Assassin’s Creed 4 Black Flag Review
Assassin’s, Templars, and Scurvy Dogs.
We’re continually surprised by the rate at which Ubisoft seem to be able to produce Assassin’s Creed games but even after last Fall’s immense entry they’re back yet again with another ambitious effort. Assassin’s Creed 4 Black Flag is actually the sixth full console release in the series and bids farewell to Desmond, the long-time present day protagonist, in a favor of a new story. A story full of pirates. One that some may say is entering a market that is already saturated with Assassin’s Creed games. I say hoist the mainsail, run out the guns, and let’s see if there’s any treasure left buried in the Animus.
Assassin’s Creed 4 Black Flag takes place, for the most part, in the West Indies during the 1700’s and the height of European expansion and trading in the region. Of course, trading means sailing and sailing means pirates and that means that Edward Kenway, our main character, is a pirate. If the name sounds familiar that is because Edward is in fact the grandfather of Connor Kenway, the hero of Assassin’s Creed 3.
All of this might sound confusing to a newcomer but the beauty of Black Flag’s story is that it has very little to do with the overall Assassin’s Creed story. There are enough tie-ins to keep old fans happy, but players who are new to the series shouldn’t have any trouble jumping right in. In fact, it feels almost as if Ubisoft wanted to make a game about pirates and then decided to tie it into the Assassin’s Creed series afterward. This isn’t a bad thing, as Black Flag is a fantastic take on pirate life and can easily stand on its own.
The game starts out with the now familiar two to three hours of tutorial missions that the Assassin’s Creed games are so fond of but once you gain full control of your destiny, the open seas await. Sailing ships and battling enemy ships was just a thing you could do in Assassin’s Creed 3 but in Black Flag these are things that will take up the majority of your time. The naval battle system has been revamped with smoother controls and a boarding system that sends you directly onto the decks of enemy ships. You won’t be able to help yourself when you spot an enemy sail on the horizon. After disabling an enemy vessel you can either pour on the fire and sink it or pull in close and board the ship. Boarding results in a short battle between your crew and theirs but this will allow you to sail away with all of the enemy’s cargo. The addictive nature of this side of the game, along with the huge amount of exploration you can do, will see that you spend most of your time out on the high seas, plundering and upgrading your ship.
It isn’t just battles that will keep you sailing, there are also a number of other things you can do while at sea. Small islands offer ruins or camps filled with treasure. You can jump into the whaling boat to harpoon whales and sharks for fun and profit. Later in the game you can even purchase a diving bell and search the ocean floor for treasure. If you get tired of battling other ships you can attack a fort and when you take out all of the defences, storm the walls with your crew. In fact, Black Flag is such a great pirate simulation that you’ll forget it’s an Assassin’s Creed game for long stretches of time.
While on dry land, players will find familiar Assassin’s Creed combat and climbing mechanics alongside a decent story that doesn’t get too bogged down in the lore. I don’t want to spoil any of the present day side of the story but I will say that I enjoyed the new direction it took, even if it did center around a silent protagonist.
If you aren’t familiar with how the Assassin’s Creed series do multiplayer, Black Flag is a great place to start. The action takes place with up to eight people competing on closed maps, in Deathmatch type scenarios. The action doesn’t play out like your typical shooter though, as the game fills each map with hundreds of clones of each player. Players are assigned an assassination target and must use skill and patience to pick their target player out of the crowd and move in for the kill.
This unique multiplayer mode gets better with each iteration and Black Flag brings in big rewards for players who pull of the best kills. Wolfpack mode allows four players to team up and take on the AI in extended scenarios that use the same core mechanics as multiplayer. The Wolfpack missions do get stale faster than the adversarial modes but Black Flag’s online component won’t leave you disappointed.
Assassin’s Creed 4 Black Flag proves that sequels don’t have to follow the same formula every time. It still feels like an Assassin’s Creed game but manages to be one of the best pirate simulation games of all time. Ubisoft have peppered Black Flag with just enough of each element that makes the series great, while focusing heavily on the new naval battle system. If you were starting to get bored with the Assassin’s Creed series, or if you’re new to it entirely, you should definitely check out Black Flag.