After what is at large considered a low point of the Assassin’s Creed series with Assassin’s Creed III; Ubisoft braves the open sea with a new Assassin - a swashbuckling, rum drinking pirate… and we couldn’t be happier.
Assassin’s Creed: Black Flag takes a risk by swapping their formulaic Assassin tale from the confined Frontier to the daring time of pirates on the high sea. Thankfully, it’s a risk that met with reward and one that shakes off the stale feeling that has been lingering in the series since Revelations. Black Flag is direct sequel to the last Assassin outing mirrored with another juxtaposed modern/historical sci-fi lore. However, Black Flag is a more like an anti-assassin tale with our hero ‘Edward Kenway’ walking a fine line in the enduring Templar vs. Assassin conflict. Although Black Flag might not be what we're typically used to, this hero fits in perfectly with its 18th century “Pirate of the Caribbean” setting.
Combined with this mindset of being anti-establishment, Black Flag also sports a sandboxed playground featuring naval combat and exploration. While it certainly wears thin after you realize most of the discoveries are fundamentally the same, it still adds more excitement then the typical town-to-town aerobics from the previous games. All routed in the wilderness expansion of AC3, Black Flag feels more natural utilizing the wilds. It’s the wilds of the Caribbean secrets are the real treat even if we still have to sit through more modern day ideology of Abstergo evil ways and a hidden master race.
Exploring the open world as a Pirate not tied to the several warring factions is a highlight of Black Flag, which is only amplified with the improved naval navigation and combat. Battling through city ports against the Spanish and British naval fleets is extremely entertaining and one that servers a purpose too. Much like Edward, your ship (don’t call it a boat) is an extension of your character; one that is also upgradable and implemented as a main character through the tale. Naval battles in the Jackdaw will likely become a staple for the series as used as an upgrade tool for updating your own vessel. Some of the best times in Black Flag simply come in the way of random naval battles and that on-edge feeling of narrowly striking the crippling blow allowing you to board and take over your sea-ward adversaries. The only real negative here is that ship combat is only in the Single Player game, leaving the Multiplayer as the same cat-and-mouse experience.
Freedom is given early which also helps give Black Flag a facelift compared to previous Assassin games. Although the main storyline has its fair share of uninteresting missions, for the majority, Black Flag continues to ramp up the excitement thanks to its appealing plot. Strangely it even feels off for Edward to act like an “traditional” Assassin, which makes the silly amount of follow and eavesdrop missions become even more tiresome. The real excitement is still rooted in pure assassinations and now the naval combat. It is here that Black Flag truly shines. That being said Black Flag is a long game with so much to get out if it that it’s not surprising that it hits some slow patches. Also notable is the lack of “real world” time given to your character which is a relief to a lot of gamers who didn’t enjoy those extensive Desmond breaks.
Along with the Naval combat, Edward has the ability to dual-wield weapons which mainly come in the way of double cutlass action or the mixing of pistol firing. It’s a little touch that helps slightly vary the combat even more. In tradition, Black Flag sticks to its timed button pressed combinations along with a few useful gadgets.
For more new, Black Flag adds the ability to do underwater treasure dives and ocean-based hunting. Almost optional (aside from one mission) both activities aren’t overly interesting after you’ve done a few runs. Still the reward is there for people looking to craft new items or increase their bank role. Ironically and gratefully you can feel Ubisoft’s shooter ‘Far Cry 3’ influence seeping into Black Flag’s formula. The only real “side-activity” that felt of any importance was attacking Naval bases, which are not only fun, but rewarding with sections of the map opening-up. Still no matter your view on “collectables”, Black Flag has enough to do in-and-out of the main event.
Lastly, the production is top notch in Black Flag across the gambit of platforms. While the majority of our playtime was spent on the Xbox 360, this is a solid “next-gen” purchase for both systems. To highlight a few specifics, the inclusion of sea-shanties and the art direction deserve extra credit; along with the excellent job in bringing the sea to life. Through raging storms to the coding nightmare of getting multiple ships engaged in in combat, let alone boarding. All-in-all, Black Flag is a nice accomplishment for Ubisoft Montreal. While some glitches are apparent, the world created is another impressive dive for Ubisoft in the sandbox gaming genre.
Becoming a notorious pirate during the golden age of piracy is a near perfect setting for the Assassin’s Creed series to take on. Merged with an open-world, exciting naval combat and a more engaging protagonist, the series once again find its mojo. While it might be a little unfocused as its “Assassin” centric predecessors, Black Flag gives us hope that the series can keep its shelf life strong in the future. Not without its flaws, Assassin’s Creed: Black Flag is a must have for fans and a great place to start if you haven’t yet delved into the series.
Similar Games: Assassin's Creed III (8.4) | AC: Brotherhood (8.8) | Assassin's Creed (9.5) | Assassin's Creed II (9.8)