Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag Review

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Anyone who has played even 10 minutes of Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed franchise before Black Flag will feel completely at home with the new game. The series, which took players to the American Revolution in the last installment, now gets you to sail the Caribbean in the year 1715 as a swashbuckling pirate, Edward Kenway.

Before looking at the game, we can’t help but compare the new installment with the earlier one, Assassin’s Creed III. While the earlier one was tortuously slow, the best part was undoubtedly the naval combat. Unfortunately, we did not get much time in AC III to explore the high seas, and were instead relegated to traverse level after level of tutorial-like missions that sometimes tested our patience.

Black Flag, though, ensures that we get our fill and more of sailing. Ubisoft, this time around, has managed to hit naval warfare and seafaring right on the nail. Controlling a ship, sailing the sea, firing broadside cannons was, well, an absolute blast. The new installment focuses a lot on that space, and has done wonders with it.


Shiver me timbers!


Black Flag comes packed to the gills with pirates, looting, shooting, sailing and a whole lot more. You can traverse desert islands, explore ramshackle towns, sail through calm waters or battle against stormy weather. As a pirate captain, you can find buried treasure, locate maps on corpses and attack other ships for their loot. As a side mission, players can even jump across rooftops to literally catch songs to teach their crew.

Unlike Brotherhood, we see a completely new protagonist calling the shots. Players now see through the eyes of Kenway, the grandfather of Conner from the Assassin’s Creed III. While earlier characters like Altair, Ezio and even Conner came across as serious, ‘must save the world’ individuals, Kenway’s character plays out as a cheerful one who is only out to make as much gold as he can get his hands on. From the moment you start playing, one thing is clear: Edward is no saint, and his personality stands in direct contrast from earlier AC protagonists.


Murder all the fishes!


Unlike AC III, which had a slow start, Black Flag doesn’t waste time with build up, instead tossing you straight into the thick of things. In the first few minutes of the game, the player finds himself in the midst of a heated battle on board a ship, with cannons and explosives tossing you all over the seven seas. Kenway, a normal crewman right in the beginning, finds himself washed onto an island. What surprised us was the fact that Black Flag did not let the pace slacken, with the plot movement holding from the first scene through pretty much all the game. Yes there were times when the plot slowed down, but we welcomed the breathing space. The world itself opens up for the player surprisingly quickly. In fact, once you get your hands on a ship, you can pretty much travel where you like.


The game, however, does warn you when you head into “dangerous territories”, but unlike earlier installments, much of the game is accessible. A major plus point is the characters you deal with, many of whom play an interesting role in your gameplay. Some of the auxiliary characters do come and go a bit quickly, but the urge to explore the game keeps you hooked, so we aren’t complaining too much. The pace extends to the modern part of the game as well, although we could have done without the flash forwards altogether, as it takes time away from looting and pillaging. Apart from highly customisable ships, Black Flag gives the player the option of tricking out their very own secret pirate coves, a welcome change from Monteriggioni in our books.


Ahoy, Matey!


Gameplay-wise, Black Flag comes with most of the mechanics that you are used to from AC III, but does them a bit better. Controls are almost identical; you can still free run, shoot, use your hidden blades, climb and fight in almost the same way as before. The developer, however, has managed to fine tune the combat system quite a bit in this installment. While Kenway still has the ability to take out soldiers and bandits with ease, the fights flow much better and has also become a bit more challenging, making it a lot more fun to fight your way out of a scrap.


While enemies still do stand around waiting their turn, getting ganged up on by multiple opponents at the same time has increased a bit more than before. The varied use of muskets as the preferred long range weapon also increases the difficulty with which you can tackle each situation. Sword fights, on the whole, feel a whole lot better, and the combat mechanics fit in well with the overall theme of Black Flag. Hunting, trading and crafting have all seen some improvements, and this time around, you can get add quite a few sea creatures to your list of species to drive to extinction. An interesting addition this time around is dual-wielding. Players can now dual wield swords in a satisfying manner while mixing things up with smoke bombs and flintlock pistols.


Blow the man down!


Being an Assassin Creed game, it would be remiss for us not to talk about stealth. Black Flag, surprisingly, brings a healthy dose of that for players. Despite being a game focusing on piracy, there are a lot more options and missions for players to sneak around in. The added use of bushes and overhanging branches also add a lot more options to carry out a mission. Overall, stealth missions feel seamless and make the gameplay a lot more fun. Players can now surreptitiously weave their way through entire assassination contracts if they want to, and the resultant gameplay is a lot more rewarding. And there are additional stealth mechanics integrated into swimming and sailing as well, making naval combat an interesting if somewhat frustrating affair.

Overall, Black Flag is easily the most enjoyable Assassin’s Creed title so far. While the game is still far from being perfect, it brings a delightfully refreshing look at a franchise that has in the past been offering almost the same kind of gaming experience. Apart from the slightly repetitive combat, there doesn’t seem to be much you can fault in the game. Stealth has improved, the side-missions have become more fun, the serious overtones have been dampened and the back drop of the Caribbean is gorgeous to look at. If you’re in the mood for a good game from a solid franchise, Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flag is definitely a recommendation we can give.


Platforms: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 (tested), PC, Xbox One, PlayStation 4

Updated Date: Nov 20, 2013 07:38 pm