Review – Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag (Switch)

It’s safe to say that everyone was feeling a bit skeptical about Ubisoft announcing that both Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag and its sequel, Assassin’s Creed Rogue, were going to be ported to the Switch. Especially since they didn’t exactly do a great job with their port of the less demanding Assassin’s Creed III a few months ago. Regardless, I was still looking forward to it, as being able to play what is pretty much considered to be the franchise’s highlight wherever I want to was too much of a good prospect to ignore. And you know what? This ended up being a damn good port, much better than I could have ever imagined.

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Havana, ooh na na.

Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag is the first game in the series not starring franchise veteran Desmond Miles, even though you’re still playing with his memories. Abstergo is still here and the ultra complicated plot involving Assassins and Templars is still featured. Albeit with some twists here and there both ridiculously predictable and occasionally smart. The story revolves around Welsh pirate Edward Kenway (portrayed brilliantly by Constantine himself, Matt Ryan), and it’s a bit more light-hearted than previous installments. A lot of focus is directed at pure swashbuckling and the attempted establishment of a Republic of Pirates. It’s a slightly more newcomer-friendly plot as you can mostly stick to what’s going on in the past simulation.

I was truly worried about how well Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag would end up performing on the Switch. It’s not like we haven’t seen successful ports of late eighth generation games on the console, as Call of Juarez: Gunslinger and Bulletstorm are here to prove us wrong, but Assassin’s Creed III‘s port ended up being so lackluster that I was expecting the worst for a game that was bigger in scope and featured even sharper visuals. Thankfully, that isn’t the case in here: Assassin’s Creed IV runs marvelously on the Switch. Granted, it’s based on the PS3/Xbox 360/Wii U version of the game, so it doesn’t look as great as the PS4 or Xbox One versions, but it still runs at 1080p at a rock-solid 30 frames per second at all times. It looks especially great when playing it in docked mode.

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Did you miss the “classic” Assassin’s Creed combat system? Don’t lie, you didn’t.

Being an older Assassin’s Creed game, as in released before the unofficial reboot that was Assassin’s Creed Origins, Black Flag feels a bit dated in some aspects. The parkour-based gameplay is still absolutely awesome, as it transforms the gigantic open world around you in an athletics playground for you to tackle your victims as if you were a Caribbean ninja. The combat, on the other hand, didn’t stand the test of time. Both Origins and Odyssey have implemented new combat mechanics that actually made them fun. Black Flag is just pointless button mashing, in which you torment the Y button at all times all while pressing the B button every now and then to make an enemy stop defending. Being able to use a pistol is a nice addition, though.

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Sailing can be serene or extremely frustrating, depending on the amount of enemy ships onscreen.

Then we have the naval gameplay, arguably the game’s most iconic feature. I have to say, piloting a big ship and exploring the Caribbean Sea is great. It turns the simple act of going from one port to another a lot more epic than it should have been. The controls are simple and intuitive, even though you are piloting a gigantic hunk of wood that weighs tons.

The combat, on the other hand, just like the normal land-based combat, just hasn’t aged well. Aiming is clunky and limited. Some battles take way too long because both ships end up on an endless spiral of swimming around in circles, out of either side’s aiming reach. The sole act of shooting cannonballs into other people’s ships looks great, but it’s so slow and clunky that it becomes boring after a while. I guess we still have to wait for Ubisoft’s Skull & Bones in order to experience a truly great naval combat experience, as Sea of Thieves didn’t live up to the hype as well. The less we talk about that disappointment, the better…

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Our main character starts off looking like a roadie from Guns n’ Roses.

While I might have sounded a bit too harsh, I still have to commend the fact that I’m now able to play this huge Assassin’s Creed game wherever and whenever I want to. Black Flag is a fantastic swashbuckling adventure with a great story and characters, that’s also backed by great visuals and performance, even on the Switch’s hardware. This is a great port by Ubisoft and if they keep on porting other games with the same level of quality, I wouldn’t doubt seeing games like Driver: San Francisco, Steep, Far Cry 3, and the first two Assassin’s Creed games showing up on the eShop in the near future. The more, the merrier.

 

Graphics: 8.0

It looks beautiful in portable mode and it runs at a rock-solid 30 frames per second. It might not look like the PS4 and Xbox One versions, but it still looks pretty good nonetheless.

Gameplay: 8.0

The parkour-based gameplay, the open world exploration, and the various ways you can assassinate targets are still as fun as ever. The combat and naval controls, however, haven’t aged as gracefully.

Sound: 8.5

Some great voice acting performances in here, especially Matt Ryan’s portrayal of the main character. The soundtrack might not be the most iconic you’ve ever heard, but it gets the job done.

Fun Factor: 8.5

Black Flag features an intriguing story, a fantastic setting, and a lot to do and explore. The best part about it is that it runs beautifully on the Switch. Certain gameplay aspects haven’t aged very well, but it’s still well worth a purchase.

Final Verdict: 8.5

Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag is available now on PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One, PC, Wii U, and Switch.

Reviewed on Switch.

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