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Looking back to Black Flag – Assassin’s Creed at its peak

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Assassins Creed Black Flag
Assassin’s Creed IV Black Flag

Assassin’s Creed is one of the twenty-first century’s most popular – and most successful – video game franchises. An instant hit when the very first game reached the shelves back in 2009, its unique visual style and gameplay made it a new cultural phenomenon, with more than a dozen sequels following and a whole host of other spin-offs.

Yet it has an ongoing problem in that its unmistakable gameplay leaves the series with nowhere new to go and, game to game, there isn’t much difference. If one instalment were too similar to the last it would feel repetitive, while too many innovations would start to feel like a completely different game altogether.

Each new AC game then has to walk a very thin line when it comes to keeping the series fresh. Instead of expanding or innovating for each new instalment, Ubisoft instead admonishes and re-dresses elements from the last one. This was done best in the fourth full game of the series, Black Flag, which sets the action on the high seas at the height of the golden age of piracy. 

This opens up the game to a lot of new potential and new ideas, all of which are brilliantly realized, as well as first-rate graphics and compelling gameplay. This was the critical response met with the final product when it debuted on Xbox 360 in October 2013, with reviews saying Black Flag had revitalised the series. Purists were not as impressed but the game still sold in its millions, making it one of the most successful in the Assassin’s Creed series to date.

One of the things that makes ACIV among the very best in the series is integrating familiar staples of the Assassin’s Creed series into the period setting. Viewpoints are still tall buildings, but are also cliff tops and crow’s nests. Hidden collectibles are in the form of buried treasure and the expansive setting makes for an evocative feeling of adventure and exploration.

While its story may have the most appeal to devotees of Assassin’s Creed, the characters in Black Flag are among the most memorable in the series, from the morally dubious playable lead Edward Kenway, his first mate Adewale, down to minor characters like Stede Bonnet. What’s more all of the characters here sound like they are from the right time and place – here there are no French people with inexplicable English accents.

In terms of gameplay, by this fourth game the foundational Assassin’s Creed controls had become so refined that even those new to the series could pick up this game and get to grips with it easily. It is complex, but also easy to learn, and soon any player will be dashing along rooftops and air-assassinating enemies with ease.

assassins creed black flag 2
Ships ahoy!

ACIV also makes improvements on existing mechanics which greatly improve the experience and opens up new possibilities. Being a pirate game, sailing would have of course had to feature here and, after an inauspicious debut in ACIII, here the Jackdaw, Kenway’s ship, is his main mode of transportation across a game map that spans large parts of the Caribbean sea (Some of which are fictionalized.)

Unlike the prior game the movements of the ship feels very responsive and the commands, while frustrating in the heat of battle, are well laid out and make for exciting battles whenever you stray into enemy waters.

Aside from the main story which involves Kenway hunting down pirate lords who are in fact Templars, and the concurrent modern-day storyline where the protagonist uncovers shady doings at Abstergo, ACIV gives players a lot to do off the beaten track. Side missions in Black Flag make for a hugely expansive and engrossing game experience, from finding clues that unlock a rare armour to hunting down Templars. Animal rights activists weren’t happy with hunting missions, but those are all optional. The best is exploring shipwrecks for sunken treasure, while avoiding sharks and running out of breath.

Black Flag is Assassin’s Creed at its peak; a brilliantly realized concept where all of the different ideas fit together perfectly. It’s easy to see why subsequent games tried to integrate these ideas but they never worked quite the same. Ten years on it’s still a hugely enjoyable play and thankfully the Xbox 360 version is still very affordable at the usual places and also available for download.


You can find Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag on the Xbox Store. It’s playable across Xbox One and Xbox Series X|S. It’s also part of Ubisoft+ too. That Xbox 360 edition has a Store Page too. 

Let us know your AC Black Flag thoughts. Is it still a better game than Mirage? The comments are below. 

Jack Ford
Jack Ford
Jack Ford is from Somerset, where there's nothing to do except play video games and write. His works has appeared on Battle Royale With Cheese, Gender and the City, Flickside and SnookerHQ among others.

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A pedant.
A pedant.
5 months ago

“An instant hit when the very first game reached the shelves back in 2009”

2007.

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