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Assassin's Creed 4: Black Flag review

Seth Barton
17 Dec 2013
Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
48
inc VAT

Blend an assassin and a pirate and you get something awesome but not radically different

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The undisputed historical-heavyweight of action games is back, and this time we're setting sail to the Golden Age of Piracy. It's the early 1700s and Spain and England have called a truce to their long war, leaving many skilled privateers in the West Indies without respectable employment; and that means piracy on the high seas.

Assassin's Creed 4: Black Flag adds seamless naval gameplay to the long-running series. Ubisoft has come a long way since the largely-linear ship sections in the last outing; with the new game engine letting you freely explore land and sea with little loading to be seen - only when starting main story missions or arriving at one of the game's larger ports.

SEAMLESS SAILS

You can run across the rooftops of a fishing village, leap down onto your boat, the Jackdaw, and whisk her out of harbour. Sailing is dumbed down, you pretty much just point your ship and go, speeding up and slowing down is like changing gears in a car, with more or less sail put up to your requirements. The navigable area is huge, centred around Cuba, and takes about 30mins to navigate across.

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Chasing a merchant ship, and its escort, through a brewing storm is just an everyday activity in Black Flag

Once out in open waters you can use your spyglass to spot a merchant vessel to plunder (presuming that defending Galleons aren't too close). Attacking it with your cannons, you bring your ship alongside and climb your rigging, jumping from one ship to the other you start to wreak havoc from above the swirling melee, before taking out the captain and claiming the vessel.

It's blood-stirring stuff and it all fits in perfectly with the mechanics and feel of previous Assassin's Creed games. Free-running amid the rigging for example, or the cut-and-thrust of close combat when boarding. It may fit well, but this is still largely familiar stuff, with only slight refinements to the combat, free-running, exploration and stealth elements.

A SALTY DOG

In this blood-soaked era you play as Edward Kenway, a much-feared Buccaneer. He blunders into the age old conflict between Templars and Assassins; so as well as fighting for fame and fortune, he must also take on the Templars and their allies.

Ubisoft persists with its distinctly-gallic dual narrative, though it has been reworked, placing you (yes that's actually you) as the protagonist in the modern-day side of the story. Occasionally you'll be pulled out of Kenway's life in order to work at a swanky games developer. It's all very clever, and helps justify many of your objectives within the game, but frankly we'd be happier if Ubisoft ditched the whole conceit - and the spent the time on the main game.

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The sparkling blue waters of the Caribbean are a lovely place to spend some time

Which isn't to say that love hasn't be lavished on the Caribbean. The location looks stunning and is the small islands, forts, fishing villages and coves all sparkle with character. There's legendary pirate figures too: Blackbeard, Calico Jack and many more real-life swashbucklers are central to the game's plot.

The graphics are sublime at times, we tried the game out on the PS4 and the next-gen hardware provides a similar experience to a high-end PC. Detailed textures, long draw distances and great particle effects. The sea is like a living, heaving thing, and smashing through waves in a storm is a thrilling experience. The jungle-choked islands look superb too and the towns feel as well-researched as ever, enlivened with historical detail.