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Assassin's Creed 4: Black Flag PS3 Review: Better Than AC3?

Does Ubisoft newest Assassin's Creed learn from the sins of its predecessor?

Review by Mike Williams, .

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Mike Williams Primary Reviewer

So here we go, Ubisoft chance to prove to fans that they learned from the disappointing Assassin's Creed III. That game was full of good ideas hampered by poor execution, wrapped in a story that started very slow and sprinted towards an unsatisfying finish. Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag is a chance for Ubisoft to show that they acknowledge what went awry before and prove they've used their year of development to create a better experience.

Black Flag drops you in the shoes of Welsh pirate Edward Kenway, who immediately struck me as a more charismatic personality compared to his stoic grandson, Assassin's Creed III's Connor. Like Connor, Edward's motivations are clear, but unlike Connor his motivations drive the story forward. Edward's quest for riches made him to become a pirate and they've landed him right in the middle of the age-old war between the Assassins and Templars. Early on, Edward isn't really on any side except his own; he's honorable to a point, but coin is what pushes him forward, not his conscience.

Edward has a strong supporting cast.

The story doesn't necessarily fare as well, but it's a passable effort. It gets Edward from point A to point B, but Black Flag's real strength is in Edward and his supporting cast. Blackbeard and James Kidd are among the standouts, but the rest do a great job as well. Even wrapped in byzantine machination upon machination, the characters shine through.

Speaking of characters, one of the standouts in Black Flag are the Templar Hunts missions, which put you in contact with the lead assassins in certain regions. I loved all of these folks. Every single one is interesting; I did their missions just to keep having Edward interact with them.

One thing Ubisoft did learn from Assassin's Creed III is skipping a lengthy opening tutorial section. Black Flag drops you right in action and within 15 to 20 minutes, you're ready to do whatever you want on the high seas. Some of the actions lack context since you haven't gotten to the story bit that fully explains them, but you're certainly allowed to play around. I freed pirates from guards without a crew to send them to and pillaged a fort long before the game led me there by the hand. Black Flag will still be teaching you new stuff into Sequence 6, but there's far more you can do before that.

And Black Flag is one big ass open-world with a ton of things to do. Take over forts, raid plantations, dive, hunt, harpoon, collect treasure, shanties, and animus fragments, find Mayan ruins, fight ships; it's all up to you. There's a ton in the game to do and it will take you a very long time to do it all if that's your desire. Black Flag is very clear about the context of all your actions - Edward's got to get paid - but it doesn't force it down your throat. If you want to, you can just sail.

And open-world sailing works. I fought some ruffians at a tavern, killed two guards, ran to my ship with more chasing me, and set sail, leaving them behind. When you make sense of all sailing provides, it actually maps rather well to existing Assassin's Creed systems. Forts on the high seas are just like ACIII's forts on land. In restricted areas, there are ships with vision cones that you either avoid or fight. What Black Flag does well is give you a sense of freedom, on land or on sea. It's not as crazy and free-for-all as Grand Theft Auto's shenanigans, but you definitely feel like your choices are yours.

The sense of exploration in the game is amazing.

Black Flag features three different primary cities, Havana, Nassau, and Kingston, each with their own distinct look and feel. Oddly enough, the cities feel like gameplay callbacks to other Assassin's Creed areas: Havana reminded me of Liberation's New Orleans, while Nassau feels like the shorter, squatter buildings of Assassin's Creed III. There's a sense that more care was taken in providing more routes in the cities: buildings and trees seem to link far more seamlessly than in ACIII. The level design branches out into some very interesting areas when you head out into the world, with ruins and jungles providing some fun areas to explore.

Crafting is back with a new hunting system stolen shamelessly from Far Cry 3. Upgrades are either meant for Edward or his ship, the Jackdaw. Hunting or harpooning animals provides you with materials for Edwards upgrades, including holsters and armor upgrades. Taking down ships on the sea nets you cloth, wood and metal for Jackdaw upgrades like bigger cannons, mortars, battering rams, and crew quarters.

If you've noticed, I haven't really dug into combat and missions, but that's because Black Flag is an evolution for the series, not a revolution. Missions still have you tailing enemies, eavesdropping on them, outright killing them, or reaching certain points without being seen. Eavesdropping missions aren't stuck to a single, set path as they were in ACIII, though the old pass-fail horrors still rear their heads from time-to-time. Combat is still based around countering, breaking defense, and kill chains. Enemies are more likely to try to break your chains this time around, but if you're always ready to counter, it's not much of a problem.

The core of Assassin's Creed remains largely the same in Black Flag, but Ubisoft has made some quality-of-life changes. Lasting notoriety is completely gone on land: once you've run far enough and hidden, guards won't remember that suspicious guy who stabbed Antonio. Notoriety is a thing on sea, but you can simply bribe officials to clear your wanted level. Focusing on targets with Eagle Vision now marks them, allowing you to see them through all obstacles. No, it doesn't make sense, but it is useful.

The fast travel system from Assassin's Creed III's cities has been killed entirely. (Praise be!) Synchronization points return in full force and they're everywhere. The new fast travel system allows you to return to any synch point you've been to. Are you in Nassau, but your mission is in Havana? Bring up the map, zoom into Havana, and pick the synch point closest to your objective. You can go right there. It's enormously useful. You can still explore, but sometimes you just want to get back to somewhere quick. Thank you, Ubisoft.

Jungles are great stalking zones.

And for the collectible hounds, there's a display card for each region that shows all the collectible items and synch points in the area, so you know if you're missing anything. As a completionist when it comes to AC, I appreciated the addition.

The Brotherhood is gone, which is probably good from a gameplay perspective, but the extra Brotherhood missions are now taken up by Kenway's fleet. When you attack and board a ship, you can choose to add that ship to your fleet. The fleet can then be sent on missions across the Atlantic and you can also participate in ship battles to make trade routes safer.

While this can be controlled in-game, I actually found it easier to use the Assassin's Creed IV companion app on my Nexus 7. The app has a real-time map, your treasure maps, a progression tracker, the Animus database, and your fleet. The other options are nice, but I didn't use them much. I found myself using the fleet controls frequently. I connect on WiFi, see what my fleet has done in the last few hours, repair them, and send them back out. It's really useful and if you have the option, I'd at least try it.

The modern day briefly pops up again, putting you into the game as a nameless, faceless Abstergo Entertainment employee searching through Edward's life so it can be turned into a television show. These parts are pretty short if you don't want to participate, but there's still a great deal of content there and some old favorites return.

Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag is one of the best-looking AC titles to date. The Caribbean is a brighter canvas than the American Colonies. I played on PlayStation 3 and some vistas are absolutely amazing. The water in shallow shores makes me want to a take a Caribbean vacation, and the water engine gets a big workout in storms. I've played the PlayStation 4 version in previous demos, but the difference is in the details there: more impressive water, dynamic vegetation, better lighting, better textures, and other particle effects. You probably won't want to go back after playing the next-gen Assassin's Creed, but the current-gen still looks great on its own.

The new boarding system is seamless, no loading.

Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag is equal parts ambitious and familiar. The open-world and full integration of the naval system takes the series in a new direction, but its core remains exactly the same. Stealth is a bit better, but that's not the game's main focus, and really hasn't been for a long time. What it does well is evoke that pirate feel, that sense of freedom and exploration. Sailing your ship narrowly past a sentry or pushing onward in a deep fog is as exhilarating as leaping from tree, to building, to air assassination.

Did Ubisoft learn? Yes. The jump from Assassin's Creed III to Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag is equal to the jump from Assassin's Creed to Assassin's Creed II. I can only hope Ubisoft's next Assassin's Creed is the next Brotherhood. Either way, it's the best damn pirate game ever, so if that's your thing, the buck stops here.

  • Visuals: The graphics are amazing and the level design is top-notch. If you take the time to explore, you'll find stuff that will drop your jaw.
  • Music: The soundtrack really gets going on the open sea, with some great Irish pirate ballads. I'd buy the soundtrack separately.
  • Interface: The new UI is smoother than the one in previous games and the new weapon choosing system is worlds better.
  • Lasting Appeal: There is a ton to explore and collect in Assassin's Creed IV. The story is lengthy on its own, but if you want to find everything, you'll be playing for awhile.

Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag is an evolution for the series, not a revolution. It's a gorgeous game that learns from the disappointing Assassin's Creed III and the addition of the naval open world is a triumph. If you're tired of the formula, there might be enough here to bring you back into the Order.

4.5 /5

Assassin's Creed 4: Black Flag PS3 Review: Better Than AC3? Mike Williams Does Ubisoft newest Assassin's Creed learn from the sins of its predecessor? 2013-11-01T19:00:00-04:00 4.5 5

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Comments 14

  • Avatar for danger.to.others #1 danger.to.others 3 years ago
    Game sounds like it's turned out to be exactly what I expected it to be.
    They put the guys who made Far Cry 3 on this one and, surprise surprise, it ended up to be Assassin's Creed melded with Far Cry 3.
    Which is a good thing. My PS4 game can't get here soon enough. I've got a whole sandbox of people to stab in the face.
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  • Avatar for Kirinn #2 Kirinn 3 years ago
    Having fun with the early game already, but I was disappointed to find just now on checking the app store that the iOS version of the companion app is iPad only. Was looking forward to sending out ships at all hours from my phone. Alas.
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  • Avatar for GustinHardy #3 GustinHardy 3 years ago
    Any opinion if I should pick this up now or wait for the PS4 version? Especially with the PS4 launch lineup being pretty slim...
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  • Avatar for alexb #4 alexb 3 years ago
    I appreciate this review all the more given that you published your dressing down of AC3 just prior to this. It gives me confidence in your assessment of the new game. I would have liked to know a little more about technical stuff. Framerate differences between versions, for instance. But overall, it was very informative.
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  • Avatar for touchofkiel #5 touchofkiel 3 years ago
    Glad to hear the PS3 version isn't (ahem) watered down. I've been holding off on this - mostly because I still need to finish Revelations and then play AC3 - but now I'm more anxious to play them and pick this one up.
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  • Avatar for Zero-Crescent #6 Zero-Crescent 3 years ago
    @GustinHardy Might as well wait for the PS4 version if you're already getting a PS4. Otherwise, if you decide to go with the PS3/360 version, you'd still be better off waiting until Black Friday, when Gamestop (and probably a few others) will put the PS3/360/WiiU/PC versions on sale for $39.99.
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  • Avatar for MHWilliams #7 MHWilliams 3 years ago
    @GustinHardy Data won't transfer over so if you buy it now and on PS4, you'll have to play through it all again.Edited November 2013 by MHWilliams
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  • Avatar for jimdove76 #8 jimdove76 3 years ago
    Cant wait to see this on the PC in all its glory.
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  • Avatar for MrFester #9 MrFester 3 years ago
    @MHWilliams When UBI said this I was shocked because most of the save games are in the cloud now ( Plus members ); I mean really how hard would it be for them to grab that data and convert it?
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  • Avatar for MHWilliams #10 MHWilliams 3 years ago
    @MrFester No clue, but it's a definite bummer!
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  • Avatar for alvinchimp #11 alvinchimp 3 years ago
    Assasins creed 4 is way better the only downside was the ship explosion animations which were toned down proabably to decrease lag. Nothing too noticable though
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  • Avatar for amonarith #12 amonarith 3 years ago
    In a small summary:
    BEST sea game ever, hands down.
    a very AVERAGE assassins creed game, absolutely nothing special. (other than the sea aspect).
    and WORST pirate game I've ever played.
    ____________________________________________________________
    The absolute worst and most disappointing thing about this game is they will never be able to redo this. I understand that the whole open world sailing was an ENORMOUS accomplishment, that aspect was absolutely fabulous. In no way am I knocking that, but I have to say there were three things about this game that in my opinion made it go from what could have been a 10 to a 6.5.

    The assassins story was way too rushed and way too little. There is almost 0 character building, I'm not saying characters dont develop, but there is no building up to it, suddenly with no story things vastly change. (compared to ac3, id give 5/5 for story and this 3/5)

    The Pirate story was the real death of this game in my opinion. First and foremost the fact that all of the pirates are friends? are you kidding? Kenway is clearly more pirate than assasin, There should be equal if not far more pirate story than assassin, which really wouldnt be hard to accomplish since story is only like 18% of the game. The man finds his way into being an assassin yet the only thing piratey about him is his greed and that's it. For god's sake the man doesnt even look like a pirate, much less dress like a pirate. A captain always wears a captains hat, and a commador loves his hat even more because they are status symbols like the brits and their wigs - where is kenways? The only thing piratey about this game, is your next to other famous pirates, who dress, act, talk, walk, like pirates, and the black sails you can optionally choose to sail with.

    Lastly, the grpahics were great, sure. In my opinion though that doesnt mean much when they cant include such simple and small things such as when I wear armor that doesnt have a hood, dont have the cut and paste action of him pulling his hood up. That the way that blackbeard talks about you in the intro you would think that people would treat you the way they fear, children and women should run, the guards should know who you are all the time with no way from relieving you of that other than staying in pirate territory.

    All in all, i would play ac3 for the fourth time before ac4 the second. Solely because of how disappointing how short and small the game was after all the hype, and how horrible they did with the pirate side.

    For this 'groundbreaking awe-stricking' next-gen I'm thuroughly disappointed and I've got to say, I really love the AC games (except the first one.)
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  • Avatar for dougsa80 #13 dougsa80 3 years ago
    Better then AC3? Hell NO, this is the most thrown together game i ever seen, i dont care what they say, they made this after they saw how well the naval missions in AC3 were received. That being said this isnt really an assassin game its a pirate game, they shoulda left it at black flag: the game. I loved ac3, the history that i can actually look up, people i heard of from american history the enviroment, everything was accurate, people didnt like connor , ok so work on that part dont take out the good stuff, i like having recurits to come help u, i liked the lock picking, and it made sense in 3, ac4 just got treasure all over the place as timewaster, cmon jump off the boat to get one thing get back on, repeat, oh dont get me started on repeatative nature of ac4, the hunting was way better in 3, now u got like 2 or 3 animals on each island then u have to go back if u want more, what else u cant tackle people except for bad guys and couriers, some of the places the animus shards were made no sense, and of course the worst thing of all......NO HORSES TO RIDE!!!!! What?!? Thats crazy. I can go on and on but i think 3 is way better, i hope ubisoft somehow someway gets to read this, oh one more thing i hear they are looking to do a egyptian assassin, i hope this never happens, we got a taste of that world with ac revelations and that sucked, i dont think i could play a whole game of people saying thank you come again, in that accent.Edited January 2014 by dougsa80
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  • Avatar for guitarprince #14 guitarprince 6 days ago
    Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag is a smart, sprawling sequel that wisely places an emphasis on freedom and fun while trimming most of the fat that bogged down Assassin’s Creed III’s ambitious but uneven adventure. Ubisoft’s take on the Golden Age of Piracy begins in 1715, and is presented with a much-appreciated lighter tone that isn’t afraid to make fun of itself in the name of an entertaining journey.

    Sailing across the massive expanse of The Caribbean, exploring gorgeous and unique islands, and getting yourself into all sorts of swashbuckling trouble provide some of the most rewarding and memorable stretches of gameplay I’ve experienced all year. Even after putting in well over 50 hours with the Xbox 360, Xbox One, Wii U, PC, PlayStation 3, and PlayStation 4 versions, I’m still discovering new islands to explore and tombs to raid.

    No matter which console you decide to play Black Flag on, you can rest easy knowing that it’s one of the best looking games of 2013. The current-gen versions build upon the already-gorgeous AC 3 by showcasing well-lit, tropical locales and the amazing water effects on the open seas. And on next gen, the experience is even more impressive thanks to minimal loading and maximum draw distances that seem to go on for miles. The way the camera zooms out when your ship reaches its maximum speed, the speakers bombard you with the sounds of the wind, and the sunset turns blood-orange, is simply amazing. The PS4 and Xbox One versions are nearly identical, and both deliver the same gorgeous adventure.

    All versions of the game come with some form of off-screen support. The Wii U GamePad acts as a map that comes in handy when you're searching for a particularly hidden piece of treasure, or you can play Black Flag directly off of the screen on your controller. The other versions support Ubisoft's Assassin's Creed IV Companion App, a free download that lets you turn any tablet into a home for maps, an Animus database, and much more. There's a lot of information to digest in Black Flag, and being able to utilize a second screen instead of constantly bouncing in and out of menus helps keep you in the experience.

    Black Flag learns from AC 3’s initial 10 hours of banal hand-holding by immediately throwing you into the action. After a lean and exhilarating opening mission that places you in the blood-soaked boots of Connor’s much livelier and more likeable grandfather Edward Kenway, the world blossoms and allows you to explore its vast uncharted waters. The size of the world is staggering, and the fact that it's absolutely brimming with fun and rewarding activities made me want to get lost as possible as I traveled from point A to point B.

    When you ignore the main mission prompt and simply set out in search of your own fun, Black Flag is at its best. It treats you like an adult, and allows you to explore its gorgeous and activity-filled world to your heart’s content. Want to discover every nook and cranny of Kingston’s sprawling expanse in search of Templar secrets? Or would you rather buy a small fishing boat and hunt for all manner of deadly sea creatures, using your spoils to upgrade your character? Maybe you just want to sail to a remote island, climb to the top of a mountain, and gaze in awe at the world around you. Black Flag is all about embracing freedom and carving your own path through the world.
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