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Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag Review

  • First Released Oct 29, 2013
  • Reviewed Oct 29, 2013
  • X360
  • PS3
  • XONE
  • PS4

Call me Edward.

We've now had the opportunity to play the Xbox One version of Assassin's Creed IV, and there are no way ways around it: this version just doesn't look as nice as it does on PlayStation 4. The differences, however are slight. The PlayStation 4 version boasts a higher resolution, making detailed edges--like the leaves of a palm tree, or the rope nets on a ship--smoother and less jagged. But taken on its own, the Xbox One version still looks fantastic, with the impressive lighting and water effects that make sailing the Caribbean in this game such a joy. While the PS4 version does look better, you won't be disappointed by Assassin's Creed IV on Xbox One. - SM, 11/21/2013, 09:00 PST

How far can you stray from home before it's impossible to ever return? That's the question at the heart of Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag. It's something that plagues Edward Kenway, the game's roguish hero, as he explores the Caribbean in search of wealth and the dream of returning to England a more respectable man. But for as much as Kenway longs for the day he can leave the pirate life behind, the freedom of the open sea is a difficult thing to resist. And who can blame him? Because after this stunning and beautifully realized tale of adventure on the high seas, it's hard to imagine the Assassin's Creed series returning to its landlocked roots

The world of Black Flag is nothing short of remarkable. This is the most expansive setting in the history of the franchise, a virtual rendition of the West Indies that encompasses all manner of burgeoning colonies, Mayan ruins, and deadly jungles. Cities like Havana and Nassau reflect the series' trademark attention to detail, from the stonework cathedrals of the former to the ramshackle taverns of the latter. Then there are the remote islands inhabited by nothing more than crabs and sea turtles, underwater shipwrecks waiting to be explored, and vast stretches of sparkling Caribbean waters that are every bit as deadly as they are gorgeous.

Indeed, what makes Black Flag so special is the way it captures the thrill of sailing the open sea. It's more than the spectacle of a humpback whale leaping into the air and spraying the deck of your ship, or the sound of your crew breaking out into a sea shanty just as the sun is beginning to set across the horizon. It's the feeling that there's always something out there to be discovered, rewards waiting to be captured no matter who's standing in your way.

Simply sailing into the sunset is a delight in Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag.
Simply sailing into the sunset is a delight in Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag.

What began as a series of isolated side missions in Assassin's Creed III has exploded into a full-fledged means of exploration, discovery, and combat. Early into Black Flag, Kenway takes the helm of the Jackdaw, a pirate ship that has clearly seen better days. From there, it's your charge to build the Jackdaw into a vessel capable of taking on the most powerful warships in the Caribbean. After all, that Spanish gold isn't going to plunder itself.

Taking on naval superpowers seems like a tall order early on, but pushing yourself to improve your once-rickety ship is a process that Black Flag makes incredibly rewarding. This is a game that gives you an absurd number of ways to acquire the coin and resources needed to hold your own at sea. You might run off in search of buried treasure using nothing more than a crudely drawn map, or silently infiltrate a military storehouse to collect the wood and metal needed to bolster the Jackdaw's hull. That bit of flotsam floating in the distance might be a crate of rum you can sell to make up the difference on your new mortar upgrades, or it might be a stranded sailor you can rescue to expand the size of your crew. Black Flag doesn't just present a beautiful world; it gives you a mountain of reasons to run off and go exploring.

Black Flag builds on ACIII's naval side missions to create an experience every bit as important as running around on dry land.
Black Flag builds on ACIII's naval side missions to create an experience every bit as important as running around on dry land.

Upgrading your ship is critical because Black Flag places a huge emphasis on naval combat. Both the storyline and side missions are full of tense sea battles, where strategic positioning and explosive cannon fire come together in exhilarating contests of naval supremacy. It's a system that allows for a variety of tactics while never getting bogged down in overly complex controls, whether you're picking off enemies from afar with a well-placed mortar strike or dumping explosive barrels into the path of an unsuspecting foe. Whatever approach you take, managing sea battles is an absolute blast.

It's not just wanton mayhem, either. Black Flag encourages you to take pause and survey the landscape before charging into a fight. With the help of your spyglass, you can scout another ship's cargo to decide whether the resources onboard match your current needs, as well as scout out how much money you'll be able to loot. This same tool also reveals an enemy's overall combat level, letting you know if you should warm up against a few more level-8 schooners before taking on that level-20 frigate. All this reconnaissance makes naval combat that much more satisfying; success comes not only from how accurately you lob your cannons, but from how adeptly you measure the risk versus the reward.

These naval battles often lead directly into more traditional Assassin's Creed swordfighting, and it's in those seamless transitions that Black Flag fuses its two halves into one cohesive whole. Destroying a ship outright rewards you with only half its cargo, so you need to board these vessels and wear down their reluctant crews to reap the full reward. That means swinging acrobatically from one ship to another, exchanging sword strikes with enemy sailors, and watching your crew erupt in cheers once those enemies have surrendered. A similar transition occurs during the game's numerous fort takeover missions, where you bombard the defenses of a seaside fortress by ship before charging into the ensuing chaos to assassinate its officers amid a storm of fire and smoke.

Black Flag doesn't just present a beautiful world; it gives you a mountain of reasons to run off and go exploring.

That these acts of naval piracy continue to be so exciting so deep into the game's lengthy story campaign is a testament to just how excellent Black Flag's progression loop is. Raid an enemy gunboat, and you can scrap it for parts or send it on trade route missions to earn more money on the side. Overtake a fort, and you'll unlock dozens of new activities on the map, whether they're the location of great white sharks whose skin you can turn into improved armor or an underwater shipwreck you can explore once you've saved up enough for that diving bell. No matter where you go or what you do, it's virtually impossible to feel like you're not advancing in some way.

And it's a quick game to advance, too. Assassin's Creed III's crawling preamble and frequent pacing issues are nowhere to be found here, as Black Flag wastes no time throwing you into the life of a pirate. The story revolves around the aforementioned Edward Kenway, a charming troublemaker from Bristol by way of Swansea. If his name sounds familiar, it should: Edward is the grandfather of ACIII protagonist Connor Kenway. The elder Kenway's backstory is rooted in a fairly standard trope--a peasant off in search of wealth to build a better life back home--but it's his unique place in the series' overarching fiction, and the universal themes the story explores, that makes the narrative shine.

Storms have a way of catching you off guard in Black Flag.
Storms have a way of catching you off guard in Black Flag.

At the game's outset, Kenway is neither assassin nor templar. He's a man whose only allegiance lies with his ship's crew, playing both factions against one another for his own gain. But as the years wear on, the luster of youthful indiscretion fades away as Kenway wrestles with a desire to find some greater purpose and a longing to do right by his estranged wife back home. It's a story that explores the human side of pirates, painting larger-than-life figures in a light that even manages to turn Blackbeard into a sympathetic character.

The narrative grows a bit unwieldy toward the end, but finds its footing just before a credit sequence that is far more touching than any story about pirates has a right to be. An eclectic cast of side characters briefly dance with but never fully tackle more powerful themes like race and gender in the age of colonialism, but such narrative flirtations are one of the few shortcomings in an otherwise terrific story. Even the modern-day chapters--brief and innocuous as they may be--manage to add a refreshing and occasionally humorous take to the Abstergo story arc.

Despite the presence of pirates and scoundrels, the world of Black Flag is a consistently gorgeous one. The Assassin's Creed series has always had a knack for establishing an engrossing sense of place in its dense urban landscapes, and Ubisoft hasn't missed a step in applying that same level of craftsmanship toward the islands and jungles of the Caribbean. Black Flag looks especially impressive on the PlayStation 4, where improved lighting and a greater resolution bathe the world in a terrific level of visual fidelity and artistic flourishes. You're better able to notice the little things, like the way foliage gives way to Kenway while he sneaks through the bushes, or the realistic flutter of fabric on your sails when a strong wind sweeps across the sea. The current-generation versions of Black Flag still look terrific, but all those little details in the PlayStation 4 version draw you into the world that much more.

Cities like Havana echo the classic environments of previous games.
Cities like Havana echo the classic environments of previous games.

Kenway's adventures on dry land don't amount to the same wholesale reinvention of the series that his time aboard the Jackdaw does, but these portions of the game have hardly been ignored. Ubisoft has borrowed a number of concepts from Far Cry 3, and they improve the on-foot experience immensely. Crafting animal hides into better equipment is a far greater incentive to hunt wild animals than it was in ACIII, while the ability to sabotage alarm bells in an enemy base adds more flexibility to the stealth experience. But once a fight breaks out into a full-on melee, Black Flag begins to feel much more like its predecessors: swordfighting is as fluid and lively as ever, but lacks any substantial refinements over previous games.

Where that sense of deja vu hits Black Flag the hardest is in its overuse of eavesdropping missions. Throughout the main story, the game asks you time and again to tail your targets (but not too closely!) and eavesdrop on their conversations (but not too obviously!) before finally letting you decide what to do with them. These types of missions--a staple of the very first game in the series--had already begun to show their age in recent Assassin's Creed installments, and time hasn't done them any favors since then.

Not all treasures are above water in Black Flag.
Not all treasures are above water in Black Flag.

While less glaring, a similar lack of advancement can be found in Black Flag's multiplayer. The cat-and-mouse nature of Wanted and the co-op chaos of Wolfpack are still tremendous fun, but outside of a new story-driven tutorial mode, there aren't any substantial additions. Even though Assassin's Creed multiplayer has always occupied something of an "icing on the cake" role, it's a shame this part of the game hasn't enjoyed the same creative renewal that its single-player portion has.

But these moments of stagnation are isolated events in what is, ultimately, a massive and highly ambitious game. Black Flag presents a world full of adventure and opportunity, where treasures scavenged in a remote jungle can be used to turn the tide in a massive naval battle against mighty Spanish warships. It's a game where you can sail the seas for hours at a time, either hunting great white sharks or simply listening to your crew sing one infectious sea shanty after the next. There's an incredible scope to what you can do in Black Flag, with a level of harmony between its component parts that encourages you to try it all, and a story that keeps you invested throughout the whole thing. If there was ever any question that Assassin's Creed needed something ambitious to get the series back on track, Black Flag is that game and then some.

Back To Top
The Good
A gorgeous, vibrant world full of reasons to go exploring
Outstanding naval combat
Progression systems are profoundly rewarding
Terrific story that paints pirates in a human light
Seafaring and on-foot exploration complement each other wonderfully
The Bad
No substantial additions to multiplayer
A few too many eavesdropping missions
About GameSpot's Reviews
Other Platform Reviews for Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag

About the Author

Shaun McInnis can spend hours explaining why Assassin's Creed II is his favorite game in the series, but Black Flag gives it a real run for its money. He played the PlayStation 4 version to completion over a period of several days at Ubisoft's San Francisco office. Current-gen versions were later played in GameSpot's office.
2101 Comments  RefreshSorted By 
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Avatar image for lunar_umbra

I like pirate games. I may pick it up.

Avatar image for deathstream

Not an Assassin's Creed game. This is a pirate game with just enough AC elements to keep them from being sued for false advertising. AC is dead.

Avatar image for deactivated-57bcc1891a93a

@deathstream AC gameplay has never really been too great anyway and the story still has enough classic elements IMO. Other than boarding combat(utter shit unless they patched it since I played, ugh.) I liked most of it to the point I didn't care if it felt like a departure and it improved on quite a bit of the stuff that didn't change much.

Avatar image for couly

@deathstream That's what's so great about it.

Avatar image for python1026

@deathstream "Classic" AC is. But that's what you get when people keep whining "AC has the same formula every year like COD" its annoying quite frankly.

Avatar image for DigiRave

@python1026 @deathstream Just: no more fucking pirates - OR EVEN SHIPS, for ****'s sake. The next Ubi employee who even mentions the word "pirates" needs to be stabbed in his eyes with a rusty pick!

Avatar image for xDARKGUITARISTx

Again I call BS on the comparison of the next gen version. I have compared Assassin's Creed IV, Battlefield 4, and Call of Duty: Ghosts. The only one you can actually see a difference on is Ghosts. Granted they're saying the differences are slight but in my experience ACIV, it actually runs and looks better than the PS4. I have pored over these games for hours to find the differences. Performance is generally smoother on the Xbox One. Consistent framerate drops on the PS4 version of Ghosts, and intermittent drops on the other two games.

Avatar image for packman627

@xDARKGUITARISTx the reason why the framerate drops on Ghosts on the PS4 is that the game is locked at 60 fps but the PS4 is so powerful that its actually trying to push out more than 60 fps which in turn makes it dip.

Avatar image for Iloveconnie

@packman627 @xDARKGUITARISTx nope thats not a thing

Avatar image for daedstarr

@xDARKGUITARISTx Yeah, I agree completely. The PS4 might look a bit better, but the performance on Xbox One is better and performance>graphics any day.

Avatar image for sevenwarlocks

Impactful? Shame on you.

Avatar image for Lucky-B

While I did really enjoy this game I have to say I was disappointed that the weapon options were drawn down from what you had in ACIII. Small weapons were a lot of fun in ACIII, and I liked the sword/detachable hidden blade combo that Connor could use. On top of that the melee combat also feels way less fluid than III. The naval stuff is head and shoulders above the Aquila, which I enjoyed immensely, but in my opinion the on-foot experience has lost a step in this installment.

Avatar image for Arther-la-Blunt

So this is the RDR of pirate games?

Avatar image for deathstream


No, RDR was a good game.

Avatar image for python1026

@deathstream @Arther-la-Blunt

And this isnt? Are you high?

I mean its not like its being praised as the best AC game or anything... Oh wait, IT IS.

Avatar image for python1026

@Arther-la-Blunt Pretty much.

Avatar image for Ashish_World17

I really to own the 'Assassin's Creed IV the Black flag' due to collection and when I play any version of this I really feel Iam come into not only came into the modern age but concatit into early age thanking you Assassin's Creed Game Production Team. I belong to india in the small place I got this stuff in time by getting the blogs through 'Gamespot' ......................yipeee.....great.

Avatar image for python1026

@Ashish_World17 Since Im assuming that english isnt your first language, Im respectfully saying that I dont understand you.

Avatar image for SuperDutchy

@python1026 @Ashish_World17 Let me translate: He has all the Assassin's Creed games and really wants to get Assassin's Creed: Black Flag to make his collection complete. He thinks it's really amazing what the Assassin's Creed Team has accomplished and when he plays the games he's fully drawn into the world that they've created. He lives in India and he gets all his gaming news from GameSpot through blogs and without which, he would be behind on all his gaming news.

Avatar image for noladem504

@SuperDutchy @python1026 @Ashish_World17

excellent translation! Thanks for that

Avatar image for Ionutzmovie

Avatar image for python1026

Does anyone remember that video Danny made about AC? Did he ever make a follow up to that?

Avatar image for Arther-la-Blunt

@python1026 I was thinking the same thing.

Avatar image for Aletunda

Excellent game when it isnt bugging out, so many times when playing the game it will do something unexpected and you are left to quit the game, whistling guards is near useless as it never seems to work the way it was intended. everything is great except for no throwing knives and the vast number of bugs and glitches

Avatar image for deactivated-57bcc1891a93a

@Aletundahey you get to use throwing knives, in the underwater cove assassinations. a whole 2 times haha

Avatar image for nomailx

Ok, Just finished the game. Here are my points:

1. Awesome game, AC meets Pirates! Deserves the 9.0

2. Immersive world with intense graphics. Great work.

3. As usual didn't like the ending. (AC has an ending problem since the first).

4. All assassination missions are ruined by too sensitive guards. (a guard 1 thousand mile away will see you from behind a wall and alert everyone. You find yourself constantly choosing the easier combat path against the stealth path.

5. Collision detection is as usual terrible. Most of the time you want to do an awesome move but you find yourself doing a completely weird action, like hanging from an edge while you ordered an air assassination, or hanging on top of the edge instead of an "edge" assassination, etc...

Final Verdict: Still Awesome game despite 3, 4 and 5. But pls fix these.

Avatar image for Jenkar

Man I got really sad there at the end. I know the Assassin's Creed games have always had a very linear way of going about story progression, but I just wished they had added some alternative to having nearly everyone you care about just flat out dying. An example would be Mass Effect 2, where you could do the loyalty missions in order to have your crew members get a better chance at surviving the final battle. I don't know though, maybe the writers just wanted me to feel terrible.

Avatar image for Dexyu

@Jenkar but the end did alleviates that didn't it?

Avatar image for Jenkar

@Dexyu @Jenkar I guess it was supposed to. At least Kenway came out alive and relatively intact.

Avatar image for Soundaholic92

@Aletunda @Jenkar @Dexyu But we already know there's Connor. I haven't played it myself but it's nothing too surprising

Avatar image for Aletunda

@Jenkar @Dexyu cmon guys, spoilers.

Avatar image for djangologics

Best AC game ever.

Avatar image for cgobeil

Hi Shaun, it's me "ItsTheKevinShow" from Twitch... You were right about anti-aliasing, it was a silly thing of me to say; Please accept my apology. Great review by the way !

Avatar image for Jestersmiles

seems more like Pirate Creed than Assassin Creed.....Pass..

Avatar image for elbauto

@Jestersmiles because you didn't play the game...

Avatar image for Jestersmiles

@elbauto @Jestersmiles and? You have to be brain dead to not see that it has the same easy mode combat and laughable stealth and assassination missions from 3. Ohh but wait remember that mode no one gave a damn about , you know the naval combat, it improve!!

No one gives a damn.

now move along fanbot and go follow the rest of the lemmings down the cliff that is the AC series.

Avatar image for noladem504

@Jestersmiles @elbauto

Really? Have you read the comments and review? Sounds to me like only yourself and a few others are the only ones who dont give a damn. This game is a masterpiece and for you to criticizer it even though you didnt play it shows your maturity (or lack thereof).

Avatar image for Dexyu

@Jestersmiles @elbauto i gave a dam i dont know who is this we but i for one loved it

Avatar image for python1026

@gobilamoka @python1026 True that, but for the franchise, its definetly the stealthiest.

Anyways, what would be a better word anyway?

Avatar image for gobilamoka

@python1026 "assassiny" haha nice, but yeah, AC being as it is isn't really all stealthy

Avatar image for python1026

@Jestersmiles @elbauto Storywise, it has lots of assassins, but its the least assassiny, Gameplay-wise, its definetly the stealthiest of the creed games, so its pretty assassiny if I do say so myself.

Avatar image for kamikazeespleen

This is by far the best AC since 2. Much bigger sense of freedom and I love the main character. Its arguably not as much about Assassins as the rest of the series but this is the pirate game I've always wanted. If they changed the name to something other than AC, people would have criticised it for being a ripoff anyway.

Avatar image for Dexyu

@kamikazeespleen Aye and it was a dam good game !

Avatar image for Darkfall_05

I've seen a comparison video (i g n). From my view of that video, I've concluded (personally) that Xbox One version has a slight advantage in detailed lighting and some textures look a bit better on the Xbox One.

"higher resolution and better anti-aliasing"

Doesn't look any better to me. Specs wise... 1080p meh, that texture was 1280×720 to start with :P

Avatar image for Xyllix

I fucking hated the Pirate ship battles in AC3, felt like a boring and frustrating addition to the game. I enjoy being an assassin, not so much a pirate.

Avatar image for Dexyu

@Xyllix Hey thats fine different strokes for different people

Avatar image for nomailx

Pirates! meets Assassin's Creed to create the best game ever.

Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag More Info

  • First Released Oct 29, 2013
    • Nintendo Switch
    • PC
    • + 5 more
    • PlayStation 3
    • PlayStation 4
    • Wii U
    • Xbox 360
    • Xbox One
    Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag is a free-roaming action adventure game for both current gen and next gen consoles. Players will take the role of young captain Edward Kenway whose exploits earn the respect of pirate legends like Blackbeard, but draw him into an ancient war that may destroy everything the pirates have built.
    Average Rating2198 Rating(s)
    Please Sign In to rate Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag
    Developed by:
    Ubisoft, Ubisoft Montreal
    Published by:
    Adventure, Action
    Content is generally suitable for ages 17 and up. May contain intense violence, blood and gore, sexual content and/or strong language.
    Blood, Sexual Themes, Strong Language, Use of Alcohol, Violence