'Assassin's Creed 4: Black Flag' Review

'Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag', out now for Xbox 360 and PS3 -- and 22 November for Xbox One and PS4, alongside Wii U and PC -- is the latest in Ubisoft's action-adventure romps through time.

Key Features:

  • All-new Caribbean setting
  • Improved sea-faring adventures and activities
  • Big open world areas to explore on land
  • Whale-hunting, pirate jaunts and other side-quests
  • Massive central story campaign

The Pitch:

"The year is 1715. Pirates rule the Caribbean and have established their own lawless Republic where corruption, greediness and cruelty are commonplace. Among these outlaws is a brash young captain named Edward Kenway. His fight for glory has earned him the respect of legends like Blackbeard, but also drawn him into the ancient war between Assassins and Templars, a war that may destroy everything the pirates have built. Welcome to the Golden Age of Piracy."


The history of piracy in the Caribbean is nasty, treacherous, brutal and short. And virtually every good pirate story you can think of has been told 100 times. But undeniably, there's still a good yarn to be spun about skull and crossbones, planks and shivering timbers. And like the pirate legends on which it's based., 'Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag' is far more fun, riotous and fresh than it really has any right to be.

Assassin's Creed is now a well-worn series. Its best features (the single-button free running, most of all) are years old. And coming just a year after the (relatively) poorly received AC3, which was set amid the action-packed American Revolution but felt curiously laboured and flat, our hopes weren't high for AC4. It didn't seem as though Ubisoft had time to correct the fundamental flaws in the game or add anything new.

Somehow, they've done both. And the result is a game that makes you want to leap back into the Assassin's Creed world once again - even if we've heard the best lines of this tale before.

This time around you play as Edward Kenway, a pirate and rogue with one eye on the ocean and the other on a bottle of rum - but also a man with an Assassin's heart, and a part to play in that legend. He's a funnier, more aggressive and more entertaining character than we saw in AC3, and he's immediately more likeable. Yes, the classic two-level AC story is present and correct. (One takes place in 1715, the other in Abstergo Entertainment - the present day facility where your historical adventures are powered and commoditised.) And that dichotomy still feels a bit jarring and unnecessary. But it's less OTT than before, and easier to swallow.

For a good few hours AC4 is content to let its missions and story act as a de facto tutorial. But quite quickly the game picks up, and gets into its narrative flow while allowing you to make your own fun too. For at its core this is a an open world experience, and once you're at the helm of the Jackdaw pirate ship it's had not to have enormous fun exploring the world, attacking ships and growing your loyal band of killers for hire.

It's also worth pointing out, as others have obviously done, that the ocean looks stunning. Whoever is responsible for the water - or rather, whatever team of 100 developers is behind it - should win major awards. It's astonishing how real the treacherous depths seem - and how vulnerable you feel at its mercy. Piloting ships seemed a little at odds to the original free-running core of the AC experience in the last game, but this time it's a more integral part of the whole, and feels more connected to the character. The rooftop running, stalking and killing are still there. But you'll almost prefer being at sea - which given the occasional tedium of last year's ship-to-ship slogathons is amazing, really.

At times AC4 can feel overly dense and vast. There are so many missions, islands and storylines to explore, you can be overwhelmed. And unlike GTA 5 - to which the game compares very well in fact - you can't just drive off in a sports car and do something appalling for kicks.

But AC4 has its own pleasures and nuances, and its own reasons to exist. And overall it's a more mature and genuinely exhilarating play - and as fun an experience, than Rockstar's bombastic city sim. We can't wait to play it again on the next-gen consoles (think of the water!), and AC games will always feel more like genre films than masterpieces like Bioshock or Last of Us. But as a cap to this chapter of the current generation of consoles, this is as impressive as any game released in years.