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Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag review

The franchise returns to form.

Assassin's Creed IV Black Flag

It’s only been a year since Assassin’s Creed III and somehow Ubisoft are back. They return, not only with the next instalment in the franchise, but with the most ambitious entry so far. Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag is the easily one of the most impressive games of the soon to be last generation. We’ve been spending far too much time with the Xbox 360 version.

We like our reviews to be as spoiler free as possible but when reviewing sequels it’s tough not to give certain things away. Before you read any further if you haven’t played through the previous games then you might want to do so first.

We enjoyed many parts of Assassin’s Creed III but were disappointed with certain aspects. One disappointing area in particular was that the game took an age to really get going. The game brought an end to the Desmond Miles story and the new characters of Haytham and his son Conner weren’t as popular as Ezio Auditore.

Assassin's Creed IV Black Flag

It was hard to see what Ubisoft would do next with the series but it seems they’ve got plenty of ideas. Black Flag is set in the early 18th century amongst the Carribean Islands. This year we have a new protagonist, Edward Kenway, who is the father and grand-father of Haytham and Conner. Kenway isn’t an Assassin or Templar – he’s a pirate.

Black Flag doesn’t take long to get going and while off on adventure in the hope of seeking fame and fortune Kenway ends up marooned. He happens to share the beach with an Assassin who wants his help. Instead this turns into a thrilling chase and ends up with Kenway killing the Assassin and taking his identity to go off in search of a great treasure.

Black Flag is the biggest game in the series by far with a much more open world allowing you to pretty much go where you want when you want. As events play out Kenway finds himself with a ship, which he names the Jackdaw, and a loyal crew. You’ll spend almost as much time sailing the seas and doing battle with other ships as you will on land.

Assassin's Creed IV Black Flag

Just playing through the main story is going to keep players busy for 30+ hours. However it’s impossible not to get distracted by the seemingly endless activities available to you. Around every corner there seems to be something else to do including shops to visit, sea shanties to catch, assassination missions and viewpoints to sync with. The game never really forces you to do anything so you can spend time tackling the things you prefer to do.

One area that still feels like it needs a little improvement is the way the game handles stealth. A button press to enter stealth mode would have been really nice. We often found ourselves accidentally leaving cover and getting spotted by the enemy. The counter and attack combat system returns and is as good as ever. When your timing is spot-on you feel like a total bad-ass going up against large groups of enemies.

Like previous games there is also a modern day story running where you play as an employee at Abstergo Entertainment. The company are creating games based on memories and it’s your job to use your Animus to seek out the interesting memories of Edward Kenway. When not in your Animus there is plenty going on from snooping around the offices to hacking co-workers terminals. We really enjoyed this part of the game.

The presentation is once again stunning and graphically this is one of the best you’ll find on Xbox 360 or PS3. The art direction is absolutely superb and we can’t wait to see the difference when it’s running on PS4 and Xbox One. It’s not just the art that impresses though as the music and voicework are similarly brilliant.

A really neat feature if you have a tablet computer such as an iPad or Android is the new Black Flag companion app. Once the app is installed you can sync it with your game to use your tablet as a second screen. It’s packed full of features such as a live interactive map, progress tracker, treasure maps, animus database and social features. There’s also a feature called Kenway’s Fleet that lets you send ships that you have captured on missions.

In addition to the singleplayer game Black Flag also features a variety of multiplayer options. There are eight new maps to choose from based on locations from the main game. The modes on offer are the same as the previous game though. It would have been great to see the inclusion of naval combat with it featuring so heavily in the singleplayer.

Assassin's Creed IV Black Flag

The multiplayer is still unique to the series with players trying to blend in with the crowd while spotting their opponents. It can be a tense affair and is a lot of fun in short sessions. Players looking for more can craft their own modes by tweaking parameters in the new Game Lab option. These can be shared with friends and give the multiplayer some extra life.

Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag is an incredible achievement for Ubisoft and a return to form for the franchise. It could well be the last that is developed specifically for Xbox 360 and PS3 which could mean a bigger leap forward for the series if the next instalment is targeted at Xbox One and PS4. We encourage fans of the series and new players to grab themselves a copy.

Stay tuned to EF for a look at the Xbox One version of the game later this month.

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