Assassin's Creed 4 Black Flag review

Assassin's Creed 4 Black Flag review

T3 4
  • Assassin’s Creed 4 Black Flag is a welcome jolt for Ubisoft’s historic open-world series, adding new mechanics and characters that remain fun throughout

    Assassin's Creed 4 Black Flag review

    Love

    • Pirates!
    • Naval battles
    • Satisfying stories

    Hate

    • Repetitive missions
    • Outrunning the law
    • Shaun Hastings

    Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flag is the most fun we’ve had with an Assassin’s Creed game since Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood (released back in 2010). It really is that good.

    The ambition of the game is stunning. Ubisoft has expanded the core experience of free-running, stealth and swordplay to include naval battles, increased the size and scope of the world players have to explore and, best of all, placed a charismatic and fun protagonist at the game’s centre.

    Assassin’s Creed 4 Black Flag: Characters

    This last aspect can’t be praised enough. While Black Flag’s predecessor Assassin’s Creed 3 introduced interesting new mechanics and weapons, it suffered somewhat because its central character wasn’t much fun to be around.

    After the series’ flamboyant lead Ezio Auditore da Firenze shuffled off at the end of Assassin's Creed Revelations, the young Native American Connor Kenway proved too po-faced and earnest for most players. This probably explains why he’s been summarily jettisoned for Black Flag.

    In AC4, players take on the role of Connor’s granddad, Edward Kenway, privateer, swordsman and roguish ne’er-do-well.

    As one of the many figureheads in the Republic Of Pirates, Edward is both a lot more fun than his grandson – as are the characters that surround him, which include legendary pirates such as Anne Bonney, James Kidd and Blackbeard.

    There’s an easy camaraderie Kenway has with the blackguards of the Caribbean and his loose, rakish manner makes him good company for the 20-30 hours players will spend with him.

    Assassin’s Creed 4 Black Flag: Plot

    The story of Black Flag covers the usual ‘secret war’ nonsense that fuels the Assassin’s Creed franchise and, as usual, long-term resolutions aren’t even on the table. The adventure begins with Kenway impersonating a dead man in order to pick up a cash reward, and before too long he finds himself a player in the war between the Assassins and the Templars.

    It seems the latter are after some device that’ll grant them formidable powers and are using Imperial efforts to drive pirates out of the Caribbean as cover.

    Kenway decides finding the location of said device could be worth some money, but it’s not long before some earnest killers wearing cowls try to enlist him for the greater good.

    There’s a story set in the present day too, which involves an employee of the Abstergo Entertainment Corporation sourcing memories for a pirate film.

    Without going into too much detail, they’re quickly tapped up by some neurotic twit in IT and made to hack a few of their workmate’s terminals. They’re also made aware that Abstergo’s upper management is engaged in something rather shady.

    The present day Assassin’s Creed story has always been the weakest element of this series and Black Flag doesn’t buck that trend. It does, however, edit it down to mercifully short levels – even if it doesn’t reward long-time fans of the series by getting rid of its most irritating character, Shaun Hastings (voiced by Danny Wallace).

    Thankfully, the lion’s share of player’s time is spent tooling about the game with Ed Kenway. Black Flag takes place during The Golden Age of Piracy and is set on sprawling map divided between landmasses and acres of ocean.

    There are three large cities – Kingston, Havana and the pirate isle of Nassau – that offer the traditional Assassin’s Creed experience (free running, contracts, side-missions, collectibles and opening viewpoints).

    It’s in these sections that Black Flag stagnates a little. The cities look wonderfully rustic and there are oodles of activities, but a lot of them are built on an overly familiar rubric.

    Black Flag doesn’t really push the envelope in its city-based mission structure and some of the kinks in the game’s parkour gameplay persist.

    Things get really interesting when players set to sea in Kenway’s ship, The Jackdaw. The Jackdaw is both the player’s main mode of transport as well as their second avatar.

    Players have four speed gradients to choose from, and the turning arch of their vessel decreases the faster they move. The Jackdaw is a pretty nimble ship, which can switch from full sail to turning on its anchor in a few short moments and this comes in especially handy during naval combat.

    Assassin’s Creed 4 Black Flag: Features

    Thankfully, the lion’s share of player’s time is spent tooling about the game with Ed Kenway. Black Flag takes place during The Golden Age of Piracy and is set on sprawling map divided between landmasses and acres of ocean.

    There are three large cities – Kingston, Havana and the pirate isle of Nassau – that offer the traditional Assassin’s Creed experience (free running, contracts, side-missions, collectibles and opening viewpoints).

    It’s in these sections that Black Flag stagnates a little. The cities look wonderfully rustic and there are oodles of activities, but a lot of them are built on an overly familiar rubric.

    Black Flag doesn’t really push the envelope in its city-based mission structure and some of the kinks in the game’s parkour gameplay persist.

    Things get really interesting when players set to sea in Kenway’s ship, The Jackdaw.
    The Jackdaw is both the player’s main mode of transport as well as their second avatar.

    Players have four speed gradients to choose from, and the turning arch of their vessel decreases the faster they move. The Jackdaw is a pretty nimble ship, which can switch from full sail to turning on its anchor in a few short moments and this comes in especially handy during naval combat.

    Assassin’s Creed 4 Black Flag: Naval Combat

    As they sail the seven seas (okay, actually the one sea), the player will encounter numerous vessels from different countries and they have the opportunity to nick their cargo. This usually involves pulling alongside their target, battering them with cannon fire until they’re incapacitated and then either boarding them or sinking them.

    If they opt for the latter, they pick up half the amount of loot. If they decide to board, they’ll need to kill a certain number of the crew until surrender is offered.

    They can then use the ship for spare parts for the Jackdaw or recruit the crew and lower Kenway’s wanted level. The latter here is useful since, if the player sinks too many vessels from a particular country, they’ll send out a warship in pursuit of the Jackdaw.

    Whatever they decide, players will usually collect loot – rum, cloth, metals and so on – that they can sell to purchase upgrades for the Jackdaw. These include items such as reinforced armour, more powerful guns, mortars, bigger battering rams and more effective ammunition. They can also buy cosmetic upgrades such as a new masthead or really ugly sails.

    What sells the experience is the fact that Ubisoft has done a sterling job of making the Jackdaw both fun and easy to sail. Controls are mapped intuitively and naval battles are always heaps of fun to play through. Just be wary that in order to tackle war galleons and Legendary Ships in the game, the Jackdaw will need some pretty heavy upgrades.

    Assassin’s Creed 4 Black Flag: Environments

    The game’s other main draw is the huge map it contains and the myriad activities it offers. It’s true some collectibles – viewpoints and chests – feel recycled, but players can also explore hidden coves, hunt for buried treasure, chase down sea shanties, and complete Bureau side quests.

    They can take a diving bell to the bottom of the ocean or hunt land and aquatic animals and sell their meat and pelts. There’s even a series of statue puzzles to solve that yield studs that open a door to… well, we didn’t get that far.

    Black Flag also looks absolutely swoon-worthy in its presentation. We’ve yet to play it on current gen but we can report the PS4 ups the ante on this already visually impressive series.

    Every environment – be it the ramshackle streets of Havannah or a lush jungle on a tropical island – is meticulously detailed and in-game environmental have a realistic physical affect on foliage and cloth.

    Assassin’s Creed 4 Black Flag: Multiplayer

    It’ll probably take players around 26 or so hours to complete Black Flag if they ignore most activities other than the main story missions. God alone knows how long 100 per cent completion in story mode will take, and then there’s always multiplayer.

    Online mode is essentially the violent game of hide and seek that reached its apex in Assassin’s Creed 3 last year. Wolfpack mode is back, although this time it’s been kinked a little – players need to defend chests that pop up occasionally as well as coordinate timed attacks on groups of enemies.

    Assassin’s Creed 4 Black Flag: Verdict

    Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flag is a remarkable piece of work and represents something of a return to form for the series. It’s sure to delight fans and it should prompt anyone who was put off by Connor Kenway to give the series another try. It's the best entry in this series for the last three years and easily one of 2013’s essential titles – on whichever gaming platform you own.

    The new content is well-implemented, fun to use and remains compelling throughout. Now, all they need to do is set the next game in Victorian London. Are you listening, Ubisoft? Are you listening?

    Assassin’s Creed 4 Black Flag release date: 29 October 2013 on Xbox 360 and PS3. 22 November 2013 on Wii U, Xbox One, PS4 and PC.

    Assassin’s Creed 4 Black Flag price:  £49.99 on PS4

  • Assassin's Creed 4: Black Flag sees Ubisoft follow up on the biggest AC yet with an instalment that takes to the seas and we've had a first look...

    Assassin's Creed 4 Black Flag review

    Love

    • Pirates!
    • Naval battles
    • Satisfying stories

    Hate

    • Repetitive missions
    • Outrunning the law
    • Shaun Hastings

    Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flag has to be a tricky game to show in its unfinished state. It’s sound mechanically and, as every instalment in this franchise does, it looks utterly gorgeous – especially on the next-gen machines (we saw it on the Sony PS4), whose processing power allows for increased visual immersion.

    But in the end, Assassin’s Creed games live and die on their stories and the more its publisher Ubisoft gives away before the game’s release, the duller its edge will be by the time it makes its way into the consoles of its fanbase.

    Assassin's Creed 4 Black Flag: Features

    Perhaps this is why, for its hands-on event, Ubisoft opted to give T3 a taste of the changes to the Assassin’s Creed core gameplay, rather than risk spoilers.

    Long time fans of the series will know that the central play mechanics of Black Flag remain exploration, stealth, free-running and combat with edged weapons. That’s been the case since the first entry in the franchise. The big change that Black Flag brings to the franchise is nautical navigation.

    Those who’ve been paying attention since Black Flag was first unveiled in March of this year will know that the action has moved from colonial America to the Golden Age of Piracy.

    Black Flag plonks players into the boots of Edward Kenway, hooded assassin and fully paid up member of the republic of pirates. Since he’s the captain of a vessel named the Jackdaw, it makes sense that the players should expect quite some time at sea.

    Sailing the Jackdaw takes a bit of getting used to. Players take the helm by positioning Kenway behind the ship’s wheel. While the camera is positioned up close behind him, players can guide the Jackdaw with some degree of precision, which is useful for docking and pulling alongside enemy ships during naval battles.

    Click the X button and the ship speeds up and the camera shifts behind it; effectively at full speed, the ship becomes the player’s avatar.

    The degree of ease at which the player moves through the map is probably what necessitated the sheer size of it. Black Flag’s map is the biggest that has ever appeared in an Assassin’s Creed video game and, for the first time, players can traverse it from end to end without having to look at a loading screen.

    The map contains three full cities - Havana, Kingston, and Nassau – as well as a ton of hidden coves, jungle islands, shipwrecks and forts. And that’s just stuff above the ocean…

    Assassin's Creed 4 Black Flag: Plot

    Black Flag is set in 1720s during the post-Spanish Succession period. A lot of privateers and sailors at the time, we are told, suddenly found themselves out of work and began to turn to piracy in order to make a living.

    Among them was one privateer named Edward Kenway, a brash, brutish, if slightly intelligent man who captained a ship called The Jackdaw. It’s this colourful rogue the players will be taking control of as they head out on adventure that’ll take them from Cuba, to the West Indies, to the Bahamas and dozens of places in between.

    Ubisoft says  Black Flag will also feature a lot of figures from the Golden Age of Piracy including Ben Hornigold, the gentlemen pirate, Anne Bonney, one of the rare female captains of the time, Calico Jack and Charles Vane, a pair of unrepentant psychos and Blackbeard, who needs no introduction.

    Assassin’s Creed 4 Black Flag: Gameplay

    For our time at Black Flag’s controls, we were allowed to peruse a small island – one of many in the game – upon which we were able to hunt, kill and skin a couple of animals.

    We also took part in a spot of deep sea diving; Kenway was lowered down to the depths in a massive diving bell and we were then able to use him to scout for treasure in sunken wrecks.

    We had to keep an eye on Kenway’s oxygen, which diminishes over time, but there were pockets of air to be found under barrels tied upside down at intervals to the ocean floor. We also had to keep a weather-eye out for sharks, which considered Kenway a rather delicious snack.

    The hardest part of Black Flag to get used to was the nautical combat. In the couple of naval battles in which we partook, we found that manoeuvring the Jackdaw into position to take out an enemy vessel was slightly tricky.

    The tactic we were advised to use – and which proved most effective – was to pepper the target ship with cannon fire, and then use a rail gun to take out enemy crew members before swinging aboard and taking down enemies at close range.

    Kenway handles rather well. Players are able to outfit him with two swords, which are useful for breaking through enemy guards, or they can opt for a pistol and sword, which allows them a one-shot instantaneous kill on enemies up close.

    According to the developers, both Kenway’s arsenal and the Jackdaw’s abilities and weapons are all upgradeable and, over the course of the game, players will be able to convert both to their most lethal versions.

    Assassin’s Creed 4 Black Flag Multiplayer

     

    We were given a brief look at the game’s multiplayer, which, much like the multiplayer of Splinter Cell Blacklist, plays out like a rather lethal game of hide-and-seek. In the game’s online mode tutorial, players are taught how to mark, stalk and dispatch their prey while remaining undetected, as well as how to evade any would-be killers.

    We were also allowed a turn on the Wolfpack online mode, which fans will remember from Assassin’s Creed 3. If you’ve never played it, Wolfpack is a co-op match type in which four players target roaming groups of AI-controlled enemies and take them out in co-ordinated attacks.

    Assassin's Creed 4 Black Flag: Verdict

    What’s even more impressive, is the fact that Black Flag is scheduled for release this year – a turnaround time from AC3 that seems miniscule given the scope and breadth of what Ubisoft hope to accomplish with the game.

    It’s certainly a new step for the series, gameplay wise, and like every Assassin’s Creed game, it looks absolutely gorgeous. We can’t wait to buckle a swash with Black Flag come November.

    Assassin’s Creed 4 Black Flag release date: 1 November 2013

    Assassin's Creed 4 Black Flag price: TBC

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