Assassin’s Creed is one of the most graphically impressive launch titles on the Playstation 4 and Xbox One. Every minute detail in the game displays the highest level of quality, polish and vividness. The game looks phenomenal, with even the lighting engine having been set up perfectly. It is clear that, as far as the graphical side of things goes, Black Flag has put the power available in the next generation of gaming to good use.

As we explained in our below review (which you can consult for our opinion on the story, gameplay and other elements of the game which have not changed between the current-gen versions and next-gen versions), the story is fantastic, and a breath of fresh air for the series. There is a huge amount of content in the game, which will ensure a great return on investment if you put time into the series. The open-world style also opens up the seas for as much as exploration as you like, making the game a high value option for next-gen.

Perfection was key to Ubisoft when focusing on the game, as is evident from the quality of the title. As already mentioned, graphically, the game is stunning, and the same can be said about the gameplay, sound and story, all displaying little to no flaws. When you see how nicely crafted the environments, characters and objects within Black Flag are, you too will be stunned at what the team has created. The level of polish is quite outstanding, and really helps to show what we should expect in the future of next-gen, already delving into graphical quality probably impossible on current-gen consoles.

This improvement in graphical quality is the main incentive for the next gen version of the game, and, if you purchased a current gen version you can upgrade to the next generation platform form that console family (360 -> ONE or PS3 -> PS4) for just €10/£10/$10. It is a fantastic deal, and this improvement alone makes it a worthwhile purchase. Due to this, we have increased the score for the game to 9.5/10 for next generation platforms. Please see our current gen review below for full details on other elements of the game.

ORIGINAL REVIEW (Nov 11, 2013 at 20:16) [slightly edited for next-gen]
Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag is the latest entry into the highly popular Assassin’s Creed series of games. The below review serves as the entire review for the current gen platforms, however, the elements related to story, gameplay, sound and value all also apply to the next generation (PS4, Xbox One) versions of the game. Improvements within the next gen versions are detailed in the section above this review.

Black Flag is far more versatile than the games in the series which came before it, providing more scope for exploration and discovery. While it isn’t quite open-world, it comes pretty close at times and lets you partake in many side-missions and activities which aren’t part of the main storyline, and can be played solely for fun.

As you may have guessed from the name and artwork, Black Flag is a game based around pirates and piracy. In the game, the vast Caribbean is open for exploration, allowing you to search for treasure and take down other ships, sometimes even adding them to your own fleet. This, however, is all child’s play to the protagonist of the game.

Edward Kenway is the new lead in Black Flag, and leaves his life to embark on one of piratry, looking for an ultimate reward in the waters of the Caribbean. Each time you find a new stash or takeover a ship, Edward becomes less satisfied as he lusts for something more. This struggle for his goal is what pushes the game forward and reveals the plot, but, we won’t ruin any more of that for you.

Many of the classic Assassin’s Creed elements return, along with many new ones, such as pickpocketing, sword combat, diving, sailing, eavesdropping and all forms of stealthy assassination. These feature improved mechanics over the previous systems, and are more solidly built than ever before. The game is polished to the extreme and contains only a few minor bugs which did not impact my experience.

The team surprisingly focuses more on the pirate elements than the usual Assassin’s Creed theme, creating a game which feels more fresh, unique and ‘new’ than previous entries in the series have. Many players were becoming tired of the Assassin’s Creed formula, and I am very happy to be able to say that Black Flag takes a different approach in its design, plot and gameplay.

The Jackdaw, a beastly pirate ship, will be your method of transport for the game. Navigating the ship feels similar to what you would expect a large ship to feel like, turning slowly turns from side to side as you frantically twist the wheel in an attempt to dodge oncoming cannons. Your ship, of course, has its own range of firing mechanisms, which are very fun to use. One of the nice things about the game is the ability to just go out and attack ships (and looting them, if you wish), similar to playing around with a car in Grand Theft Auto, but pirate-style!

As you travel around in your ship, and visit a number of cities and areas available across the Caribbean, you will notice the depth and detail which has gone into crafting each of them. Each area has its own unique theme, which seem to be styled with the intention to be accurate to real-life cities in the past. It is impressive how much work Ubisoft put into trying to make the areas true to their cultures, each receiving a high level of detailed design with ambient environments.

Graphically, the game looks fantastic considering we are still running on current-gen technology. The character models are outstandingly detailed, and are in league with some of the best I have seen, surpassing the level of detail in the character models of previous Assassin’s Creed games. The environments are designed with high-levels of detail, a great lighting engine and generally do not require the use of any loading screens between levels and areas.

The music, sound effects and dialogue are of the same standard as the graphics, very well-crafted. They complement the art style of the game well and are suited to the direction the game has taken. Overall, I have no complaints whatsoever in terms of graphics and sound.

Assassins Creed IV: Black Flag is different from previous entries in the series. It is something definitely worth playing, as it focuses more on being a pirate game than anything else, and pulls it off well. The story leaves a lot of room for free-roaming and the missions themselves will offer enjoyment. Graphically, the game is an impressive achievement on current gen tech. Overall, it is a fantastic well-rounded package which has plenty of offer both new and existing players to the AC series.

An analysis of the next generation versions of the game is included before this review.