Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flag PS4 review – Ship-shape up top, but old problems still persist below deck

Assassin's Creed 4 comicon assets

For a franchise with this particular title, it’s peculiar how few of the games in Ubisoft’s Templar-hunting series have actually been centred on killing. Or, more specifically, as there is a hell of a lot of death, contract killing. Assassinating, if you will. It was there in the first game, just not very well implemented. In the second, which is still easily the series’ high point, the high-profile murders were done excellently. But ever since, as the games have expanded, and more distractions have been put in place, focus on the satisfying ‘plan your approach’ type hits has fallen by the wayside. Now, on PS4, how does Assassin’s Creed 4 do?

Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flag PS4 review

We were promised these things would play a major role once again in Black Flag. But, as is becoming a worrying trend with AC games, the execution has not lived up to the pre-release bluster. This is, as the series was conceived at least, not an Assassin’s Creed game in much more than a mechanical (and slightly hysterical First Civilization storyline) sense. I think that’s a shame. The series would do well to strip away its excesses and focus on core, forgotten values – and, without question, get rid of some of the utterly turgid mechanics that were already tedious six years ago. But more on that later.

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After such a cheery opening I bet that number sat below my stoic face is looking like quite the misprint, right? Well no. Because while Assassin’s Creed may not be Assassin’s Creed any more, when judged on different terms, Black Flag is a hugely impressive, vast, enjoyable and absolutely gorgeous (especially on next-gen) game. The score has to be viewed as a disappointment given the resources available and expectation levels, but that doesn’t sour the overall product. There is so much to do that even if you buy nothing else with your PS4, this will keep you going until long after you’ve endured yet another underwhelming New Year’s Eve.

The wealth of content is such that the main storyline, somehow simultaneously too simplistic and too complex, is almost the sideshow. Across a truly gargantuan map you’ll go harpooning, freedive in a bell jar, discover treasure maps, gather collectibles and lay siege to forts. And that’s just some of the naval-oriented action: on land you’ll be completing assassin contracts, synching viewpoints, performing Templar Hunts, collecting sea shanties and culling wildlife to fashion fetching holsters and health upgrades.

The wealth of content is such that
the main storyline, somehow
simultaneously too simplistic and
too complex, is almost the sideshow

Oh, and you’ll also be undertaking missions to further a semi-supernatural plot, as boisterous pirate Edward Kenway (grandfather of AC 3 lead Connor) hunts down a precious artefact lest it fall into the wrong hands. Which is basically the narrative for every single game in the series. Thankfully here the cast of characters is far more interesting, more likeable, and more varied than last time out, and some of your nefarious pirate chums are excellent to interact with. (That said, the voice acting is hilariously inconsistent, and certain cast members seem to have taken accent lessons from Russell Crowe’s Robin Hood.)