As the latest iteration in the franchise, Assassin’s Creed IV had quite a tall order ahead of it. It had to be bigger and better than previous games, and make up for the problems in Assassin’s Creed III. Burdened with comparisons to previous games, as well as other sandbox giant GTA V, there was a lot of pressure for Assassin’s Creed IV to be something amazing. For the most part, it delivered.

Leaving behind the world of morality from the American Revolution in AC III, we return to a more debaucherous time in the form of early 1700s Caribbean. You take on the role of Edward Kenway, a lying, cheating pirate. He ends up dumped into the middle of the war between the Templars and assassins without much of a clue about what’s going on. In fact, through most of the game he is simply pursuing his fortune rather than worrying about the ethics of who he kills. Basically, he is the exact opposite of Connor from Assassin’s Creed III.

In fact, most of the game seems built around being the opposite of the previous game. In many ways, this had led to a much more enjoyable game. However, it also led to some serious inconsistencies and problems.


Looking at the character of Edward Kenway, he is a bit of a rogue. Having left England to seek his fortune, all he really cares about is living a free life and doing as he pleases. It’s nice to have the hedonism after Connor’s excessive morality. However, Kenway does go through some character development and even grows a conscious. Unfortunately, the flow of how this happens makes little sense; it almost all seems to hinge on the death of a certain character, and yet Kenway even acknowledges how little he actually knew said character.

A major gripe about Assassin’s Creed III was that it took too long for the game to get started so that players could have fun in the sandbox. Black Flag opens the game up almost instantly. Get through the first mission, and all of a sudden you have free reign over Havana. The openness, however, leads to some blatant and serious inconsistencies. There you are, running around town, picking up Assassin missions and saving pirates in distress when you are not yet an assassin and have no ship for the pirates to join.  It’s become clichéd to even say it, but that’s ludonarrative dissonance right there. I was happy to run around and find collectibles and explore the city, but where are those saved pirates going? And how do I know what to do with those pigeon coops?

Ac iv kenway

This is made all the more confusing when you actually get to points in the game when specific side missions are explained. I had already completed a bunch of these extra activities before doing so as part of the main plot. It just made the game feel untested to me – did no one play the game from the beginning during the test phase and point out these discrepancies?

As far as the sandbox goes, the game is massive. No, really, it’s enormous. There are hundreds of islands, off-shore dives, towns and cities to explore. Each area has treasure to find, collectibles to discover, as well as numerous side missions and activities. Some of the side activities will be familiar to those who have played the previous games – you can chase down couriers and execute people in assassin missions. New side activities include solving Mayan puzzles and embracing your inner Ahab as you hunt down Great Whites. That’s to say nothing about naval activities.

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Ac iv shark

As would be expected when playing as a pirate, you get to sail around the Caribbean, attacking ships and plundering their booty. What more could you really want? Once your ship is upgraded, it becomes a fun and easy way of making cash as you sail out and take on entire naval convoys. By combining the ship battle with a boarding fight, taking over other vessels stays nuanced and interesting. Plus, until you find your targets, you get to sail on a beautifully designed and rendered ocean, filled with opportunities to hunt sharks or watch as whales jump out of the water. Oh, and your crew will sing awesome pirate shanties as you sail.

But it’s not just ships you can attack. Each section of the map has a fort – if you take control of the fort it serves as a viewpoint for the ocean, revealing treasure, hidden islands and hunting opportunities. However, again, these revealed some lack of testing. The first time I encountered a fort, it was directly in my path as I sailed from one plot point to the next. However, I was no where near a high enough level to take on the fort, nor had their been any explanation of taking them over. Eventually, I was made to conquer a fort as a plot mission, after which time I decided to sail around, mastering the seas. However, the difficulty of the forts do not necessarily correspond with the difficulty of the map areas. For example, one fort in a medium area had nine defences and killed me every time, while another fort in a hard area only had five defences and was easily overcome. These can be rather irritating, especially when you need to sail past a difficult fort on your journey across the map.

Ac iv board

It’s for the best if you enjoy the game’s myriad naval battles, as they serve as your primary source of income. Sure, you can go hunting, find treasure or complete assassination missions, but you’ll still make more cash by selling off sugar and rum – and you’ll need that money to upgrade everything. Depending on how you play the game, you may need to grind at times to upgrade your ship sufficiently in order to complete main missions. However, here again I encountered a lack of testing. A warning message would appear before a mission instructing me to upgrade my ship before attempting the mission. After several upgrades, the warning was still there. Taking a risk, I did the mission anyway and was easily successful. I think the warning is there regardless of ship level – no, this doesn’t break the game or ruin it, but it’s yet another irritation.

Despite the wonders of the sea, the map often feels too large to traverse. When I say the game is huge, I mean it. In fact, it’s a good thing that they have revamped the fast travel ability; now all view points serve as fast travel points. This means that you can quickly travel across cities, or even across the entire Caribbean. This increases the incentive to climb to the top of every viewpoint for a synchronization, plus it does away with those tunnel side missions from AC III.

Ac iv blackbeard

Despite the prodigious map size, main missions often make use of the same areas. Unfortunately, this adds an element of repetition to the game that didn’t need to be there. There were plenty of locations to choose from, and yet I needed to keep going through the same maps, hiding in the same bushes and hay-filled carts as I killed guards. This seemed like an odd choice, particularly when so much time was spent crafting detailed environments all over the map.

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Unfortunately, the story is less impressive than the scale of the map. Unlike previous Assassin’s Creed games, Black Flag does not follow a solid arc. You begin muddling your way through, interacting with Templars and Assassins as you acquire a ship and go a’pirating. Much of the middle section of the game seems confusing as you help one or another person with no real rhyme or reason. Most of the time, you are driven by protecting your pirate lifestyle. While the gameplay is interesting, the story simply isn’t compelling. In fact, the story outside of the animus is more interesting than the plot inside.


In another shift from AC III, AC IV has made the meta story more intriguing. No longer wandering around as an increasingly simian Desmond, your out-of-animus character is an anonymous, first-person experience. And it’s brilliant. This review is spoiler-free, but check out the toggle for those who don’t mind:

Your nameless character is a new employee at Abstergo Entertainment. Abstergo Entertainment is working together with Ubisoft to bring a new, immersive game (and upcoming movie) to the market. In order to find the raw data for this historical experience, you need to enter the animus using the DNA from “Subject 17”, aka Desmond.


There are hilarious references to making a trailer using your interactions with Blackbeard, as well as hacking side activities that reveal fun Easter Eggs – the company behind ctOS (the surveillance system in Watch Dogs) is hoping to land Abstergo Entertainment as a client while ‘market research’ presentations explain why Altair, Ezio and Connor are not suitable IP for use by Abstergo Entertainment.


Over the course of the game, your character becomes increasingly aware of the more nefarious side of Abstergo Entertainment, culminating in the set up for a sequel. However, it is handled beautifully – I really like the way Ubisoft took a self-aware approach to breaking the fourth wall.


Ac iv naval

For the most part, Assassin’s Creed IV is visually stunning. As we expect from Assassin’s Creed games, there are impressive panoramic views and detailed environments. In general, the water looks fantastic as you sail around (although sometimes it looked poorly rendered around the edges), and there is no loading time if you choose to jump off your ship and go for a swim. There are also some clear signs though that this game was not made for current generation. Some textures are very poor, and the shadowing is shockingly bad. Even some of the animations and cut-scenes are jagged and don’t even live up to the standards set by Assassin’s Creed III. Some of my assassination victims glitched in and out of walls or foliage.

Despite the irritations and minor problems, there is no denying that Assassin’s Creed IV is a fantastic game. It has a much more upbeat (if unfocused) storyline, combined with swashbuckling and treasure hunting. The new set-up is both hilarious and brilliant, hinting at an excellent future for the franchise.

Despite having huge shoes to fill and obstacles to overcome, Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag is definitely the best Assassin’s Creed game to date. However, if you’re debating if you should play it now or wait for next gen, definitely wait – it’s best to enjoy the full visual experience only possible with next gen consoles or PC.

Last Updated: November 4, 2013

Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag
There is no denying that this game is excellent. It will be even better on next generation platforms - AC IV simply outstrips the ability of current consoles. However, it is still a fantastic play and easily tops the list of best sandbox games you can get.
Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag was reviewed on Xbox 360
86 / 100

Zoe Hawkins

Wielding my lasso of truth, I am the combination of nerd passion and grammar nazi. I delve into all things awesome and geek-tastic. I believe people should stop defining themselves and just enjoy playing games, so let's get on with it!

  • ElimiNathan

    Eish, ya, I would almost want to say that I hope you re-review it when next gen is here.

    • Observer

      I see no reason for that. Only visuals will change, which we are now informed of.

      • ElimiNathan

        You think so ? I disagree

        • Observer

          I do. I agree that the visuals might up the score, but I can’t see anything substantial. I have read the review, everything I want to know is covered. By the time it comes out on next-gen consoles I would have heard all I want from people playing the game this gen. Plus by the time the Xbone comes we will be able to get it in the R 100.00 bargain bin.

          • ElimiNathan

            Look at Watch Dogs though, Ubisoft themselves showed the differences between current and next gen, and they were enough to make me wait for next gen. Playing on next gen can feel like playing an entirely new game, not just new gfx, tons more models and physics which can make or break a game

          • Observer

            Touché, if that is your steeze. The story, characters, gameplay etc won’t change and that is what interest me. Not the pretty blonde with no personality.

          • ElimiNathan

            Gameplay will more than likely be effected dude. And if you don’t like pretty blondes with no personality you have other demons to battle with

          • DatKofGuy

            It’s “affected”. And thus far Ubisoft has said that only the graphics have been improved for next-gen. I seriously doubt there will be any changes in gameplay, I mean why break a system that works. Unless they wanna use stupid kinect features which I doubt, or maybe the sony track pad to do something similar like SCE Bend did in Uncharted Golden Abyss, which was just a gimmick and added nothing of actual value to gameplay,

            And what do you guys mean no personality, Edward is a huge improvement over Connor. He does actually have a personality, not as stoic as Al Ta’ir or suave like Ezio. but he does have some cockiness to him that I liked.

          • ElimiNathan

            You like some cockiness ? What

          • DatKofGuy

            Indeed I do, but I assume you mean it in the homophobic sense, and to that I say to you “le sigh…”

          • Phlegm on your food

            These games are just ports man, next gen/current w.e the only difference will be some moderate texture increase, higher resolution and some additional fps maybe.

            These “different” games you want probably won’t exist for another 2 years into the new console cycle. There is nothing coming up or on the table that suggests to me otherwise.

      • ToshZA

        Maybe a nice little footnote about the next-gen graphics.

    • Warren Ross

      People read reviews to be able to make an informed choice about whether to purchase a commercially available product. The game is available now, so the review should deal with what you get now when you hand over your cash. Many sites do also do follow-up reviews on later, more polished/upgraded versions of games anyhow.

      • ElimiNathan

        Wow you don’t say ?

  • Trebzz

    I shall get this for PS4 🙂 thank you for your great review Zoe

    • FoxOneZA

      I shall get this on PC before you get it on PS4 and a PS4 😛

      • Trebzz

        Oh my dear Fox don’t force my hand to get it on PS3 just to spoil it for you now 😛

        • FoxOneZA

          Dear Trebzz, since we are hitting new lows, I’ll be getting the Wii version for Wii U 😛

          • Crafty611

            I was beta testing the game before the idea of creating a PC version was even conceived. Get out you crazy squirrel.

  • Rincethisweekout!

    Awesome! Think I am going to get it. Zoe! as they serve ass?

    • SaintsRowNigri

      Yup. Pirate life is not easy. Sometimes they serve ass in the gulley. The ass of your last victim!

      • Rincethisweekout!

        Heheh DING!

  • Admiral Chief Ninja


    • Rincethisweekout!

      I thought it was jumping the shark? Hehehe

    • Gr8_Balls_o_Fire

      Only Batman can beat-down a shark

      • Admiral Chief in Vegas

        Hehe, but why post something to a message I typed 3 months ago?

        • Gr8_Balls_o_Fire

          I only saw this now 😛

          The “Don’t stop now” section is responsible for that!

  • Hammersteyn

    Will wait for the PS4 version. Can’t believe the next gen (two generations behind PC) is almost here

    • Admiral Chief Ninja

      LOL, nice

    • Rincethisweekout!

      Yeah, prepare that disappointment!

    • ToshZA

      mmhm. PC is 2 gen’s ahead if you have 2 Titans and a Swiss bank account. For the rest of us mortals, they’re about on par. For now.

      • Hammersteyn

        Haha I always stress that point.

      • Johan du Preez

        nope anything from 7950 and ti660 up will outperform the new consoles by far with a i5. If you want the same performance as the consoles you are looking at a i3 with a 7770 or so.

        • Unalighned John (JJ)

          So much win for me.

      • Willem Swanepoel

        okay okay.. it is 1 gen ahead if you have a decent job with no kids! 🙂

  • ToshZA

    Now I’m torn. I am waiting for Christams 2014 to get a next-gen console. But I want to play this so bad. And don’t want it on PC, and want the full experience, and a lkjahgoirugnop39784yn*OQ&CHNOFHM O AISLFK n.

    I died.

  • SaintsRowNigri

    I think Spielberg is calling his lawyer at this moment…

  • GooseZA

    ” it took too long for the game so get started to that players ” ???

  • Rock789

    I bought this on release day and have really enjoyed it so far. Finally finished the main story in GTAV, so I can put some more time into ACIV. And it deserves it – from the few hours I’ve played so far, it really is a great game – immersive (to a degree), fun to play and easily the best game in the series since ACII. Looking forward to carrying on tonight.

    Avast ye land lubbers! Ok, I’ll stop now. 🙂

  • Willem Swanepoel

    next gen platforms ?

    You mean it will be AWESOME on PC!! … 17 more days!! hahahhaa

  • Hesperus Phosphorus

    Seems quite awesome. Just wondering how exactly one grows a conscious??

  • justerthought

    This is the only launch title that is actually a good game worth getting. The reviewer makes fair comment about certain things happening before you are suppose to know what they are for, but that’s fine. I can live with that because freeing pirates could be justified even if you don’t use them yet. Honour amongst thieves and networking.

    Coming across a difficult fort where you retreat is all about non linear gameplay, so that’s great. Great games let you see something then you have to come back later when you have earned enough skills. The reviewer got a little hung up on these issues once his mind had locked onto the notion of a lack of play testing. I heard nothing to warrant such criticism.

    AC3 was a good game but it was way too slow and repetitive, with boring morals. The best part was the ship but it was under used. AC4 looks perfect. The PS4 version looks more realistic, especially the sea and wave splashes hitting the bow of thew ship. I can’t wait.

  • Mathias

    Great review, really hit the nail on the head. Fun-to-play, perhaps a bit ham-handed presentation…

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