly enjoyable playthrough that clocked in at just shy of 24 hours. If you don’t like the Assassin’s Creed games there isn’t much new to tempt you into picking up Black Flag but if you haven’t ever tried a title in the series this is the most accessible yet.

Multiplayer returns and once again has been refined. I really enjoy the mechanics and gameplay of the online offering for the Assassin’s Creed games and it finally seems like Ubisoft have ironed out some of the kinks that were frustrating users previously. The main one is the stun mechanic which now seems to be less about confronting your attacker and is now deployed when you’ve fooled your pursuer into killing the wrong target.

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If you spot a pursuer now your best bet is to try to escape and if you can’t do that your other option is to trigger a ‘contested kill’ where you are still assassinated but your killer only gets a handful of the normal points they would for a more subtle kill. This remains, for me, one of the most underrated online offerings out there.

Overall Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag is a step in the right direction for the series. The lighter tone and interesting setting make for a very fun experience. As I mentioned above you can’t help but wonder though, if this version was held back slightly by being across all consoles (including PS3 and last gen hardware). I can’t wait to see what Ubisoft deliver this year with Assassin’s Creed Unity, which is only being made for the new consoles.

Rating: 8/10

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