The year is 1715. Pirates rule the Caribbean and have established their own lawless Republic. Assassin's Creed 4 Black Flag introduces Edward Kenway, a Welsh privateer-turned-pirate who is trained by the assassins but will have to battle the Spanish and English to rule the seas. His fight for glory has earned him the respect of legends like Blackbeard...
Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag is primarily a third person action adventure game set around the West Indies with cities such as Kingston, Havana and Nassau featured in the game, however as with all games in the franchise there are also moments set in the modern day where memories are being replayed. If you've never played an Assassin's Creed title don't worry as these modern day moments are quite brief and irrelevant to the main pirate-based story.
Traversing land is as natural as ever and of course Edward can, by holding R2, climb buildings, trees and other structures and of course run and jump across the land. Naturally he is able to carry several weapons including the hidden daggers, swords, pistols, blow darts and more. As you progress through the game more weapons become available for a price. Unfortunately this is where we have the biggest issue with the game, the hand-to-hand combat, which includes swordplay, is still a little sluggish and not quite as slick as we would hope. Still, it's not terrible.
Hunting is also an important part of the game. It's not essential, however by hunting animals - which includes everything from lizards, to big cats, to sharks and whales - it's possible to then craft new items and upgrades for Edward. Indeed some animal rights groups were up in arms about the inclusion of whaling in the game, but as we pointed out in our preview, they summed it up in the best way possible by stating to IGN that "History is our playground in Assassinís Creed. Assassinís Creed IV Black Flag is a work of fiction that depicts the real events during the Golden Era of Pirates. We do not condone illegal whaling, just as we donít condone a pirate lifestyle of poor hygiene, plundering, hijacking ships, and over the legal limit drunken debauchery."
It's not just enemy ships that you will take on with Forts littering the map as well - these are pretty tough as you'll need to take out several points such as walls or towers, while battling off enemy ships coming to the forts aide and then, when destroyed you need to breach the walls and make, or attack, your way to the fort commander who must be killed.
One aspect of this game which I wasn't expecting was a fleet management styled simulation called Kenway's Fleet. Here, after you capture enemy ships, you can add them to your fleet and then open up trading routes between locations around the globe. Before sending ships with goods however you need to make the route safe by battling enemies. After selecting your fleet they will take on the enemy ships or fleet - victory will make the route safe for trading goods, but a loss will see you lose ships. These battles give you goods to trade, and successful trades gives you cash to spend on items or ship upgrades in the main game - great fun and a great little, unexpected, addition to Black Flag.
Despite the lengthy single player campaign, which will probably amount to over 30 hours gameplay with some exploration and double that to discover everything, complete side missions and partake in considerable naval combat the developers haven't skimped on the multiplayer component in the game with eight different modes on offer for up to 8-players. These multiplayer modes include Manhunt, Wolfpack Discovery, Wolfpack Unleashed, Domination, Artifact Assault, Assassinate, Deathmatch and Wanted. From our time playing online the developers have put considerable time into these game modes making them quite unique and generally lag-free too. We've spent a few hours here, but online fans are sure to be playing this for weeks, if not months especially with DLC due out soon.
Without a doubt the biggest misstep the development team at Ubisoft made was to not include any naval battle multiplayer modes. These are a highlight in the single player modes, but some 1-on-1, 2-on-2 or higher online battles could have been tremendous fun even as a standalone mode, but if they had tied it into rewards for goods in the single player campaign it could have been a major plus to the game.
So let's talk about water. Oh. My. God. Ubisoft's development team have created what is easily the most impressive looking water we have ever seen in a video game. We're not just talking about the waves and how they roll and move in the ocean, but also the way your ship moves with these waves - just wait until you see your ship lurch over a massive rogue wave (which, surprisingly, doesn't ever damage anything on land only a few hundred meters away). It's superb, but then there's the smaller details too. When you get close to an island and swim to or from shore you can see everything through the bright blue water - the seaweed, the fish, the sands. It's just gorgeous and exactly what you expect from a tropical location (and yes, there are places in the world that it is just so pristine!).
Sonically this game keeps the standards up pretty high as well with a massive amount of dialogue from both Edward Kenway, voiced by Matt Ryan, and the hundreds of NPC's in the game. Not only is the dialogue well scripted, but it's well delivered with few moments where it felt out of context with the current events. Sound effects are equally impressive with surround sound channels coming alive with weather (thunder and rain), wildlife, people in conversations, and weapons which are dominated by gunshots, cannons and swords clashing.
Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag is a fantastic title that really needs to be considered by all PS4 owners (or indeed any other console). While there are a couple of minor niggles, the vast open world, detailed and lengthy story and fantastic naval battles provides hours, days or perhaps even weeks, of exploration. At the beginning of this review I mentioned I wasn't in love with this franchise, but that has changed and Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag is a stunning title that is one of my favourite games of this year. Superb.
Review By: Dave Warner