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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 balugha

I just beat this for the first time.... what a fun game, it aged a bit but not too badly.

there weren't as many eavesdropping missions, not as many as previous games.

This is the first AC game I played since AC1, but had tons of fun, I might go back and play the Desmond trilogy next.

Avatar image for jcbsdad

I still play this game - even two years later the best AC imho.

Avatar image for castielle679

Great Review. I just had to read this before buying the game.

Avatar image for Epak_

It's on sale on PSN right now, had to buy it :)

Avatar image for nero000

best part of assassin's Creed so far amazing

and good review

Avatar image for simuseb2

Tis a fun game with a fantastic, immersive atmosphere. Seriously, the open sea in this game is intoxicating. Unfortunately it begins to drag if you are doing the side quests. Don't be fooled by the massive time Ubisoft claims it will take to 100% this game. Majority of it is padding and filler and that is what really lets this game down. Maybe open games are just not for me, but once you've pirated a few ships, you've pirated them all. Harpooning is exactly the same every time. Diving is pretty much the same every time. In short, most of the side content is downright repetitive. The main story feels disjointed and disconnected. It's got a good premise, but nothing seems to work together. The characters never seem to have a chance to connect to the player before they are swished away by the plot. The protagonist and his sidekick are both very likeable, however, and at the very least, they make the dragging story-line bearable.

Avatar image for tshipe

Only good thing about this game is the graphics. Combat is sluggish, controls are unresponsive, story is crap. Very displeased considering all the positive reviews. First and last AC I will play. Maybe its because I went from Shadow of Mordor, which had awesome fluid combat, to this choppy, sluggish, crap. I can't even imagine how bad AC Unity is knowing that that has generally negative reviews. Ubisoft needs to end this poor attempt of a franchise or take their time and release a game every three years not every three months.

Avatar image for simuseb2

@tshipe Please stay the hell out of business if you really think Ubisoft should be taking advantage of this money machine. :P

Avatar image for mpowers8

@Jock9 @heguain If you don't have your ship unlocked you haven't played the game because that's where it really starts.

Avatar image for maubecerra

good review and good game really worth playing!

Avatar image for kdavenport88

Still in the process of playing the game and I'm really enjoying it. I liked the era of AC3, but I couldn't get with it, but I did finish it. So far, I'm liking this one a lot. :)

Avatar image for watchdogsrules

ac4 is AWESOME! play it every day.

Avatar image for watchdogsrules

ac4 is basically ac3 except your in a different setting

Avatar image for malachi_27

@watchdogsrules Yeah, but with a few new additions. Still not a bad thing, though.

Avatar image for mr_iceman

this new site layout is horrible, please bring back the old site!!!

Avatar image for advocacy

Better than Watch Dogs.

Avatar image for watchdogsrules

@advocacy don't know about that......

Avatar image for siftbiade741

@watchdogsrules @advocacy Watchdogs was pretty crap imo.

Avatar image for uninspiredcup

No pc review lol

Avatar image for Kevlar101

@Jock9 @heguain Oh just go away until you have actually gotten somewhere in the damn game.

Avatar image for I3ring_it

First, thank you for the review!

Second... Could the Gamespot website be any slower..?

Avatar image for nazari364

Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag was Meaningless

it hasn't good end

Avatar image for TalSet_11

I played it on 360, Xbox One, and PC, and I find that it's a good game, but this series is in serious need of some really new ideas, and as good as the sailing is and piracy may be, it's not the reinvention we need. I wrote a review posted to my profile for my take on things.

Avatar image for marker_1988

@TalSet_11 Same thoughts here. I just finished playing through and its getting more and more similar to Far Cry. Ubisoft is milking the series dry. Go through my review if you have the time please.

Avatar image for watchdogsrules

@TalSet_11 true

Avatar image for Jock9

I liked it, given that I am only 3 sequences into the game on the PS4 I do like it, but I do not love it, I want to make that clear. The story only vaguely lures me in, and the lack of Pirating in the open-world is lacking, as there isn't much you can do short of the main missions and side-quests, but nothing truly Pirate themed. Combat hasn't changed much, and since there has been SO many instalments in this series, I did expect some changes, or additions but there are none really. It's not worth £50+ especially since it's multiplatform. I expected more from Black Flag yes, but this was a cross-platform game and it is to be expected, that the only improvements on the PS4 version would be graphically, and crisper animations and frame rate.

I probably have lost any interest in the Assassin's Creed franchise now but I was already disliking it since Brotherhood, it is stale and quite dull and boring; I only gave Black Flag a chance as my brother wanted it, I got him it and we share the game as we both have PS4 consoles. If I were the only one who owned the console, I would never have bothered with my own free money in buying Black Flag, not really worth getting with the PS4, unless it was very cheap. So I am once more disenfranchised with this series once more, as I was with AC3, and the past instalments. Ubisoft better bloody pull out the stops with Watch Dogs, or you'll just become another EA, or Activision to me.

Avatar image for painpas

@Jock9 You're going to really like it. Give it sometime and you will trust me.... Good hold over with tons of things to do until Infamous SS comes out. Really enjoying this game more than dare I say it AC2 as far as the series goes. So much freedom and attention to detail. You will sink hours in this game and that is the best compliment I can give it. Also because of the variety of things the game is trying to do I must commend them on the scale. Unique setting and feel too. The game should does not need to be an AC title though to be honest this could have been its own series.

Avatar image for heguain

@Jock9 So you judge it based on 3 sequences?? LOL, Dude play more and you'll find your fun on the road...3 sequences ain't enough to show you everything the game wants to show you..

And if you really hate repetitive games don't play games like battlefield or call of duty they're the ones that really are repetitive ;)

Avatar image for Jock9

@heguain @Jock9 For me about 3 - 4 levels, missions, or in AC4's case Sequences is all I need to decide it's not for me, as I've already found a city or town to explore, which just feels the same as cities and towns in Brotherhood and AC3, plus I've found weapons, and done a variety of side quests, which again feel recycled from past instalments. I don't really like Call of Duty, as a series and haven't for a while; I only play it for the Campaign.

As for Battlefield, it surpasses Call of Duty with a more realistic setting, and world and plot which I have always liked in the series.

Avatar image for Sashby

@Jock9 - Thanks, I was debating whether or not to get this game and thought I'd check and see what other users had to say about it. Based on your comments I'd say we have similar feelings toward the franchise. Your comments are more helpful than the review. Cheers for saving me $50 and more disappointment.

Avatar image for DigiRave

Honestly, one word sums up the ending: SHIT!

Avatar image for TalSet_11

@DigiRave I didn't think it was that bad, just abrupt and nonsensical. Assassin's Creed games have a tendency to paint themselves into a corner with their narratives.

Avatar image for NTM23

The naval combat wasn't great to me, but I liked everything else.

Avatar image for blackace

Ok, so the game got a 9.0 for the Ps4 & XBox One version. Why is it showing a 6 score on Metacritic for the XB1 and a 9 score for the PS4 version. Metacritic should fix that.

Avatar image for greenshadow222

Sad disappointing game. Having to use a gun when I did not want to was a drag. This is not Call of Duty - or is it trying to be?? I was bugged by the amount of control Ubisoft maintained over my "free roaming play". You have to do the mission quest exactly they way they want it. You can only climb on certain things no matter how much they look like Edward should be able to climb them. The Map grows smaller and smaller each game - this one the smallest yet. The cities have no story relevance like they did in AC2 or even AC3. The only reason to explore them is to find money or quests. The hunting is a drag especially when attacked - and the use of a gun as first weapon is not AC to me. Edward is likeable and I did like the naval warfare, but the missions and the story were dull and unsatisfying. Would they be fun if I was twelve?? Maybe. Multiplayer is boring - kill your friends or kill total strangers and it is a bore. I have not hear anyone anywhere talk about how the multiplayer was so fun for missions - no it is the killing that the fans of the Xbox One talk about - that and how they can watch TV and game at the same time. Not for me. But I can understand why Ubisoft would need to dumb down the game for such players. It looks to me like cheat codes, gun, friends to talk to via kinect and lots of "enemies" to kill is all that xbox one fans need and want - at leat as far as multiplayer goes. I will be sad if single player games stop being made, but sadder stillif Ubisoft lets a marvelous series fade to crap just to make money. The Assassins creed games started out as works of art and now are neither great gaming art or huge money makers and that is really sad.

Avatar image for ZOD777

Have you noticed that the music in AC IV when you board an enemy ship is eerily similar to the music on MW2's level "The Enemy of My Enemy"? The spec ops mission "Snatch and Grab" is the same level, and you don't get all the chatter from Price. It isn't exact, but there is a good 10 second portion or more that is nearly identical.

Avatar image for NTM23


The song you're talking about is called 'Code of Conduct'. That's probably my favorite song of MW2, but I don't think it sounds too much like the song you're referring to in the game, though I certainly did get the vibe of Lorne Balfe and Hans Zimmer in there, some of which sounded very familiar. The person that composed AC4, composed the next Modern Warfare actually, while Lorne Balfe composed AC3. Interesting.

Avatar image for daedstarr

So you can't really say this review is for all 4 systems since the review is based solely on the new gens and the 360 and ps3 was played later. Also, the Xbxo One version runs a lot better and has no frame rate issues and actually renders some other aspects better than the PS4. This was based on a side by side comparison of the two.

Avatar image for Jason210


Graphics for me will always be secondary to the game play, and I don't think the game play changes depending on which system it is played.

The weakest aspect of this game is for me the game play, which has many constraints that break the immersion, including the dumbing down from ACIII.

Avatar image for lorenzitito

Good game,but I didn't like the ship minigames.

Combat was too easy for me,and I felt that the ending was....lacking something(But then again,I have that problem since AC1),and the multiplayer is like a copy-paste from other AC games(I mean,there is no new content to the multiplayer)

But it has a beautiful open world that gives a lot of points to the game,and the story (ignoring the ending)was very good.

Overall,I would give the game a score of 8.0

(The music was fine,but I still think that AC2 had the best soundtrack of AC games,but that's my opinion)

Avatar image for TheJamin

Hate that you can't kill civilians without using your guns though. seems to break the immersion.

Avatar image for TheJamin

Game is running at a locked 60fps maxed out with TXAA 4X on my pc. I reckon it'll dip in the navel battles a bit but I can live with 2x.

Nice looking game, it looked better in the screenshots though.

Avatar image for Shitname

Just started playing this game today and I've got to say I'm impressed.

I was worried as I really haven't taken to the assassins creed series.

Played one for about ten hours and couldn't get into it.

Played and finished two, enjoyed it enough to finish it but felt like it was lacking.

Didn't pick up three just wasn't interested, but after playing black flag for about four hours I'm finding the game addictive and much more fun than any other assassins creed I've played before.

Pleasantly surprised.

Avatar image for analgrin

@Shitname Yeah similar to me. Loved AC1, AC2 was more of the same, stopped playing it before I finished it due to boredom

AC3. . . well I'm afraid I gave up after about 4 or 5 hours. Why it needed such a long tutorial period when we all know how AC works now is beyond me.

AC4 though. . wow. I wish now that I'd bought this on release instead of Killzone and BF4. It's all about the naval battles this time and the usual AC stuff is there to dip into as and when u feel like it. It's like having 2 games in 1. Get bored of one, start doing the other. If anything it's a little too addictive

Avatar image for MicahChua

@Shitname I had your exact same experience with assassins creed. Maybe I will pick up number 4.

Avatar image for lukasbaz

maybe getting this game Monday and I am super excited!!! when I first saw it, I absolutely loved it!!

Avatar image for max-hit

The game is great. I just wish it had a better story with more explained characters.

Avatar image for qbik911

good game, if you dont like it because it seem like the rest of em then you just need to take a break of this unique franchise, its like watching all "The Saw" movies and wander why the hell they all about traps and killing ppl...getting some air helps alto! :)

Avatar image for icebox98

so addictive. i love the berserk darts!!!!

Avatar image for Zaydin-1990

Getting this game for Christmas, and really looking forward to it. The naval missions in Assassin's Creed III were my favorite part of the game, hands down, and if the naval combat is as fun in IV as it was in III, I'll be content to sail around for hours just getting into battles, boarding ships, and looting plunder.

Hell, it was IV that motivated me to FINALLY finished Assassin's Creed III, which I got for Christmas last year; PC meets the recommended requirements, so that's the version I went for; was half off on Amazon anyways.

It's just a shame that there's no naval combat multiplayer, in my opinion. Giving how much fun the naval combat was in AC III, a good naval-based Versus MP mode would have been fantastic. Oh well; maybe we'll get naval MP if Ubisoft makes the pirate-based AC that speculation is circling about now.

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