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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 Bowser05

That's very comforting. The stage demos were completely broken and I feared for this game releasing as a terrible mess. Turns out Ubisoft actually did a ton of testing since then and released a good product. I think it's finally time for me to continue the AC series. Going to start AC2 tomorrow finally. I look forward to it.

Avatar image for CleanPlayer

@Bowser05 AC2 is fantastic! It gives me hope Ubisoft can make a good Assassin's Creed game

Avatar image for ratchet200

@CleanPlayer @Bowser05 Totally agree! I was sad to finish the AC2 series and stop playing as Ezio though.

Avatar image for e1tonka

@Fartman7998 Not sure if you're serious. This could very well happen seeing that the PS4 has been known to be the more powerful system, graphically, for months. That being said, the jump in graphics on games that were given the time such as Killzone, BF4 for PS3 and Forza and Ryse for Xone is great. Just like the 360 vs PS3, the PS is more powerful but the differences are forgivable since they're still significant jumps from the previous system. Most people will move to x to x and ps to ps so I am sure everyone will be happy regardless :)

Avatar image for Godlikan

I picked every single thing there is to pick in game hoping for something special to happen some hidden part of a story or something, but... nothing. Pointless chests, fragments and bottles... Gareth graphics, great way the game is executed, stale old story and above all predictable. It could be so more.

Avatar image for Dexyu

@Godlikan Bottles are lore dude use the brain power .....chets is materials and ammo + gold to upgrade stuff fragments i have no idea mby for collection freeks

Avatar image for Fartman7998

I certainly hope every single dang game that comes out on both consoles isn't going to look better on the PS4 than it does on the Xbox One. That will just be...well, asinine, to put it frankly

Avatar image for TehUndeadHorror

@Fartman7998 It should level out I think. Last gen a lot of PS3 versions of games were always a bit behind, most notably with Bethesda games, but the similarity between Xbox One, PS4 and PC architecture should make porting games easier--especially now that we have game engines that are scalable to each system.

I think most of these differences are just due to the rush at launch. We'll see if things change later with games like Watch Dogs.

Avatar image for Morphine_OD

@TehUndeadHorror PS3 looked worse because of it's architecture, now PS4 looks better because IT MORE DAMN POWERFUL on the SAME architecture.

Avatar image for MrBunson

@TehUndeadHorror @Morphine_OD How should we emphasize text than? Is bold or italicized acceptable?

Avatar image for TehUndeadHorror

@Morphine_OD @TehUndeadHorror What is with everyone using capital words on this site? That isn't how you should emphasise anything, ever.

I guess I should have said: specifically, I think the difference in graphics right now is because of the launch, not because developers are utilising the PS4 better. But you're right, the PS4 does have the advantage. With the graphics we're seeing now, however, it shouldn't matter too much either way.

Avatar image for billzihang

This is certainly the best AC game to date. The only thing that lets it down are the pretty 'meh' character models; the rest of the graphics are great though. Superb setting,

Avatar image for Bren128

PS4 already winning the multiplat battle!

Avatar image for spikepigeo

@Bren128 PS4 already winning the multiplat console* battle! - there, fixed it for you.

Avatar image for Bren128

@spikepigeo @Bren128 Since a very small portion of the PC community actually has a console superior to the PS4..................its winning the multiplat battle!

Avatar image for drwaldy

@Bren128 @spikepigeo You really can't place the PC vs consoles... it's not really even a contest. But yes, PS4 is "winning" the battle between it and the Xbox One.

Avatar image for scottm85

Think i'll be picking this up when I get my PS4 eventually. Good to hear it looks better on PS4. PS4: 1 - Xbox1: 0!

Avatar image for salad10203

Burnt out AC3 will be my last until there are serious changes.

Avatar image for TrialMonkey

@salad10203 If all you are looking for is multiplayer then sure. However, the single player has been greatly improved. I haven't played all of them in the series, just AC1 & 2 but this one has so much more than those. It feels to me like playing two different games almost. You have the standard run around cities and kill people stuff, and then there is this whole other pirate game on top of it. Get tired of running around cities and rooftops? Go to sea and do some harpooning/island hopping/ship to ship battling. Tired of being out at sea? Go back to town and jump around some rooftops. I didn't try AC3 so I can't tell you the comparison between the two, but the huge map and naval warfare is fun as hell.

Avatar image for Uangry

@TrialMonkey @salad10203 Some of us wasted money on AC3 so we've lost faith. I'll gladly wait for a sale.

Avatar image for Godlikan

Environments are gorgeous no questions in that, but story is stale as stale can be... Meet bad guys, meet good guys, kill betrayers, kill bad guys, questionable ending...

Avatar image for darthbutcher

Game is amazing. Bought the original no add on copy for my xbox, a birthday gift for my little brother, and then bought a gold edition for myself...just cause it was a tuesday (lol). The game is amazing, so mch freedom, so much upgradeable...things to upgrade? haha .

anyway my only issue is at some point during the cutscenes their eyes seem to glow blue, or red, or yellow or green. If this were star wars that'd be awesome...but i'm a pirate damnit. anybody else hving this?

Avatar image for Snapdragon1

I think this review is getting a little something from Ubisoft as Assassins Creed 4 SUX's for one simple reason. Ubisoft has taken the assassinations out of Assassins Creed and made then a secondary objective rather then the point of the game. I long for the day when the assassinations where what the game was about and you only needed money to upgrade your blades. They should have titled this game Pirates Booty because that what the entire game is about is getting more treasure. Now you run all over the place looking for treasure battle ships for treasure dive in the ocean for treasure oh and if get tired of treasure hunting you can go to a pigeon coop and take an assassination god forbid ! Ubisoft has lost their way and in doing so has loss the soul of Assassins Creed… I'm done with this cash cow !!!

Avatar image for TrialMonkey

@Snapdragon1 Many of the story missions have ended in assassinations, and there are the sidequest type ones as well. I would be curious how many assassination missions are in AC1 vs AC4. Maybe assasinations just seem watered down because there is so much else to do?

Avatar image for darthbutcher

@Snapdragon1 so you mean you like the first? coz that was what the first was all about and it was so monotonous...boring, mechanical. It was the first of its kind and was painfully anticlimactic and all the hype made it taste very sour on the tongue when you actually played it. The second gave me goosebumps in the opening and how it evolved was amazing up to what it is now.


I have to say if there were any cash cow in the series, it would have been revelations. that was a piece of s*** game that nibbled a side order of donkey balls.

Avatar image for Snapdragon1

@darthbutcher @Snapdragon1 I hated Assassins Creed II it was the worse one in my opinion I call it the No NO game because every mission was don't kill anyone don't get discovered don't do this don't do that…UGH but as for AC4 yes I love the stealthy and planning where and how I'll kill my target. I hate what the series has become it's now just a huge joke where you run around doing everything but accomplishing nothing….Very boring and pointless. Defiantly not something I want play….See I loved Revelations I thought it was the best one of the series….. Different stroke for different folks I guess… LOL

Avatar image for spikepigeo

@Snapdragon1 Revelations the best, ACII the worst? First time I've ever heard that. Interesting.

Avatar image for ewjiml

Wow. Completely unexpected that I would get back into the AC series. The only thing holding it back is its own fault....the plot. Get rid of everything Animus related (including Assassins / Templars) and make a damn pirate game.

Avatar image for PixelAddict

Hell hell. I'd written this one off after playing AC3.

I'm an obsessive fan of the series, but was monumentally disappointed in AC3. Guess I gotta get this one. Shoulda just skipped the last one.

Avatar image for Uangry

@PixelAddict Yeah...keep giving them your money no matter what... -_-

Avatar image for Jason210

@Uangry @PixelAddict

They take 50 euros for it on Steam in Sweden.

Avatar image for Pythagoraz

I made a remix of the Main theme. hope you like it! :)


Avatar image for Imperiusmax

Its a pirates life for me!

Avatar image for dom28

Started playing assassins creed IV today and I did not expect it to be this amazing. Way better than assassins creed 3 in my opinion.

Avatar image for ahmad996

This is by far one of the best games i have played this year.

Avatar image for TrialMonkey

@ahmad996 Word, I was so pissed about BF4 on PC and all the crashes and bullsh*t that I was about to just leave my computer off for good. Got this game and haven't been able to turn the PC off!

Avatar image for ahmad996

@TrialMonkey @ahmad996 Dude i played this game on the crappy XB360 and i was amazed at the graphics.

Avatar image for engab

@ahmad996 @TrialMonkey

I play all Assassin creed versions from 1 to 4 I expected more graphic resolution, and I did not expect the will have black beard as "black pearl" they should build their own world of pirates..

Avatar image for engab


How knows assassin Zombi creed maybe come to live..

Avatar image for Lambchopzin

@Mercaptan God I hope so. There are far more interesting ways to put pirates and naval combat in a game then zombies, and it's not like we have too many pirate games. Before this we had Sid Meiers Pirates, and, what else?

Avatar image for gameroutlawzz

@Lambchopzin @Mercaptan Chivalry: Deadliest Warriors introduced the pirate class.

Avatar image for python1026

@Mercaptan I dont see that as a bad thing:) There is a big lack of pirate games, so I hope what you say actually happens.

Avatar image for Innos007666


Avatar image for grangamer118

I am enjoying my time with ac blackflag.

Avatar image for Warsilver

Assassin's Creed is looking awesome again... albeit this is more "Pirates Creed" than Assassins Creed, still, can't wait to play it!!!!

Avatar image for ahmad996

@Warsilver It's still Assassin's Creed.

Avatar image for chyng85

Another great epic~

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)
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    Developed by:
    Ubisoft, Ubisoft Montreal
    Published by:
    Action, Adventure
    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