Review: Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag

The best thing to return in ACIV is a huge sense of fun…

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After three years of the Assassin’s Creed II based adventures of Ezio Auditore fans of the series were ready for a change of scenery so last year’s jump to the New World for Assassin’s Creed III was a welcome step on. It would have been reasonable to assume that this year’s game would be another visit to Connor’s American adventures, but no, it’s all change again, with a new lead character and a whole new map. As the title suggests it’s time to grab a parrot and strap on your cutlasses, because we’re going a-pirating, me hearties. Arrr!

You’re thrown in at the deep end as Edward Kenway (Connor from ACIII’s very cool and hard Grandad).  The game kicks off with a sea battle which leaves our new hero shipwrecked on a tiny island. A brief adventure there leads to Edward stealing the identity and equipment of a dead assassin and making friends with a stranded merchant who will prove a useful ally for the rest of the game.

From there it’s off to meet the Governor of Havana as the imposter assassin and before too long Edward’s up to his neck pitting himself against the evil schemes of the nasty old Templars again. In that regard it’s business as usual, with a huge main plot that guides you smoothly from one mission to the next. After Havana there’s a stop off in Nassau and then it’s time to board your ship, raise the Black Flag, and begin your pirating in earnest.

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The gameplay is very familiar and probably closest to Assassin’s Creed II with a range of smaller environments to visit, explore and return to later. The much improved freedom of movement in natural locations developed in Assassin’s Creed III has been carried forward, and, apart from a few minor tweaks, the intuitive control system remains unchanged. The designers have wisely decided that anyone picking this up has probably played Assassin’s Creed before and have chosen not to bog things down with lengthy training levels, opting instead for little helpful tutorials as and when they’re needed.

The best thing to return in ACIV is a huge sense of fun. The Ezio games had a nice line in tongue-in-cheek dark humour but this was sorely missing from ACIII. Perhaps it was trying too hard to be respectful of the native American characters or the momentous historical events covered by the game, but it all felt a bit po-faced and humourless. Fortunately this time we’ve got pirates! And the fun is back in spades. The distraction of the sea missions in ACIII turned out to be a massive unexpected treat. Thank God someone noticed, because these adventures are as important as the land missions in ACIV. There’s a hell of a lot of satisfaction to be gained from shooting up merchants, boarding ships and getting into scrapes with the rock-hard warships of the British Navy.

This is a huge game. To put that in context you don’t really get properly started on the main adventure until you’ve acquired your ship and raised your flag as a pirate captain. To do that you’ll have to complete missions in Havana and Nassau which is likely to take about three hours even if you only stick to the main story. The thing is you’re likely to be tempted off the main path by some of the many optional side-tasks you’ll encounter on the way. If you were to clean up Havana and Nassau before you moved on you’d be looking at well over ten hours on the clock and have still only achieved about 8% game completion. This is a big, big open world to get lost in. Unlike ACIII, where the additional challenges felt a bit tagged on, in ACIV going off-piste is just as fun and addictive as the main game. And there’s a hell of a lot to do. First off there are about 70 separate locations. Some are big islands with towns and cities on, some are smaller settlements and, when you get out on your ship, there are endless tiny islands and outcrops to scavenge for equipment and treasure. And as for what to do, you’re absolutely spoiled for choice. You could accept extra assassin missions, collect treasure or messages in bottles. You could hunt down all the Animus fragments to open extra content in the ‘present day’ sections, find sea-shanties for your crew to sing while you explore the Caribbean. You can go hunting on land, on ship you can catch sharks and whales, you can look for secret bases and hidden caves. There are also areas and wrecks that you won’t be able to access until you gain specific upgrades later in the game. The list goes on. There are hundreds of things to keep you busy long after the main adventure is finished.

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Like all its predecessors ACIV looks absolutely gorgeous. The environments are meticulously designed and look fantastic with the Caribbean setting giving a much needed splash of colour again after last year’s cold and wintry New World setting.

At heart Assassin’s Creed is very much a single player game but if you are yearning for a multiplayer experience Ubisoft have catered for you by throwing in a decent range of extra online content. There are custom game modes to experiment with and the ‘Wolfpack’ co-operative options provide a range of mini challenges. As in previous years it’s all solid, without be spectacular, but will certainly wile away a few hours if you fancy a break from the solo game. Sadly there don’t seem to be any Naval battle options which seems a bit of an omission given how important they are to the single player experience.

It isn’t quite perfect. There are still a handful of missions in the main story that are a bit dull, and one or two where the difficulty level suddenly leaps up unexpectedly, leading to a few too many frustrating restarts. However, these minor niggles aside, this is an excellent game. Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag mixes the best features of the earlier games, ups the enjoyment with a massive dose of swashbuckling fun, and turns out to be the best title in the series so far.

Reviewed on PS3

Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag
Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag
Date published: 2013-11-17
9 / 10
 
 

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