Review: Assassins Creed 4 – Black Flag

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Love it or hate it, Assassin’s Creed is back – this time with added pirates! After the franchise stumbled with the disappointing Assassin’s Creed 3 last year, does Edward Kenway steady the ship? It’s a pirates life for reviewer Dave Green…AC43

I’ll get this out of the way now – I’m an Assassin’s Creed apologist.  It’s mixture of slightly accurate historical events and David Icke-style conspiracy theories does it for me. However, I was let down by Assassin’s Creed 3 and, if you click THIS LINK, you’ll see I was highly skeptical of this latest iteration. The series needed a break and, what’s more, adding pirates seemed like a lazy, desperate move for attention – who doesn’t love pirates? I couldn’t have been more wrong. Black Flag is a real return to form for the series – as good as high-points AC II and Brotherhood and re-ignites the series with purpose, wonder, entertainment, freedom and fun.

It’s not perfect, though. On current-gen (I played the Xbox 360 version for review) there are some technical limitations that blight proceedings – the game is more ambitious and demanding than its predecessor and it’s a wonder Ubisoft are pulling it off on current-consoles. Some missions can be a little too hand-holding, though thankfully it’s nowhere near the strictness levels of AC3. The mundane “follow-a-character” missions rear their ugly heads again as do the horrendous chase sequences – please Ubisoft, do away with these in future games.

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On to the good and there is a lot of good here. New protagonist, Edward Kenway, is a huge step in the right direction after the morose Connor. World-wise, daring and full of bravado; Edward feels like a return to the highs of Italian charmer Ezio but not a re-tread. Edward is his own man and manages to breathe life back into the series. It does make you wonder though – how can the same series get characters so right with Ezio and Edward, but so wrong with Altair and Connor? If there’s one downfall with Edward it’s that he’s too good – this surely isn’t the last we’ve seen of him – spin offs ahoy, matey!

If Edward is the headline star then the Caribbean gaming world is a supporting act worthy of an Oscar. In a year of superb gaming spaces and creations (BioShock’s Columbia and GTA V’s Los Santos take a bow), the work done in AC4 is worthy of note. Steering Edward’s vessel, the Jackdaw, through untamed seas is a thrilling and satisfying way to navigate and what’s more it’s improved on AC3 (which was, admittedly, the best thing about that game). The seas are packed with things to do; land to explore for treasure, creatures to ensnare, enemy ships to battle and board – and you’ll want to experience it all.

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The Caribbean and its surroundings is very much a character and strong characterisation is very much the order of the day. Edward aside, all supporting characters are extremely well realised, from voice-acting to animation and art design. It’s a pity when you (inevitably) run out of things to do and the stories end-game looms into view; you’ll want to spend your hours here and there isn’t much higher praise. A slight misstep though, is the present day stuff. Thankfully, Desmond is no-more – instead you find yourself in the shoes of an employee at Abstergo; but a Gordon Freeman style silent one. It’s a strange move alongside the charming, Welsh tones of Edward but it’s infinitely better than Desmond. In fact, the whole modern say sequences are – though it is very knowing, frequently winking at you and breaking the 4th wall. Your mileage may vary here.

Overall then, Assassin’s Creed 4 is a triumph. If you’ve fell out of love with the series, I’d urge you to give this one a go. Never played and Assassin’s Creed game before? This is a perfect jumping off point. However, if you’re planning on picking up a PS4 or Xbox One at the end of November then I’d recommend you to wait – the current-gen version IS buggy and blighted by slowdown and screen-tear; though high-end PC owners have no reason to worry. It says a lot to the quality of the game that I plan to play the next-gen version again come launch – and I can’t wait.

8.8/10

Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag is available this week on current-gen formats/PC and at launch on Xbox One and PS4.

– Dave Green. Say ahoy on Twitter @davidpgreen83

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