Assassin's Creed 4: Black Flag ReviewPS3
key review info
- Game: Assassin's Creed 4: Black Flag
- Platform: Playstation 3
- Reviewed on:
- Show system requirements
The Assassin's Creed series is one of Ubisoft's biggest bets, as every year the large publisher pools together the resources of its global studios to produce another title in the series and delight fans with new adventures.
After the not so impressive Assassin's Creed 3 that came out last year, the publisher is back with another iteration, in the form of Assassin's Creed 4: Black Flag.
As opposed to previous games, the new title goes back in time, taking place in the Golden Age of Piracy in the early 1700s, letting players control Edward Kenway, the grandfather of Connor, the main protagonist from Assassin's Creed 3.
With a much bigger emphasis on naval battles, a huge open world, and the promise of more refined gameplay than in the previous title, the pirate-themed Black Flag is set to put the franchise back on the winning path. Does it succeed or should it walk the plank? Let's find out.
While Assassin's Creed 3 played a bit of a bait and switch in its story, letting players first control Haytham Kenway and then Connor, in Black Flag you get to play as Edward Kenway right from the get-go. He's an aspiring pirate who left his home in Wales and wants to make a name for himself in the Caribbean alongside other, more famous individuals like Edward "Blackbeard" Thatch.
His story is a very interesting one and what's the most refreshing is Edward himself, as he's a greedy guy, the archetypical pirate constantly on the search for loot. Even so, he still has a set of morals and a good heart that's constantly thinking about the wife he left back in Wales to become a privateer and then a pirate.
There are quite a few twists along the way and, while there isn't another big reveal like in Assassin's Creed 3, it will certainly delight fans of the series and provide quite a lot more insight into both the Assassin order and the Templar knights who first settled in the New World.
In present day, you control a recently hired Abstergo Entertainment employee who's charged with using the Animus to dig into the life of Edward Kenway. When you're not playing as the famous pirate, you can walk around the Abstergo office and, thanks to a clever IT guy, hack into other terminals and find out more about what happened to Desmond at the end of Assassin's Creed 3 and what might happen in future installments.
This portion of the story, while filled with quite a few teases, isn't that entertaining, especially when compared to Edward's adventures.
Assassin's Creed 4 continues to offer the great mix of gameplay mechanics seen in previous titles, from free running, to combat, or exploration, while bringing quite a lot of improvements to the naval warfare system.
While in Assassin's Creed 3 the naval portions were surprisingly decent and well-built, the new system in Black Flag blows them out of the water. Many enhancements have been made to the combat system and you can now upgrade your various guns and your actual ship – the Jackdaw – to a greater extent.
In the Caribbean you'll wage war against all sorts of ships from the British or Spanish navies, ranging from small schooners to larger frigates or the imposing Man of War vessels that are filled with all kinds of lethal weapons.
After you get to make a few upgrades to your Jackdaw, however, taking on larger ships or groups of them becomes quite easy. Once you weaken ships to a certain level, you can choose to either board them and capture all their supplies, or sink them and only recover half of the loot. Besides stealing the plunder, you can also choose what to do with each captured ship. They can be used to repair the damage sustained by the Jackdaw, to lower the wanted level of the ship, or they can be added to Edward Kenway's own fleet.
Assassin's Creed 3 had a really complicated trading system that caused more problems than money for the player. In Black Flag, this mechanic is replaced by a fleet management one, through which Edward can send ships with different supplies to various ports in the Caribbean. He can also wage battles against enemies along those routes, in order to make them safer. The whole system is quite straightforward and quickly starts producing money, which can be used to upgrade the Jackdaw or Edward himself.
A new crafting system is also present, similar to the one seen in Far Cry 3, as Edward needs to acquire animal pelts in order to improve his weapon holsters, ammo bags, or health. As always, he can also buy new swords or pistols from merchants, while wielding the new blowpipe, which can fire sleep or berserker darts.
Besides these new systems, the rest of the traditional Assassin's Creed mechanics are present, including the trademark freerunning one, which has seen some modifications in order to make transitioning from buildings to trees much smoother.
Fights are still relatively straightforward, but there are quite a few moments when enemies begin to attack while you're still caught in the animation of your previous move. As such, you can't counter, meaning you'll lose a portion of your health.
The open world is a major new feature, as Edward can use the Jackdaw to explore a huge portion of the Caribbean Sea. What's more, there are very few loading screens, and these are present only when entering large cities like Nassau or Havana.
As always, there is a wide array of secondary activities, ranging from the traditional assassin contracts, to the special and quite entertaining Templar Hunt ones, in which Edward needs to help other assassins eliminate dangerous Templar agents.
You can also go hunting for sharks, although you might want to first upgrade the small boat in which you'll brave the shark-infested waters, as well as your harpoon. During hunting you might want to rely more on the improved Eagle Vision, which automatically spots animals or enemies and can even mark them so that they can be seen through walls or obstacles.
Assassin's Creed 4: Black Flag further refines the multiplayer experiences seen in previous installments, including both returning modes like Manhunt or Wolfpack, but also a special Game Lab that can be used by players to create their own online adventures.
Manhunt, as usual, sees two teams take turns hunting each other around different maps filled with various AI-controlled characters. This experience is quite tense and fiercely competitive, as the game constantly shows just how many points you're earning and how you're faring as opposed to the other team.
Wolfpack returns in its standard version but also in the form of a story-based experience that aims to get players up to speed with all its mechanics. Here, up to four players can work together to eliminate AI-controlled targets in the most impressive ways.
The Game Lab is quite exciting for players who have their own ideas about online matches, as here they can customize all sorts of rules in order to generate a completely new experience. The best are added by Ubisoft in a special selection, which can be easily accessed by those who just want to try out something new.
Graphics and Sound
We tested Assassin's Creed 4: Black Flag on the PS3 and, while the console is showing its age, the game most certainly isn't, as Ubisoft has managed to make quite a few improvements in terms of visuals when compared to the last title.
Character models look really good, while animations and environments are quite decent, provided you don't see them up close. The shadows and some other visual effects are still problematic however, but the game will soon debut for more powerful systems like the PC, PS4, or Xbox One.
In terms of sound, the game is absolutely stunning, especially when it comes to the soundtrack that blends orchestral music with pirate-themed songs and Latino tracks. The voice actors are also quite good and manage to reflect regional accents without becoming stereotypes.
Special mention goes to the crew of the Jackdaw, which will sing songs while traveling on the open sea. In case you want to enrich their repertoire, you can hunt for shanties in special locations.
Assassin's Creed 4: Black Flag is a great game that brings many improvements to the series and puts it onto a much better path. The naval warfare and the story of Edward Kenway are quite impressive and, while there are a few negative things concerning combat, some visual effects, or the aggressive enemy ships, the game manages to deliver a great experience.