Assassin’s Creed has become a well established franchise for Ubisoft and now, going into it’s sixth major title with Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag. This latest title still offers everything you’d expect from the series, although thanks to it’s open world, swashbuckling style, it also offers a little bit more.
As with previous games in the series, Black Flag is split between both the present day and a historical setting, although it’s the latter that obviously sticks out as the main area of play. Abstergo Entertainment once again plays a large part, hiring the player to investigate Assassin Edward Kenway. The notorious pirate and privateer's story is set in the Caribbean during the early 18th century and starts as it means to go on, by throwing you straight into a pirate battle in the high seas, before eventually grounding Kenway for just enough time to set you on your way to Havana and the riches that await.
Reaching Havana brings contact with both the Assassins and Templars, both of whom are trying to locate ‘The Observatory’, an artifact of great power and one that Kenway soon decides he wants for himself. So the struggle for begins, although it’s not until you take control of the JackDaw, your ship, that the real adventure takes place.
While the story is interesting, there’s nothing quite like taking to the seas and exploring all there is to see. Taking the wheel of your ship you’ll be able to explore every inch of the map in order to find riches and complete your contracts. You can also spy on distant ships in order to decided whether to board them or not, before blowing them to smithereens with your cannons. Setting sail and taking part in on-sea combat is certainly a far cry from previous games, but it’s a welcome addition. Taking part in sea fairing combat and winning often comes down to tactics as some ships are far too huge to take down face to face, so often you’ll take a low key approach, coming in from behind for a surprise attack in order to disable the ship, which in turn allows your men to board it using their grappling hooks to draw both ships closer together. It’s at this point you can take part in some hand to hand combat, by slashing at its crew or by climbing the rigging to take them out in style. Taking over ships is always a good idea as it’s a great way to gain the parts needed to upgrade your ship. Which in turn makes your ship all the more powerful.
What’s brilliant about the exploration aspect is that Sea and Land exploration is seamless, allowing you to up anchor and make your way to land at any point. Whether you are exploring a small island or making your way to a large city. In this relation to this, once you do hit land, combat is as usual, allowing you to perform Assassin-like take downs, by sneaking, hiding in foliage or by going in swords blazing, a bit like my attempt of rescuing the merchant early in the game - which thankfully worked out ok for me.
As a game on its own right, Black Flag feels different from other titles in the series, the main story feels tighter and more open to players exploring. The main character is also more likeable, although that’s perhaps down to his roguish charm of being out for himself and the money that such an adventure brings. The game still has the odd annoyance that’s synonymous with the series, such as the occasional irresponsive controls or glitches which force you to re-start from the last chapter, however these aren’t too disruptive to the overall adventure.
Returning once again this year is the game’s multiplayer mode. Once again this seems you blend into your surroundings and trick opponents into thinking your an NPC, allowing you to take them down for their foolishness. The multiplayer is fun of course, although it’s not really enough to keep you coming back for more if playing online is one of your main reasons for playing.
On the presentation side of things, Assassin’s Creed: Black Flag looks fantastic. The lands are lush with the greens of trees and bushes, which are accentuated by the wonderful looking sunsets. There are also some fantastic water effects, with the sea looking particularly impressive. Our version of the game was tested on PlayStation 3, so I imagine how good this game will look on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. We’ll certainly be bringing you our impressions of those versions once we get our hands on them.
There is so much more to say about Assassin’s Creed: Black Flag, but it’s probably best to explore the vast lands of this game for yourself by jumping in your ship and setting sail in whichever direction you choose. And no matter where you end up, you’ll enjoy the trip.
Words by Joe Anderson.
(Version Tested: PS3)
+ Large open world
+ Enjoyable naval battles
+ Fantastic water effects
- AI can feel basic
- Some uninteresting AI characters