I waxed lyrical on Ubisoft’s pirate-themed adventure in my PlayStation 3 review of Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, and for good reason. Combining the very best of the historical action-adventure series’ brutal, stealth-oriented components and giving players a massive, Caribbean open world to explore, Black Flag offers unprecedented freedom and a wealth of side activities to indulge in beyond the already-decent main quest line. In fact, the game was hard to fault, and barring some monotonous missions and occasional technical hiccups, Black Flag earns its place as the greatest Creed adventure since Ezio Auditore’s Roman epic in Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood.
With PlayStation 4, it is clear that Ubisoft has made a solid attempt to differentiate from the current-generation experience. Admittedly, as Black Flag was already a gorgeous-looking game on PS3 and Xbox 360, it might not be all that noticeable how much better it looks on Sony’s new home console unless you have seen both versions up and running. However, rest assured, Edward Kenway’s nautical adventure pushes that extra processing power to incorporate some scrumptious next-gen touches not possible on previous hardware.
For starters, the game looks smoother and possesses a noticeable increase in draw distance. During the cut scenes, the PS3 version tended to blur out background objects such as mountain ranges and forests as characters converse, whereas here they appear more detailed and sharp. Scale a church or tree and gaze out across the horizon and your jaw will drop as to how far the scenery stretches–it’s truly a stunning sight. Character models also benefit from a bit of spit and polish, with a discernible level of extra detail on Ed and co’s grizzly chops, with facial hair and general wear-and-tear. The water is the star of the show, though, and it’s here that the PS4 version stands tall above its current-generation cousins.
Whether it’s the lashing of rain beating down on the deck of the Jackdaw in the middle of a raging storm, or the rippling blue waters of the Caribbean drenched in the afternoon sun, Black Flag’s next-gen water effects have been immaculately crafted. These extra visual nuances in the PS4 version help bring to life Kenway’s life of looting and debauchery, and there were times that I couldn’t help but take my eyes off the action just to admire the rain-soaked deck of my ship as the lightning briefly illuminated it. This is something that simply wasn’t present in the PS3 version. Rounding off a barrage of impressive particle effects are some excellent smoke clouds that erupt as your cannons and guns fire, covering the battle zone in a white haze; lord only knows how pirates didn’t choke to death from the amount of smoke clogging up their lungs.
Fortunately, Ubisoft has seen fit to iron out some of the minor PS3 bugs with the PS4 release. I didn’t notice any floating objects or issues where Kenway would get stuck on the scenery, although visual clipping was present here and there. However, these issues are inconsequential in the long run and do not detract from the overall experience of the game. Elsewhere, the DualShock 4’s unique mechanisms come into play, with the touchpad being used to bring up and navigate the map screen. At first, it doesn’t feel natural and I had to get used to the sensitivity of scrolling my finger across the pad, but once this was done, I found myself easily sweeping the map and pressing the touchpad inwards to mark my desired target/object to my mini-map. It’s a nice touch, and a seamless and efficient way to get about.
In terms of core gameplay, the Black Flag experience is just as compelling as it was on PS3. The main quest will most probably seem like an after-thought as you cruise the high seas, plundering booty from islands and ruins after boarding ships to acquire various loot and riches in order to fund your Jackdaw upgrades. If that was’t enough, the sheer amount of collectibles–from shanties, treasure maps, and animus fragments to letters–will ensure you remain hooked on the Golden Age of Piracy for weeks on end. Throw in Naval and Assassin contracts, and you have easily the most expansive Creed yet–one that is oozing with atmosphere, mystique, and exploration. Sadly, I wasn’t able to fully test-drive Remote Play as my connection kept drying up after only about 30 seconds — no doubt due to my poor Wi-Fi or set-up rather than the game itself.
Overall, if you are wanting the complete Black Flag experience, then you can’t fault the PS4 version. It has all the visual and performance advantages of its next-gen counterpart on Xbox One, plus the added bonus of including the Aveline missions, which are exclusive to Sony platforms. In short, this is the definitive edition of Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, and one game you cannot afford to miss out on this holiday season, yer lazy sea slug!