Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag Review

Screenshot from Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag
Assassin's Creed IV has some mighty pretty cutscenes

  • Reviewed by: Mark Goninon
  • Developer: Ubisoft
  • Publisher: Ubisoft
  • Release Date: 19 November 2013
  • Time played: 40+ hours

What is it

Unless you've been living under a rock for the past decade or so, you would've heard of Ubisoft's Assassin's Creed series: a stealth action-adventure series that represents conflicts over the course of human history between two factions: the Assassins and the Templars. The first Assassin's Creed (set during the Third Crusade) was released in 2007 and received generally favourable reviews; the game also sold extremely well which resulted in many sequels. Since the first game, there have been 20 Assassin's Creed games (including spin-offs) and the franchise has featured in other media including comics, novels, board games and even its own live action film starring Michael Fassbender (it wasn't well received by the critics though).

So, Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag is the fourth game in the main series and it was released in 2013. Set during the Golden Age of Piracy, the game sees you playing the role of a pirate named Edward Kenway as you sail the Caribbean on your ship called the "Jackdaw". Along the way, you'll meet many famous characters of the era including Bartholomew Roberts, Edward "Blackbeard" Thatch, Benjamin Hornigold, Mary Read and Anne Bonny (to name a few).

Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag was well received by critics and fans alike with a Metascore of 84 and a Metacritic User Score of 7.8. This makes it the equal third-best game in the series according to its Metascore (at least on PC), tied with Assassin's Creed Origins but coming behind Assassin's Creed Odyssey, Assassin's Creed II and Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood. The game was also a commercial success, selling more than 11 million copies by 2014.

How I got it

Towards the end of 2017, Ubisoft was giving away free copies of Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag and since I never shy away from redeeming a free game (even though the Pile of Shame really doesn't need any more) that's how I ended up owning a copy of this game. When Choicest Games contributor Luke was shocked that I'd never played an Assassin's Creed game before, he recommended I give Black Flag a go as part of my Pile of Shame Initiative since it's one of his favourites.

Screenshot from Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag
You can visit many historical Caribbean towns in Black Flag

What I like:


I like how you're able to visit and explore the Caribbean during the Golden Age of Piracy; iconic ports such as Kingston, Nassau and Havana are all in this game (including some famous landmarks). You'll also get to meet many famous personalities of the era such as Bartholomew Roberts, Charles Vane, Laureano de Torres y Ayala, Woodes Rogers, Calico Jack, Anne Bonney, Mary Read, Stede Bonnet, Benjamin Hornigold and Blackbeard.

As with anything that you experience through books, film or computer games, take everything with a grain of salt. Having said that though, the game did inspire me to go read up the actual history of the Caribbean as well as infamous pirates of the era and a game that manages to stoke a player's interest in history is a good thing in my books.


The game has a pretty good epilogue which I'm quite pleased about, since I always appreciate it when a developer takes the time and effort to wrap up a game properly (I've played way too many games where this isn't the case and you usually experience a disappointing rush job).


Despite the engine being a few years old, some of the game's cutscenes still looked quite breathtaking: one of them even managed to look like it was straight out of a Corona commercial, with just a bunch of mates sitting on a beach, enjoying some drinks and the Caribbean sunset.

Smooth Operator

I was actually surprised by the number of different types of assassinations you could perform and how smooth they look. The animations change depending on how you assassinate your victims so whether you're dragging an enemy into the bushes, jumping on top of them from above or charging them from behind, you'll witness a different assassination animation. There are even double assassinations where you can take out two enemies at the same time (my personal favourite 😊).

Sea Shanties

Gotta love sea shanties and you can actually collect them in-game. Once you do, the shanty will be unlocked and your crew will occasionally sing it during your voyages. My favourite has to be the classic "Drunken Sailor" (despite it being somewhat anachronistic since there's only record of the shanty ever existing in the 19th century, not 18th).

Far Cry mixed with Sid Meier's Pirates!

As I've never played an Assassin's Creed game before and I've only played bits of Far Cry 1 to 3, this is why I say the game feels like a mix of Far Cry and Sid Meier's Pirates!. As you know, I love the latter and Far Cry isn't too bad, provided you like that sort of gameplay 😊.

Intense naval battles

It took me quite a while to figure out how naval battles worked and despite completing the game, I still consider myself a novice, however, there is no denying that naval battles can definitely get intense especially during a couple of the campaign missions where it's just your ship against fleets of gunboats, brigs, frigates and man-o-wars!


I actually quite enjoyed the mini-games in Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag and they may have prolonged my playthrough quite substantially. I loved playing Nine Men's Morris as well as other board games whenever I visited a pub. I also enjoyed the "Kenway's Fleet" mini-game way too much despite it being very similar to incremental or idle games (i.e. you don't need to do much besides clear sea routes of danger, send your ships to trade resources and then wait, in real-time, for them to complete their trips).

Screenshot from Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag
Sometimes, bugs happen, and when they do, Kenway gets stuck under the ship

What I dislike:

Overarching story hard to follow

I know about the conflict between the Assassins and Templars, and while Edward Kenway's story during the Golden Age of Piracy is easy enough to follow, the present-day conflict is a bit confusing and might actually make more sense if you've played other Assassin's Creed games (but then again, maybe not).

Never gonna give you up

If Rick Astley were to dedicate a song to a game, it would probably be Assassin's Creed since it's never gonna give you (the ability to go) up and never gonna let you down. To make jumping between buildings and scaling walls a seamless process, Kenway tends to stick to everything without you needing to press any extra keys. Unfortunately, especially during combat situations, sometimes you don't want Kenway to hang from a pillar while a mob of enemies converges on his position; other times you'll be wanting to jump off a ledge but depending on what kind of ledge it is, sometimes you don't need to hit an extra key to jump off while other times you do, there doesn't appear to be any rhyme or reason to it and the only way you'll know is failing the first time and then trying again.


I started playing this game in July 2018 and only finished it last month: that means it took me 11 months or almost a year to complete this game! Of course, I only tended to play on average an hour per week and I happened to get distracted by other games a couple times (including Battlefield V) but it just goes to show that these open world action-adventure games tend to take a long time to complete, and to some, that's a good thing: a game that has lots of hours of gameplay means it's good value for money, right? But for some (including myself) it's not always about quantity but quality: are the hours spent fun or are they a chore? As you progress through the main storyline, you'll come across tougher battles which means you'll need to farm/grind for money and materials so you can upgrade your ship, and to some (such as myself), this can get boring at times. To the game's credit though, it doesn't stop you from attempting missions with what they consider an underpowered vessel (this happened to me a few times), although you will require skill or luck in order to get through them (or you could just follow the game's advice and upgrade your ship).


Whaling in the game is about as brutal and bloody as you'd expect so I can understand perfectly why PETA objected to its inclusion. I can also understand Ubisoft's stance for including it in the game since it was something that sailors did back in previous centuries (and a minority of countries still do today) but would it be a great loss if whaling was excluded from the game? Probably not, but then again, I was never one big on crafting which is the only reason you'd hunt animals in this game.


Yes, I know. Why on Earth am I playing an Assassin's Creed game if I don't like being stealthy? Well, it's true I'm not terribly good when it comes to stealth games, but I have played several in the past that benefit from a stealthy approach such as Alpha Protocol, Deus Ex: Human Revolution and Thief, but how I think these particular games differ is that the mission doesn't necessarily fail if you manage to fumble and reveal your position, you just make things more challenging for yourself thanks to alerting a whole bunch of guards. In Assassin's Creed IV there are certain missions where being detected will automatically result in you restarting from your last checkpoint which means I had to play certain segments over and over again until I was able to memorise guard patrol routes and safe places to hide. It reminds me of Hotline Miami to a degree although that's a retro-style arcade game, so I don't expect as much immersion with that type of game: I do, on the other hand, with Assassin's Creed IV and having to "checkpoint scum" my way through the levels, feels kind of cheap to be honest (but necessary for success).


For a game that has been out for over five years, you'd expect that most bugs would've been ironed out and yet I experienced a few: the most annoying bug I encountered was when the controls for my character froze just before the end of a mission (it was only my character that was frozen – the rest of the NPCs were running around), which meant I had to restore from the last checkpoint… ARGH!

I also experienced a couple of weird graphical glitches, such as the Jackdaw appearing out of the depths a bit like The Flying Dutchman from "Pirates of the Caribbean" as well as weird shading issues during cutscenes.

Score – 7/10 (Good)

For fans of the Golden Age of Piracy as well as stealth action-adventures with a bit of naval combat thrown in, Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag ticks all the right boxes. The game also features great cutscenes, animations, mini-games, sea shanties and Ubisoft took the effort to resolve the game in a satisfactory manner (at least with respect to Edward Kenway's story). If you're not into these sorts of games though (i.e. lots of grinding in order to upgrade your character and ship, as well as stealth being a mandatory requirement for success) you could find elements of Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag frustrating: I know I did.

Is the game worth $29.95 AUD?: Yes. Sure, the game is getting a bit old now but there's a lot of hours of entertainment here if you're into open world, stealth action-adventures. You can also purchase the game in bundles off UPlay if you want to save some money (or wait until it's on sale, of course).

If you like this game, you might like…

[ LINK: Official Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag Website ]