Swashbuckling, it’s a great word. I’ve done a lot of things in my time, but I’m not sure I’ve done anything that might match the literary definition of swashbuckling. I’ve loved the Assassin’s Creed series over the years, yet I’ve always found something in them that didn’t quite live up to my expectations, a little following here, an uncompromising eavesdrop for a snippet of instantly forgotten info there. Could this promise of swashbuckling appeal to my adventurous side and win me over?

The first thing that will strike you as you start Black Flag is the scale

The first thing that will strike you as you start Black Flag is the scale

Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag then, opens with a small update. It always worries me when brand new games have a day one update, it usually means that something was forgotten, missed or found to be sub-standard.  Having played and enjoyed the companion A4aceofspades web mini game, I’m hoping that this hasn’t already tarnished my view. Happily, the opening game sequences are fabulous. The loading page is simple and we get treated to a cut-scene of Blackbeard telling other pirates about your character and how feared they should be of your reputation. It all bodes well from here on in. The opening menus have had a complete revamp, looking now, more like the Xbox dash, with each option given a tile all to itself. Skipping the Uplay sign-up, I dived right in.

The first thing that will strike you as you start Black Flag is the scale. If you thought that the previous Creed games were big, you’ve not seen anything yet. This is epic. You start as Edward Kenway, a deckhand / gunner on a privateer vessel, under attack from forces unknown. Here you’ll get to grips with a relatively new feature for the Creed series, control of a vehicle. While this is sometimes cumbersome, it is simple to pick up and fairly easy to get the hang of, you’ve got the option to fire a broadside from port or starboard, drop fire kegs from the stern or fire bow-shots at enemy vessels. The control dynamics here are simple but the ship feels sluggish and unresponsive sometimes. In the heat of this opening battle, it’s easy to forget what might lie ahead.

You can still perform all the usual assassinations and free-running, but it’s execution is now bordering so close to perfect that every beam grab and swing I performed almost left me feeling that I had splinter

You can still perform all the usual assassinations and free-running, but it’s execution is now bordering so close to perfect that every beam grab and swing I performed almost left me feeling that I had splinter

After this opening battle, you are introduced to the character controls by way of a chase. This involves a lot of running, climbing, hiding and fighting around an exotic island. The handling here is pretty much the same as the other games in the series, so if you’re used to them, you’ll pick this up without any problems. They do seem to have had a little tweak here and there and the game is made better for it. You can still perform all the usual assassinations and free-running, but it’s execution is now bordering so close to perfect that every beam grab and swing I performed almost left me feeling that I had splinters. I often had issues with the previous titles in the series, but it seems to flow more in Black Flag. There’s nothing quite as satisfying as running at an obstacle and launching Edward into the air to perform a full on aerial kill before the enemy knows what’s hit him.

The tutorial mechanics are layered into the game well too. Gone are the clunky Animus based tutorial missions from the early games and you are introduced to your equipment and capabilities in an orderly and embedded way in the story itself, to such an event that you’re indoctrinated into the system before you even know it. Learning how to perform a rush-kill never felt so good. The story itself, is quite something else altogether.

 Each main goal has at least 2 side-missions to complete to give you that sense of a buckled swash

Each main goal has at least 2 side-missions to complete to give you that sense of a buckled swash

Seeking fortune is the pirate way of life and it’s this opportunism that leads Edward into a web of intrigue, double-cross and piracy in the quest to discover the secrets of The Observatory before the Templars plunder its powers. Of course it’s not just the Templars you have to worry about. Crossing the boundary into a privateer yarn, Black Flag introduces a third party into the mix with the pirates also on the lookout for this treasure. This gives the story scope enough to satisfy the most ardent of gamers and you’ll want to find out the secrets of this long-lost power source out for yourself before very long. The missions to do this are usually based around the long-used and much maligned “follow” system, the difference being that these are much shorter and less clunky than previous Creed games. This is not to say that there are no other side-missions and opportunities to test out your skills dotted throughout the cities, oh, no. Each main goal has at least 2 side-missions to complete to give you that sense of a buckled swash. Hire dancing-girls, become an instant pacifist or catch and mug couriers, it all helps to get you a final score rating for the memory you’ve unearthed for the Abstergo Corp using the new Animus technology. There’s a whole new back story to the antics of Edward and you can take a break from the sumptuously drawn Caribbean Islands to embroil yourself in a bit of corporate snooping to see what else Abstergo has to offer.

This underlying storyline is a distraction though, the real action is in Edward’s tales around the more famous of the pirate’s hang outs. The means of travel between these has been greatly improved, no more thundering for minutes on end on a horse, aimlessly following a linear road. This time you’re on the unforgiving seas, with waves and weather to match. A fair wind at your stern and the amazingly detailed open sea to your bow, the effects hammer home just how vast this game really is. The whole experience, from the graphics to the sounds of the islands, to the nattering of the Spanish soldiers all drew me in to the world of Black Flag to the extent that I didn’t talk to my wife for 4 hours straight. When it gets to the stage that you’re ignoring your family, you know it’s good.

Black Flag drew me in so much that I didn't talk to my wife for 4 hours straight. When it gets to the stage that you’re ignoring your family, you know it’s good.

Black Flag drew me in so much that I didn’t talk to my wife for 4 hours straight. When it gets to the stage that you’re ignoring your family, you know it’s good.

Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag then isn’t just another trawl through amazing cities, picking up landmarks and performing the odd gore-laden stabbing along the way, it feels a lot more involved, even with a potentially weaker storyline. The graphics give credence to the vast scope of the locations and the voice acting for the various pirate scallywags lend themselves well to the overall story. The fact that you’re not really a member of the Creed is incidental as you assume the role of assassin, grow into it together and to me it makes the game even more of a pleasure to progress through. The storyline in itself makes you want to find out more, in a nutshell, it is a great game with great graphics, good acting and most importantly of all a main character that you can relate to and develop with as the story progresses. You can forgive the minor graphical glitches that occur in the cut-scenes sometimes and the odd situation where you suddenly find yourself scaling a wall when all along you were trying to run down an alleyway, as in the grand scheme of things, it doesn’t mask the incredibly fine gameplay mechanics. I’m already engrossed in the world of Edward Kenway and Black Flag, it’s caught me in its brig and yes, it has most definitely won me over.

Review - Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag
Reasons to sale
  • Tweaked controls to allow moves and kills to flow
  • Well-paced missions with the freedom to roam
  • The scope is epic
Reasons to walk the plank
  • Odd graphical cut-scene glitches
  • Still find myself running up walls at odd times
95%Overall Score
Reader Rating: (1 Vote)
93%

About The Author

Indie Editor

A midlander, exiled to the South Coast. I once finished Gremlin's "Lotus Esprit Turbo Challenge" & I have the certificate to prove it.