Review: Assassin’s Creed IV Black Flag

A screenshot from Assassin's Creed IV Black Flag (image: Ubisoft)

The Assassin’s Creed franchise actually needs no introduction – it has been one of the most successful gaming enterprises in the last couple of years. The Series has taken gamers on a whirl-wind journey through different time periods in history in search of answers and the elusive Templars.

A screenshot from Assassin's Creed IV Black Flag (image: Ubisoft)
A screenshot from Assassin’s Creed IV Black Flag (image: Ubisoft)

While the franchise has seen a number of titles, the fourth official game made its way to market last week. Gamers are in store for something completely different.

Assassin’s Creed IV Black Flag takes players into an era of swashbuckling pirates – and for the first time the franchise took a step back in time, instead of following the natural progression of history.

Players will take control of Edward Kenway, father of Assassin’s Creed 3 villain Haytham Kenway (who was the father of AC3’s protagonist Connor), as he navigates his way around the dangers and profitability of the Golden Age of Piracy.

What we like about it

Given a run-through on the controls and how to command Edward, players are thrown into a short tutorial-type mission at the beginning of the game. From the offset, players will realise that they are in for something special.

Those familiar with the franchise will find the controls refreshing, as not much has changed. Those new to the Series, will quickly realise that controlling Edward is less complicated – but is not without its complications and issues.

Controls aside, what sets this title apart from any other Assassin’s Creed game is that players have full control over the Jackdaw – the player’s pirate ship and mode of transport between islands and cities. The Jackdaw can be upgraded and engineered to make use of better cannons, sails and hulls. Players will even be able to customise the wheel and battering ram.

Sailing the seas in search for Royal convoys to attack for large amounts of coins, or just cruising along the coast opens up a new dimension to the AC franchise. Where players were largely land-based for most of the franchise, they now have the ability to get their toes wet whenever they want – and there are huge risks as well as rewards.

In terms of plot, the title takes a step back and highlights the beginning of Kenway’s assassin career, and also explains a number of things from Assassin’s Creed 3. While the plot is not as complicated as that which would define a Jeffery Archer novel, it has its fair share of twists and turns. Players will have to complete a number of different mission types to progress through the story, but the most annoying aspect is probably the tails and foot chases – which have seemed to increase in the iteration (explained below).

However, with that said, Assassin’s Creed IV Black Flag is one of the first semi open-world games that actually does pirates right, incorporating almost every aspect of pirate clichés into the title – except, sadly, for the parrot on the shoulder.

What we do not like about it

Although the controls are easy to grasp, a problem still persists that has been plaguing the franchise: the characters seem to have a burning desire to climb on top of everything and anything, even when it not the intention of the player. It is as if the trigger points for wall-climbing are so sensitive, that when a player even remotely approaches a wall, it triggers the need to go up or over. Edward needs to slow down a little bit, which will make it more enjoyable – especially during high-speed foot races.

While it is a constant and nagging problem throughout the franchise, there are also a number of inconsistent or odd choices being made by the characters – or rather by the script writers. During the course of the title, players take to the high-seas in search of loot, missions or whaling. Players will also be able to attack enemy vessels and salvage their loot.

With some careful manoeuvring and cannon-firing, the enemy ship will go down. Now, the player will be presented with three choices: use the fallen ship to repair the Jackdaw, lower the player’s wanted level or send the vessel to the player’s fleet. More often than not, the fallen ship will be much larger than the Jackdaw – so why does Kenway not opt to use the larger vessel instead? It makes strategic sense, but players are stuck with the smaller Jackdaw throughout the entire title.

Naturally the Jackdaw can be upgraded, but the cost of these upgrades are often so high, that players will benefit by just taking their chances with an enemy and hope for the best. In terms of graphics, the title has its moments where the graphical capabilities shine through – even in just a glimpse – but for the most part the current-gen consoles are starting to show their age.


It might seem a bit harsh, but Assassin’s Creed IV Black Flag is your typical Assassin’s Creed title, with no real innovation or changes – except for the open-sea missions with the Jackdaw (which is by far the highlight of the title). But that is what players like about the title – they know exactly what they are going to get, even if it is only a change in scenery and plot.

Black Flag is incredibly enjoyable to dig into, despite for some awkward level designs and cheesy Abstergo Entertainment missions incorporating the Animus. Other than the Jackdaw, lovers of the franchise might not experience anything incredibly new, but it is still a fulfilling title. Each mission also features a Rating button, so hopefully developer Ubisoft will collect the data and be able to craft an even better title as a sequel.

Charlie Fripp – Consumer Tech editor