PS3 Reviews: Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag Review

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Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag Review

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Graphics:

 

9.4

Gameplay:

 

9.0

Sound:

 

9.3

Control:

 

8.8

Replay Value:

 

9.5

Online Gameplay:

 

8.5

Overall Rating:       9.1

 

 

Publisher:

Ubisoft

Developer:

Ubisoft Montreal

Number Of Players:

1-8

Genre:

Action/Adventure

Release Date:

October 29, 2013

I will freely admit that I had my reservations about Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag. I loved last year’s Assassin’s Creed III and had no qualms about rewarding Ubisoft for a fantastically ambitious project, recognizing the many upgrades and additions to the gameplay that made it a positive step forward for the franchise. However, I also wanted the developers to take a year off, as this “annualization” concept puts a definite strain on innovation. And yet, I’m once again astonished by the product that Ubisoft can deliver in such a short span of time.

The latest AC adventure is polished, massive, engaging and it does feel relatively fresh. This freshness begins with the visual presentation, which is lighter, airier, and somehow even more expansive than ever before. There was a certain severity with ACIII’s landscape and towns, which was appropriate given the surroundings; it was the birth of a nation. However, the setting in Black Flag is brighter and more free-wheeling, and it encompasses the full romantic majesty of the legendary pirate lifestyle. Character detail isn’t overly impressive but the animations, world design and effects are all exquisite and a joy to behold.

Once again, Ubisoft has recruited super talented voice actors, and the result is another authentic-sounding production. Combine the stellar voice performances with a fantastic, sweeping orchestral soundtrack that beautifully complements the era, and you’ve got an audio tour de force. Some of the effects can get a little muddled, especially when engaged in naval combat, but the breadth of the sound presentation is nigh-on unparalleled. There’s just so much going on; ambient effects, voices, realistic background noise in a port or city, and the high-powered, explosive combat all contribute to the game’s high level of gloss and immersion.

With a huge emphasis on freedom, the high seas await. Many a port town is ripe for exploration and even plundering, and there are seemingly countless islands to discover. The sun shines brightly on a deep blue ocean, and one can’t help but fall in love with the golden age of piracy. Those living in such a hectic and uncertain time (circa 1715) give the game a richness of personality, and the lighter tone lends the adventure an almost bemused countenance. It’s as if the entire game is saying— “Pirates may be violent criminals, but they also know how live the carefree high-life!”

The Caribbean is full of places to explore, and the team did a great job of implementing eye-catching gameplay sequences that keep you riveted. The bright, sunny locales are a perfect contrast to the more somber tombs you may find in your travels, and those colorful characters are everywhere. The highly accomplished graphical presentation allows you to really feel the sin-packed lure of piracy, and you’re constantly surprised at the sheer size and scope of this wonderfully appointed virtual world. You can explore for hours upon hours upon hours, often getting sidetracked and losing any focus the main narrative may have.

The latter may sound like a drawback and for some, maybe it is. But it’s the default flaw in any giant game that encourages so much player freedom: If you’re the wandering type, you probably won’t remember each step of the plot with perfect clarity. That’s just because there could’ve been a good five or six hours between plot-advancing missions; optional exploration is quite addictive, after all. It’s all the more addictive when you realize that your adventuring is rarely thwarted; there’s very little that’s stopping you from doing whatever you wish to do. The map is wide open from the start, and each and every area seems to have something new and interesting to offer.

Whether you’re going fishing for fun, raiding a loot-laden tomb on a hidden island, tracking down another clue concerning the Templars, acquiring various missions, or simply sailing about, you will always enjoy your travels. That’s part of the problem, though, because it really does put the main storyline on the back burner. Black Flag embraces freedom more than any series installment yet, but it does this at the unfortunate sacrifice of a cohesive plot. Oh, it’s there, but it’s not especially impressive and it’s just complex enough to demand your attention…more attention than you’re willing to give it, given everything else the world has to offer.

As for control, there have been minor issues that have always plagued these games. For those who understood how the free-running mechanic works, these are only minor eccentricities. For instance, the character might run up a wall when you never wanted him to, or he may leap in a direction otherwise intended. This is an unfortunate downside of the movement mechanic, which is actually quite complex when you stop to consider the number of points the character can interact with in the environment. Once you’ve firmly grasped every aspect of the control system, you probably won’t have too many problems. But irritating miscues do remain.

Furthermore, there are other hitches and glitches that are most commonly associated with huge open-world games. There’s so much going on, there’s so much to do, that perhaps this is unavoidable. Those who appreciate the massive scope of Black Flag won’t say that such glitches cripple the gameplay, but they can certainly have a detrimental impact on your experience. If you go out of your way to do all the side missions and fully explore this lush, vibrant world, it’s almost inevitable that you’ll encounter some sort of bizarre hang-up. You just have to accept that this will happen.

While the series has always thrived on single-player immersion and a long, involved narrative, the multiplayer element has become more appealing over the years. Playing online offers a refreshing respite from the realm of shooters and multiple various modes encourage highly strategic thinking, timing and tact. This really is about assassins versus assassins; it’s about blending in, devising the perfect plan and stalking your prey with grim, deadly precision. It also reminds you just how challenging it is to tackle human assassination targets as compared to AI targets. Speaking of AI, it’s a little better than it has been in past franchise entries, but there’s still room for improvement. It should be one of the team's next-gen goals.

The combat is better than ever, as the free-flowing system full of brutal attacks and awesome counters really shines. Add in the naval combat, which was excellently implemented in ACIII and greatly expanded upon in Black Flag, and you’ve got a dynamic game that utilizes vastly different forms of fighting. From sneaking and stabbing to cannons aboard ships to all-out duels, this one has it all. Yes, you will likely find many of the combat situations – and the missions of which that fighting is a part – to be familiar. But that familiarity isn’t a bad thing, especially when there are some refinements and the overall production values are so high.

The story isn’t exactly amazing, but it’s interesting that Ubisoft has opted for something a bit more…well, fun. There have always been very dark, historical overtones in each AC entry, and many of the emotionally dramatic sequences have been gritty and visceral. This time, to go along with a brighter general design, we get a storyline that is a bit more straightforward; protagonist Edward Kenway is mostly about the loot and living large. There are still a few expected twists and turns involving the age-old Templars but rather than delving deeper into that element, this game focuses more on the concept of piracy. And let’s face it, that’s not complicated. It’s a nice change of pace, but I worry that they may permanently toss aside the plot intricacy I’ve always appreciated.

Lastly, there are several intriguing first-person missions that take place outside the Animus. These are all optional but they provide us with a really cool alternate perspective: You’re a new Abstergo employee who is working to create an entertainment product based on Edward’s life. This eventually leads to clues about future series entries, and involves plenty of sinister corporate business. However, when you’re done, you’ll definitely want to get back to the gargantuan, brilliantly devised virtual world within the Animus. It’s begging for you to explore every island, town, and expanse of ocean, and that’s precisely what keeps you coming back for more, again and again.

Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag is a rousing, spirited display of glorious adventure on the high seas. The world is your oyster and you’re gonna take advantage at every turn. It’s more about freedom and less about following a linear plot (which some may like), and the AI and control still isn’t spot-on perfect, but it’s tough to ignore the inherent vast, epic grandness. It’s one of those games that draw you in with its unparalleled atmosphere and style. Despite any aforementioned reservations I had, I’ve succumbed to the lure of the legendary pirate lifestyle and if you play Black Flag, you might end up in the same boat. Get it? Get it?! Sure ya do.

The Good: Beautifully detailed and designed world, full of vibrant life and possibilities. Great voice performances and music. A diverse array of missions and activities. Memorable action sequences. All forms of combat are a joy to experience. Overall epic size and scope.

The Bad: Lingering control and AI issues. Story is brighter and more fun, but lacks some of that expected depth.

The Ugly: “A pirate’s life may be ugly to the moralist, but it’s just plain gorgeous to the hedonist.”

11/4/2013 Ben Dutka

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Comments (37 posts)

matt99
Monday, November 04, 2013 @ 11:43:59 PM
Reply

Waiting an extra couple weeks so I can get this for the PS4, knowing that I could be playing it now, is one of the hardest things I've ever done.

Agree with this comment 4 up, 0 down Disagree with this comment

greg238
Tuesday, November 05, 2013 @ 12:13:15 AM

Damn straight the temptation is killing me

Agree with this comment 2 up, 0 down Disagree with this comment

Dante399
Wednesday, November 06, 2013 @ 12:01:17 PM

And that goes for a lot of games.

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YashaZz
Tuesday, November 05, 2013 @ 12:12:45 AM
Reply

Ben you gave Black Flag a much higher score than I expected. A lot of other reviewers bashes on the lacking story and the fact that the game play itself feels outdated.

Interesting.

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Temjin001
Tuesday, November 05, 2013 @ 12:16:32 AM

I haven't seen a lot of that from other reviewers. The game has surprisingly rated a bit higher compared to AC3, from what I can tell. I say that's a tough feet for a series that can't stay down for longer than a year.

Agree with this comment 2 up, 0 down Disagree with this comment

Ben Dutka PSXE [Administrator]
Tuesday, November 05, 2013 @ 12:23:41 AM

Eh? The PS3 version is averaging close to a 9, yes?

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WorldEndsWithMe
Tuesday, November 05, 2013 @ 9:35:48 AM

That's crazy, a PS3 version scoring higher, never would have seen that in the dark days.

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Temjin001
Tuesday, November 05, 2013 @ 12:13:05 AM
Reply

While I'm not much for pirates, the idea of exploring exotic landscapes in search of stuff seems like a lot of fun for this kind of game. I look forward to eventually playing it.

Agree with this comment 1 up, 0 down Disagree with this comment

Kryten1029a
Tuesday, November 05, 2013 @ 12:15:00 AM
Reply

I hadn't planned to buy this but with Watch Dogs being delayed, I decided to give it a go. Good to know that I'll get some fun out of it.

Agree with this comment 2 up, 0 down Disagree with this comment

berserk
Tuesday, November 05, 2013 @ 12:00:08 PM

Same ,wanted to wait for a price drop but with no Watch dog , i ll have to pick this up along Kz .

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Knightzane
Tuesday, November 05, 2013 @ 12:53:14 AM
Reply

As much as my opinion is loathed here as I'm sure, I kinda wish this wasn't an Assassins Creed game. It would have been a fantastic pirate IP that could have stood alone and became its own yearly franchise as I'm sure Ubisoft would turn it into. Fun game though. Still wish Haytham could have gotten his own game.

Agree with this comment 3 up, 0 down Disagree with this comment

Ben Dutka PSXE [Administrator]
Tuesday, November 05, 2013 @ 10:25:41 AM

Since when is your opinion "loathed?" :)

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___________
Tuesday, November 05, 2013 @ 3:06:11 AM
Reply

ok after a little humble pie its nice to actually be surprised about something for a change.
first GTAV, and now this.
this is actually oh so much better designed than AC3 was, i mean most missions are so open and theres tons of foliage and crap to hide in to avoid enemies.
i wish they were a bit more varied though, almost everything is hiding in bushes wish there was more trees you could leap from.

its funny how the assassins creed part, well at least the gameplay, is almost perfected.
but the new parts, the pirating, well oh dear.........
ship battles and the inventory are so poorly thought out.
for instance the mission im up to the game constantly keeps telling me to upgrade my ship before i can enter it and btw im only like 4 hours in.
but to upgrade my ship i need 150 metal to upgrade the guns, and 100 for the armor.
VERY few ships have 1 metal on them, let alone 150!
and the only ships that do have ANY metal on them are military ships, ie the basic equipment i have aint gonna last long against them.
i tried taking down a level 23 ship last night the lowest level ship ive seen carrying metal, and i lasted literally less than a minute!
so you need to upgrade your ship so you can complete the main mission, but the only way to do that is get more metal, and the only way to get more metal is to take down military ships which require me to upgrade my ship but i cant because i dont have enough.
well thought out that was!
sigh.
they should of made it that beginner upgrades require the much more commodious and easier to board wood or cloth, than build it up once you have become stronger.

hard to say anything about the story yet because i havent gone very far, but so far whats pulled out was really interesting.
it was nice to see that video detailing the events after AC3 hopefully you learn more about that.
it would of been nice to watch a refresher video though i really need to go back and watch the ending again ive forgotten everything that happened.
one thing ive always hated about AC though is how scattered everything is.
this just seems even worse, i mean you can find heaps of background info but you have to wonder around abstergo hacking every single PC, thats not exactly fun.
wish it was more confined like AC1 you had vidiks PC and lucys that was about it, not a whole building with hundreds of PCs per level!

i just wish that all the pirate naval crap which is dragging down the rest of the game would be removed.
thing is it could actually be ALLOT of fun, and would make a perfect game in its own right.
the Caribbean is a stunning place to explore, but its not suited to a AC environment.
AC has a architectural beauty, not a tropical beauty.
AC has massive landmarks and expansive rooftops to run around on.
not palm trees and tiny villas.
people have been BEGGING for a decent pirate game for years!
but these 2 things just really dont meld with the AC universe very well, i really wish ubisoft would rip them out and create a all new ip which will do these mechanics justice.
not just shoehorn them into something that totally does not suit it!


Last edited by ___________ on 11/5/2013 3:27:04 AM

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Lawless SXE
Tuesday, November 05, 2013 @ 4:10:33 AM
Reply

So, it's the closest that Ubisoft has gotten to the quality of ACII to date? Nice. I should have played the rest of the series by the time I get a PS4, so this will be a priority purchase then.

Also, LOL at the CoD ad. It's massive and only has XBOX logos. I'm like... on PSXE, really?

Agree with this comment 2 up, 0 down Disagree with this comment

WorldEndsWithMe
Tuesday, November 05, 2013 @ 9:53:49 AM

The ad service PSXE uses basically splashes game related things on game related sites, but even if that weren't the case Microsoft would buy up the space knowing it's a Sony site.

Go to Amazon and run a search for PS4, Xbox One is right there. Run a search for Xbox One, there's no PS4. They are evil.

Agree with this comment 3 up, 1 down Disagree with this comment

Beamboom
Tuesday, November 05, 2013 @ 10:04:22 AM

... Or clever.
There's little evil about buying search result keywords.

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WorldEndsWithMe
Tuesday, November 05, 2013 @ 10:34:06 AM

Purchasing one's position in life instead of earning it is bad for all involved. I'll never forget how they bought out the JRPG genre early on and effectively killed it. Thousands of little bits of so called smart business add up to tear down what was once good and fair in the competition of this thing called gaming.

Agree with this comment 4 up, 1 down Disagree with this comment

Lawless SXE
Tuesday, November 05, 2013 @ 2:12:08 PM

I know, World. Just found it funny is all considering the general malaise regarding both products around these parts and though I might mention it.

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Beamboom
Tuesday, November 05, 2013 @ 5:00:02 AM
Reply

Hmmm... Surprising.
I might actually get this one. And I never thought I would.

Agree with this comment 3 up, 0 down Disagree with this comment

WorldEndsWithMe
Tuesday, November 05, 2013 @ 9:37:20 AM

I said that about ACIII, then my brother let me borrow it. After getting caught for walking around in public three times in 20 minutes I started to get that familiar sick feeling in my stomach.

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Ben Dutka PSXE [Administrator]
Tuesday, November 05, 2013 @ 10:27:43 AM

I'm telling you, World, that CANNOT happen unless the guards are already on alert, or you're walking through a red area on your map.

You can walk around for days in any AC without anything happening if your Incognito. You can even bump into guards without them doing anything; other than shoving you back and telling you to move along.

All your problems with AC have been due to unfamiliarity with the game's systems, I swear.

Last edited by Ben Dutka PSXE on 11/5/2013 10:27:55 AM

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Temjin001
Tuesday, November 05, 2013 @ 10:53:58 AM

yah, the game usually displays something like WARNING Entering Contested Area, while the screen flashes like red or something to let you know you'll be attacked on sight.

I have had problems moreso in AC3 when trying to break a pursuit though. it seemed the wide open streets and stuff just made it real frustrating to tear down posters or pay off dudes. not a game breaker but can be annoying.

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WorldEndsWithMe
Tuesday, November 05, 2013 @ 11:52:04 AM

And I'm telling you it's ridiculous for the game to tell me that I can't hang out on a rooftop that nobody saw me climb onto because it's in a restricted area, or sitting on a park bench because it is a restricted area. Other people are sitting there happily minding their own business and I should be able to as well.

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Temjin001
Tuesday, November 05, 2013 @ 12:15:45 PM

world, the area would be under Templar control so they're vigilant for Assassin's and will spot you during line of sight engagements. That's why they attack you and not just the civilians. Since, what was it, Brotherhood?, you would assassinate their leader of a contested area and then burn down their outpost to free that area of their control. Then you could wander freely in that location, unless of course your notoriety level was too high and then you'd be engaged anyway by the officials in that area. Higher degrees of notoriety increased Official awareness to your presence.

EDIT: and during the day, there are often patrols on rooftops to spot you. At night it's much easier. Perhaps you were caught during a night to day transition. So it doesn't matter if anyone saw you go onto a rooftop or not.

Last edited by Temjin001 on 11/5/2013 12:22:06 PM

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WorldEndsWithMe
Tuesday, November 05, 2013 @ 1:55:14 PM

Yeah, that's way too much ridiculousness for me.

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Ben Dutka PSXE [Administrator]
Tuesday, November 05, 2013 @ 2:54:37 PM

That's called "depth," World. :)

Temjin: Yeah, breaking pursuit in ACIII was much too difficult. It seemed like there were way more enemies and the lack of really tall buildings made it even tougher to ultimately evade.

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PlatformGamerNZ
Tuesday, November 05, 2013 @ 5:24:57 AM
Reply

i'll have a proper look tomaro my time but i didn't expect anything less from this game than a 8.5 -9.5 game so yeah

happy gaming =)

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bldudas1
Tuesday, November 05, 2013 @ 7:14:19 AM
Reply

i bought this game on Sunday and I really like it so far.

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richterm
Tuesday, November 05, 2013 @ 9:12:47 AM
Reply

For those of you who don't know, you can buy it on the PS3 today and then get it for the PS4 digitally for $10.

I know, ten bucks is ten bucks...but you're not really having to pay full price twice. (looking at you, GTA V!)

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CrusaderForever
Tuesday, November 05, 2013 @ 9:24:30 AM

The problem with doing this is that you have to have the ACIV PS3 disc in your PS4 every time you want to play ACIV on your PS4. Unless you buy the ACIV PS3 digital version.

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CrusaderForever
Tuesday, November 05, 2013 @ 9:23:14 AM
Reply

Thanks Ben! This is the motivation I needed to destroy the evil ACIII once and for all! :)

Just took down Copperhead last night so I am on my way to finishing up BatmanAO.

Once I am done I can trudge through ACIII knowing ACIV rocks! Great review! :)

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WorldEndsWithMe
Tuesday, November 05, 2013 @ 9:34:54 AM
Reply

Arrrrrr, better than I expected. Good to see Snow kicking ass in something other than Final Fantasy.

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Norrin Radd
Tuesday, November 05, 2013 @ 9:37:24 AM
Reply

FWIW, I've tried all the AC games. I've rarely finished one. As great of productions as they are, they never sucked me in to where I couldn't put it down. Until now!

AC IV is just an absolute blast! I love that I don't have to finish the story before I can go off exploring. It helps when you can go outside the story line, plunder and gear up and then return back to the story, maybe more able to proceed forward. Plus, steering that ship and engaging in naval combat, while it takes a bit of practice, is not very difficult to become proficient at doing - and it really becomes a ton of fun. I was expecting to have to slog through the naval portions - but I was wrong.

My only regret is that I won't be able to buy a PS4 in the near future. But when I do - it'll only cost $10 to play AC IV on there. And the water in the PS4 version is stunning! Definitely agree with the review score here. Nice job, Ben.

My only gripe/future request - no more follow/eavesdrop missions - please!

Last edited by Norrin Radd on 11/5/2013 9:39:56 AM

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Sir Dan
Tuesday, November 05, 2013 @ 9:49:33 AM
Reply

I absoltely loved PS2 game Pirates the Legend of Black Kat. Extremely under rated game that I think I was the only one here to have ever played. I finished it 4 times at least. Been waiting for a game like it ever since.

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sirbob6
Tuesday, November 05, 2013 @ 7:28:18 PM

I loved that game so much, it is just so much fun

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homura
Tuesday, November 05, 2013 @ 12:32:32 PM
Reply

I love the tools in ACIII especially the rope darts. I really enjoy hanging people into branches. I will love if I can use the tools in ACIV seamlessly. For example. Rope dart the enemy towards you then shoot him without the tool wheel showing.

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riptide8
Thursday, November 14, 2013 @ 4:14:58 PM
Reply

They have this for 49.00 at COSTCO , I picked it up then put it back down because of all the other games, including AC3 that I have to finnish... On the fence post about getting the PS4 too. This looks great though

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