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 the first few. Ubisoft’s convoluted Templar tale now has ten core romps under its belt. TEN! Dilution has reached critical mass, and at this point, Ubi’s bugger all than the bored parent in charge of this year’s party, swapping out set dressings and offering up watery cordial to anyone 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 behemoth, 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 that aquatic pillaging. Overall, it sounded like a return to the intrigue and innovation of Assassin’s Creed II and Brotherhood. 

I wasn’t having 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 from 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. It was time to see what all the fuss was about.

20 some odd hours sailing around, sword fighting and snatching sentient sea shanties like a 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.

Ya-huh!

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 its fixation on intensely dull ‘real world’ sequences, this time set first-person, within the walls of the Abstergo-totally-not-Ubisoft-corporation. Bar these moments of slog, Clunky Island™ really does come into its own. Crew up, get some good gear and wander your ship, master and commander, all that dullness falls away.

Black Flag’s spread, the Caribbean, is bustling, vibrant, and the perfect vehicle for all desert island fantasies. Say what you will about the big French corporate but they can build one hell of a gorgeous world, and there’s no dulling the shine on the high seas. Tustling with lawmen and digging into diegetic treasure maps (one of the best new trends in gaming), a good few hours here has you back to the glory days of Overboard on the original PlayStation.

It’s a strange beast, Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag. The movement feels bad, the combat could be turn-based for all of its chonk, but a colourful backdrop and a veer from land actually makes for an enjoyable time indoors.

If, like me, apathy and Assassin’s Creed became indistinguishable after the series transitioned from innovation to annual checkbox, Black Flag is definitely worth your time.

7/10

Abe is a platforming, puzzle and Donkey Kong enthusiast now living it up somewhere in the Scottish Lowlands.