Just a year since Assassin’s Creed III and Ubisoft are back with a brand new entry in the series. It also happens to be the most ambitious entry so far. We previously checked out the Xbox 360 version of Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag and found it to be one of the most impressive games of the last generation. Since then we’ve been enjoying the game all over again on the Xbox One.
If you’ve played the game already on a different format then there isn’t actually anything new in the Xbox One or PS4 versions. It’s essentially the same game aside from a few technical differences which we’ll touch on later in this review.
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 but the new characters of Haytham and his son Conner weren’t as popular as Ezio Auditore.
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 islands of the Carribeans. There’s 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.
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 clumsy 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. A nice touch on Xbox One and PS4 is that foliage is disturbed and moves as you creep through it. 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 stunning with incredible art direction. Graphically the Xbox One and PS4 versions outshine the previous generation. The image quality is the best on PS4 thanks to the 1080p patch but it still looks lovely on Xbox One too. Both versions also have a smoother framerate than on 360/PS3. The water has been upgraded and characters also appear more lifelike. In addition to the impressive art 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.
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’s an essential launch title for both systems and 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 Freedom Cry DLC later this month.