Assassins Creed IV: Black Flag Review

See the seagulls? We must be close to land.

See the seagulls? We must be close to land.


I extend my spy glass and examine a small Sloop sailing across the rolling waves of the unconquerable ocean. Somehow the spyglass tells me that there are exactly 32 rum barrels and 12 sacks of sugar aboard – A decent haul. Suddenly, my forehead smashes against the ships’s wheel as the boat plows into a sandbar. Its hard to multitask. Cursing and groaning, my crew gather themselves and we cast out toward the small boat on the horizon.

We catch the Sloop quickly, and despite the pirate flag fluttering on my ship’s mast and the rag tag group on my deck, they don’t seem to suspect anything. Perfect. The crew is tense as they wait for me to give the order. Three, two, o- Suddenly, a hump back whale penetrates the crystal waters with the grace of an infant falling from a changing table. “WHALE!” I shout in surprise, causing the men to fire our sixteen cannons prematurely. The cannons plop harmlessly (not taking into account the long-term negative affects of iron cannonballs eroding in the ocean) into the water. The merchant gets wise and raises full sail, darting away from us at full speed. Tonight the men will have to go to bed thirsty.

This game is about pirates. There is no doubt about it. From the deadly blue seas, to the deadly swamp crocodiles, to the deadly wenches with their deadly diseases, Ubisoft has crafted a wonderful Pirate simulator. Read on for our review.

The Story

The game follows the usual pattern of Assassins Creed games – You aren’t an assassin, and then you are, and then you become a really good one. You question your enemies, then your allies, then yourself, and then ultimately society as a whole. You assassinate your first target, then assassinate more people again and again and again until all your questions are answered. Conveniently, all of your assassination targets die just slowly enough to slip you cryptic but useful information before their deaths. At one point I assassinated a target with a hand grenade – but he was still in good enough shape to tell me about the Templars. Neat! The game is a lot like the show LOST – Questions are answered with more questions, and then half of those questions are ultimately answered by the end in a way that makes sense if you don’t really think about it.

That being said, there are some really special characters introduced by Ubisoft, and your character, Edward Kenway, is the most likable assassin yet. In typical Assassins Creed format, your young fun-loving main character matures and grows into a master assassin as those around him die. While this format has been used several times by now, Edward makes the whole thing seem fresh again. Kenway is a perfect combination of intellect and unpredictable pirate.

Not only is Edward smashing, but the supporting cast is incredible as well. Blackbeard is super awesome, and none of the other characters seem overly two dimensional (save Anne Bonny, who just kinda leaves her boobs hanging around in a pirate corset.)

Unfortunately developer Ubisoft has still opted to keep the “present day” sequences, however these have become much more interesting. If you aren’t familiar with how Assassins Creed blends present day and the past, let me explain. Instead of actually being Edward Kenway, you are a worker in the present day who uses a machine called the Animus to read the DNA of Subject 17, a human from a long line of Assassins, to tap into the memories of his fore bearers to better understand the actions of the Assassins and Templar to ultimately locate the “Pieces of Eden” which are supremely high-tech items left by a precursor race of super alien humans that were once here but got annihilated by a super solar flare or some other natural disaster. Really simple stuff. Luckily you only actually get out of the Animus three or four times, which disrupts the flow of the game much less then the previous Desmond Miles sequences (yawn!).

This game features the most robust and heartfelt characters of any Assassins Creed game. If you thought Ezio was charming, just wait (though I still enjoy saying “Ezio Auditore da Firenze” in the sexiest Italian accent I can muster.)

Oh look, a coin!

A nice dosage of badass.

The Gameplay

The land-based Assassin’s Creed game mechanics are largely unchanged. Climbing is more natural and fluid than ever, and tree climbing has been improved. There is a new weapon you receive that lets you rope enemies and pull them towards you/ hang them in trees, but its largely a fun gimmick. The best tools you get this time around are your pirate pistols, which deal large amount of damage and make for some really cool combos while locked in a tense battle.

Countering is still the key to combat, so timing is all important. This may grow old for some, but I find its a good system overall – the combat isn’t very in depth because of this, but the kills that come from countering make you feel insanely cool. The game also has the Assassin’s Creed curse of being repetitive; every island has the same events, be it an assassination contract, a shanty you want to chase down, or treasure chests to open; but the world is so immersive that I actually didn’t mind exploring and collecting. This is a huge collectibles game, so getting a full completion won’t be easy.

The true game mechanic that sets this Assassins Creed apart from the rest is no doubt the sailing. Ever wanted to be a pirate? Of course you have. Everyone wants to be a pirate. Well good news; Ubisoft has nailed the open ocean. Over the course of the game you build up the power of your ship, and take on larger and larger ships. This adds an interesting RPG element, as you will get annihilated by bigger boats in the beginning, but will eventually rule the seas. The most fun I’ve ever had in Assassins Creed (not including playing the intense and incredibly deep tavern games) was boarding boats. After bombarding your target’s boat enough, you have the chance of pulling your boat along side and commanding a take-over. After slaughtering enough of their crew, the boat and resources aboard become yours.

Ubisoft nails the whole “open world” feel, and having a huge ocean at your disposal is very cool. Ubisoft has hit a perfect balance on sailing times; you feel like you are actually in the water long enough to travel, but you aren’t sailing for long enough to get bored. It took me an incredibly long time to beat the campaign simply because I found it impossible to stop pirating ships. Nothing is more satisfying than stealing 10,000 reales from the Spanish royal fleets.

The pirate life for me!

The pirate life for me!

There are also diving missions now, which allow you to swim through a terrifying ship wreckage while avoiding sharks and manta eels. These missions are incredibly stress inducing, and as a human who fears tight spaces and deep water, these were the bane of my existence. You are tasked with hiding in kelp to stay away from the sharks, but this is essentially impossible to do; especially because a manta eel is hiding in every other kelp bed, ready to snap at your arm and hiss like a true child of Satan. Despite the frustrating underwater sneak system, its pretty neat to swim around and find treasure. Its definitely a gimmick to change things up, but its more or less an appreciated one.

The Sound

The first time my crew began singing a shanty, I got chills. The three-hundredth time, I sang along to every word in my living room. Sea shanties are the single greatest part of this game. There is nothing more immersive than watching your crew climb around your boat, singing a raunchy song that relates the sections of a boat to female genitals. Besides that, there are bird noises, and waves and stuff. Humans sound like humans and the town ambiance is dead on – at no point was I taken out of the experience by a bad sound clip; though there was one occasion when a British firing squad all decided to use the same “reloading” sound clip at the same time. It was an awkward echoing effect that sounded like a choir of demons was coming to get me, but that’s it.


Check out our Multiplayer impressions here – its a whole article in itself.

Menus and Other Wingdings

The main menu for Assassins Creed is very Windows 8. Minimalist boxes let you launch the story, multiplayer, U-Play, or downloadable content. Its clean looking and effective; no real comments there. A cool thing on the PS4 is the use of the touchpad as the map, which allows you to scroll and zoom by dragging your fingers. This is alright, but I found myself reverting to the analogue sticks when placing waypoints.

Something else I enjoy are the global rankings that randomly pop up while you play if you are connected to the internet. It was a nice feeling being in the “top 100 most feared pirates” for a few days after getting my PS4 at launch, but I have since slipped to top 5,000. Arrrgh. These don’t reward you in any way, but its interesting to see just how fearsome you are compared to other players.

Closing Thoughts

Assassins Creed is the best pirate simulator of the year. If you’ve enjoyed previous Assassins Creed games, then you should absolutely get it. The shanties alone make this game worth it, not to mention the insanely cool tavern games and the cutting edge tree physics that make them sway realistically.

We give Assassins Creed IV: Black Flag 7 Dead Guards out of 8.

Who put those there? ;)

Who put those there? 😉


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