Review: Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag
Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag is an incredible experience that has exceeded many expectations, while not straying far from its comfort zone. For a series that has made its name using terrain interaction and crowd mechanics, it has changed its focus away from busy cities and dense forests for the open seas in a risk that has paid off in pure gold.
Working as a prequel to the previous Assassin's Creed, Black Flag stars Edward Kenway, the grandfather of Ratonhnhaké:ton, a man who is determined to find his own fortune to make a better life for his family. Along the way Kenway runs into such fabled pirates such as Blackbeard and Calico Jack, but the story inevitably fails to utilize the cast in any meaningful way, even though it is presented wonderfully. Following the familiar pattern of simply hunting down those that have wronged you, Black Flag leaves little room for character development and ends up being a missed opportunity that would have otherwise been considered refreshing.
The number of things to do in Black Flag's world is simply astonishing, the number of optional objectives and random collectibles that can be found within the title can easily mount up to dozens of hours on top of the lengthy campaign. Sadly, the story missions are not always as varied as would be hoped, as it tasks you with having to continuously track random persons of interest for information, before you assassinate them.
While Black Flag does fall into some tired grooves, it does not bog itself down by trying to balance as many stories as it had in previous titles. This allows it to be a great entry point for those that want to pick up the series for the first time or those that jumped ship in the past.
A major driving force for anyone to consider before picking Black Flag up is the naval portion of the game. This is a game with a pirate theme, after all. Thankfully, what is here is substantial. There are vast open seas with many areas to explore, both above and below the water, not to mention the countless islands and hidden locations to find. Simply being a pirate at sea is the most enjoyable features I have found in any game this year, whether it is the relaxing sea shanties, or the incredibly naval combat, I know I will be setting sail for months.
On land, or running around your ship, the mechanics of Black Flag will feel at home, as it still contains all of the familiar toys and animations from the previous games, allowing seasoned veterans to utilize them inside and out of combat. This is truly where Black Flag shines, as it simply an evolution of the combat mechanic that we have been using for years, except refined to a glossy shine. When combat works, it is simply one of the most marvelous things to behold, the only problem is, when other parts of the system fail, everything falls apart.
Getting into combat works exactly like it has in the past, and the same is true with the assassinations, except there are moments where the engine cannot follow its own set of rules—something that has been an issue with the franchise since its inception. Fighting near a log, Kenway can sometimes reach a crossroads, where he must choose between fighting or perching on top of the log as if he was a bird, leading to a problematic situation. The same is also true at random moments where jumping up to an object, means that he must climb up it, with no middle ground, putting you bad situations repeatedly when trying to sneak up on a guard.
The main cause for this seems to firmly fall on the usage of the universal action button, which is the source of almost all movement and climbing. Forcing the system to best guess what it is you are looking to do, and while it works well enough the majority of the time, it is also the source of many headaches.
Outside of the main story, Black Flag carries on from the point of view of an Abstergo employee who is simply testing out software to help launch their new line of entertainment products. This portion of the game seems to be a bit out of place, but it is generally an interesting aspect with a side story that has a point, but never really takes away from the primary experience.
Visually, Black Flag is confidently the best looking game of the series and is a serious contender for best looking game of this console generation. The oceans are dynamically generated, as is the weather, which means setting sail and watching the waves just feels organic in nature and not designed to simply be there for effect. The same can be said for the character models, ships and locations, as everything designed in this game has enough detail and beauty, that it's easy to just get lost staring at the scenery.
As multiplayer has been tacked on to the series for a number of years, it has yet to truly evolve into something that is little more than a deadly version of hide-and-seek, and in Black Flag nothing has changed.
Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag is a game that has succeeded in transporting the series to a new era in time. Its story suffers from underdeveloped characters, and its gameplay still has quirks that have been around for years, but this is quite possibly the best pirating experience that can be had. Fans of the series should definitely consider picking this one up, as should anyone who even enjoys pirate themes.
Dan Oravasaari is a Contributor for CraveOnline. You can follow him on Twitter @Foolsjoker.
Review based on PS3 version. Copy provided by publisher.