Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag (Not So) Retro Review

Reviewed on PlayStation 4

There’s good reason I’ve steered clear of Assassin’s Creed since first few. Ubisoft’s convoluted Templar tale now has TEN core romps under its belt. So diluted is the series that, as far as I can tell, Ubi’s bugger all than the bored parent in charge of this year’s party, swapping out set dressings and offering up watery Raro to anyone that comes in arm’s reach.

October 2013, and Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag released alongside Sony’s fun new irregular shape: the PlayStation 4. Swept under the rug courtesy of one previous generation Stealing Cars V, Black Flag received a pretty good reception once people cracked on. Critics claimed the game pushed forward the series more than a simple change of aesthetic, whilst everyone else just seemed to be having a blast with all the aquatic pillaging. Overall, it sounded like a return to the intrigue and innovation of Assassin’s Creed II and Brotherhood. Even still, I wasn’t having a bar of it. Ubisoft had burnt me more times than an Animus sunbed and I’d be damned if my first taste of new tech would come by way of eliminating clusters of icons from a map and extended bouts of ‘listening in’.

Late 2017 and a $15 price tag had that scowl finally fall. My personal doctrine of equivalent exchange had things about right and it was time to see what all that fuss was about.

20 some odd hours sailing around, sword fighting and snatching sentient sea shanties like some sort of seafaring Banjo-Kazooie, I wouldn’t say my hesitance was entirely unfounded. Black Flag is however, the best AC of the last wee while by a good few nautical miles.

As predicted, the game is plagued by all manner of issues: dull, weightless combat, which has enemies flopping about like they’re made of paper; clunky movement (input lag inclusive); and all the fun that comes with matching someone’s pace in order to hear what they’re saying. Back in 2013, the series had also yet to veer from intensely dull ‘real world’ sequences, this time set within the walls of the Abstergo-totally-not-Ubisoft-corporation, where you find yourself with two objectives: attending meetings, and getting back to work.

However, Clunky Island really does come into its own off-land. Allowing you to crew up and wander your ship, master and commander, all that dullness is mostly forgotten. The Caribbean is bustling, vibrant, and the perfect vehicle for all those desert island fantasies you’ve harboured. Say what you will about the big French corporate but they’ve always had a knack for putting together a beautiful world, and there’s no dulling the shine on the high seas; fighting folks and digging into diegetic treasure maps (one of the best new trends in gaming). After a good few hours here, you’re back to the glory days of Overboard on the original PlayStation.

It’s a strange beast, AC IV. The movement feels bad, the combat could be turn-based for how clunky it is, but a colourful backdrop and a veer from land actually has it a pretty good time! 

If, like me, you stopped giving a toss after the series transitioned into one big annual checkbox, Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag is definitely worth a look in. 

Abe is a platforming, puzzle and Donkey Kong enthusiast living it up on Auckland's North Shore.