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Assassin's Creed IV Black Flag

By MrJenssen04-12-2013
Bis18marck70 (editor)
StuntmanLT (editor)

The Defence

Ubisoft Montreal
Action, Adventure
Release Date:
US 19-11-2013
EU 22-11-2013

The Prosecution

Intel Core i5 2.5 GHz
AMD Phenom 2 X4 3.0 GHz
Nvidia GeForce GTX 470
AMD Radeon HD 5850
4 GB
30 GB
10, 11

The Case

The Assassin’s Creed franchise has come a long way, some tell you. I would agree, had this been the year 2009. Assassin’s Creed 2 represented an enormous leap forward for the franchise. The many issues troubling the first instalment in the series were all but eradicated. Sadly, 2009 was the year Ubisoft stopped pushing the franchise forward in significant steps. Every sequel from Brotherhood to AC3 had but minor tweaks, adjustments and improvements to offer, but the full retail price remained. Time moved forward, but Ubisoft’s flagship franchise barely kept up. Assassin’s Creed 4 Black Flag hopes to redeem that by introducing some fresh new gameplay mechanics into the mix. But is it enough to justify the price?

The Trial

If you’ve been paying attention, you know by now that Black Flag, the “fourth” iteration in the AC franchise is out only a full year since AC3 released to mixed reviews. Though Black Flag takes a few steps to the side, it’s functionally a repackaged Assassin’s Creed 3, with more features. You’ll still be climbing walls, jumping between trees, stabbing guards in the back, hiding in haystacks and making the occasional visit to the present non-animus day.

Yep, it's beautiful alright.

Yep, it's beautiful alright.

Okay, so before we go on to describe the story and the gameplay, let’s take a moment to talk about the first thing you’ll notice when you fire up the game. It looks absolutely astonishing. There are plenty of cool technical details going on - leaves bend around your body when you move through bushes, rain and waves wash up on the deck of your ship when you’re sailing, volumetric clouds and gun smoke cover the air during storms, foggy weather or hectic ship-to-ship battles, and so on. There are some oddities, like some low-resolution textures here and there, the fact that large storms can build up out of a cloud-free sky is a little strange, and the modern-day sequences look like they were made back in the mid-2000s, when an excessive overuse of bloom was commonplace for Ubisoft games. But overall, it’s still good from a technical standpoint.

But what really takes the cake is the artistic visuals. The game world looks absolutely fantastic. The oceans, the skies, the beaches, the jungles, the ancient temples, the pirate settlements...everything. It simply looks about as attractive as a game can get at this point. The environments feel rich and lived-in. It’s a believable world, but it does take its toll. On my now aging setup that only reaches slightly above the recommended settings, storms and rainy weather on the high seas especially took its toll, when having the graphical settings tuned right below the maximum. That’s not to say it’s poorly optimized, but gamers with older PCs should be aware that you might not get all the goodies out of the game and the performance to go along with it.

In the sound department, things also work well. The soundtrack is as always strong and very befitting for the time period, voice acting is above par for all the characters you’ll meet, and the clashing of swords and booming of cannons during the hectic battles never gets old. It’s the type of sound design that you might not notice if you’re not paying attention, but that’s because it opts to help immerse players into the world rather than awkwardly attempting to dominate the audio-visual presentation.

What the, where am I? Is this 2005?!

What the, where am I? Is this 2005?!

Okay, so here we go with the story. The story takes place about a century before the events of Assassin’s Creed 3, and is set in the warm and sunny Caribbean. You play as Edward Kenway, a poor Welshman forced into the life of piracy in the search for fortune and glory. Though, it doesn’t take very long before Edward is thrown into the age-old game of cat and mouse played by the Templars and Assassins respectively. No matter how much the young pirate captain resists the notion of signing allegiance to any side of the conflict - opting to instead sail under his own banner, answerable only to his very own crew - fate has other plans for Kenway. If you’ve played an AC game before, I’m sure you’ll see where this is going to end. In the meantime, you are occasionally dragged out of your Animus and into the “real world” as part of a research group for a branch of Abstergo called Abstergo Entertainment, where you’re lead around hacking computers and causing mischief for a mysterious character.

The science fiction elements are significantly toned down here compared to the previous iterations in the series, and you’ll only be forced to jump out of the Animus and visit the present day a handful of times throughout the campaign. Trimming away this fat leaves more room for full immersion into the West Indies of the 18th century, and the pacing is better held up as a result. The story itself isn’t too much to write home about, with most of the twists and turns being visible from miles ahead. Black Flag’s story is more down-to-earth and realistic than before, and the whole Precursors subplot is downplayed. The missions do a good job at binding everything together, and gives a sense of context for the events that take place, and the game works just fine without the whole present day mumbo jumbo interfering. The various characters you meet along the way are mostly well fleshed out, and feel like real people rather than the one-dimensional stereotypical Hollywood pirates Ubisoft could’ve tried to get away with.

As I’ve stated, Black Flag is functionally very similar to previous iterations, but it does come with its share of new things. The most obvious ten billion ton space mammoth in the room is the expansion of the naval system. No longer are you restricted to piloting your ship within specific missions, but are instead allowed to roam the open seas free from any shackles with your Jackdaw. Plundering ships, surviving fierce storms, exploring underwater shipwrecks and deserted islands. If you’ve ever fantasized about being a pirate, Black Flag most likely has some of that in it. Any time you want, you can let go of the wheel and walk about the ship, climb the masts or go for a swim.

Dash my buttons indeed!

Dash my buttons indeed!

The ship combat and controls have been streamlined since AC3, with more weapon and ammo types and the ability to freely board enemy ships to loot their goods. Wind is not as much of an issue to you either, and you can even sail towards the wind without too much hassle. This might sound unrealistic, but because you’ll be spending so much of your time aboard the Jackdaw, in the end it’s a good move that removes a lot of potential tedium. Because the ship is such an important part of the game, Ubisoft have cleverly taken a lot of the player progression and implemented it into the ship gameplay. You’ll be able to upgrade the Jackdaw’s armor, add more cannons, improve their damage output, enforce the ram and so on. Not only will your ship be more effective in combat, but it’ll also start to look the part as you spend more money and resources on it.

Speaking of resources, one of the more ambitious but ultimately undercooked and confusing aspects of AC3 was the trading system. You could send off caravans and ships to trade resources for other resources and money, but due to the frustrating menu navigation and how hard it was to understand what any of the resources were used for, if anything at all, the system became more frustrating than it had to be, and most people ended up ignoring it altogether as a result. Luckily, this is improved significantly in Black Flag. No longer do you have all sorts of redundant resources that are never used for anything. Instead you have metal, wood and cloth which can be sold but are also used for the upgrading of your ship, and sugar and rum which only have an economic value. This, in turn, increases the enjoyment of ship-to-ship combat, because they carry the resources you need, and boy is it tempting to take out a fully loaded Man O’ War at a way too early stage. It makes for a lot of intense moments, because not only does your ship need to withstand the pounding it gets, but you yourself also need to be up to the task once the grappling hooks come out and swords are drawn.

Case Review

  • Beautiful: Check the screenshots. ‘Nuff said!
  • Pirate Theme: Ubisoft avoid the stereotypical approach with characters and events, instead opting to create a more realistic, natural world which works out great.
  • Samey: There are some new features, but Black Flag focuses improvements and expands more than it actually moves the series forward.
  • Down to Earth: The fact that the sci-fi elements are toned down might annoy some fans, but in the end it only serves to keep the story’s momentum up.
  • Control Issues: The sticky control issues were present in AC3, and they’re still around now.
  • Multiplayer Snoozefest: Though mechanically functional, it commits the cardinal sin of being extremely boring.
Score: 3.5/5
Playing it safe, Ubisoft stepped their right leg forward but forgot to move the left.
Comments (3)
You must be to post a comment.
Posts: 1317

It's definitely a solid game, but the controls are 50% functional and 50% of the time they're broken, which is infuriating - especially when this isn't a new problem, but was present in AC3 as well. On top of that, there's just not new stuff to call it a truly great game.

With that said, I still recommend it, it's the best AC game since AC2, hell I enjoyed some parts of this much better than the best parts in AC2 as well.

Posts: 1548

Even though I agree with most of the points I think the game is an easy 4 or even a 4.5. The advantages of the game easily outweigh the disadvantages and things like a boring MP can just be ignored.

I guess it's time for an appeal then.

Posts: 3290

You know, I'm actually glad Ubisoft advertised the shit out of it. It pissed me off so much I saved my money