Let me just state this off the bat: This is not a full review of Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag. Our own Chad Goodmurphy covered the game in full detail in his review of the current-gen version, and while I have my own personal thoughts on the game – as Chad suggests, it is, indeed, a wonderful starting place for Assassin’s Creed newcomers like myself – they aren’t revelatory enough to warrant discussing the story and gameplay all over again.
No, the purpose of this review is just to discuss the PlayStation 4 version, which launched alongside Sony’s new gaming console. It is fundamentally the same game as what you can play now on your Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3 – and includes the same bonus Aveline content as the PS3 version, currently an exclusive to PlayStation platforms – but there will be absolutely no mistaking the PlayStation 4 version as a current-gen release. Assassin’s Creed IV looks positively stunning on every single level, plays great with the DualShock 4 controller, is host to a smooth and stable online community, and, of course, includes all the next-generation amenities – like lightning-fast load times – we would expect of a PlayStation 4 game.
The graphics are the main attraction, of course, and they are, indeed, stupendous. Assassin’s Creed IV has the basic visual foundation of a current-gen title – the way it renders faces and environmental elements, like grass and cliff-sides, is aesthetically reminiscent of games like Red Dead Redemption, The Last of Us, and, of course, previous Assassin’s Creed titles – but with much more dynamic lighting and deeper, richer colors than anything you will see on the Xbox 360 or PS3, the visual experience is consistently breathtaking. Lighting effects are subtle, nuanced, and detailed in ways current-gen hardware could never achieve, and the range of colors (or color differentiation) seen in bringing environments to life – especially the impossibly beautiful water of the open seas – is staggering. Textures benefit hugely from the next-gen leap as well, particularly within the city areas, like Havana or Nassau. Chapels, fortresses, strong-holds, and other miscellaneous buildings are a pleasure to look at, with an extremely rich amount of detail embedded in each wall, door, ceiling, and floor. It is something that took me by surprise – how often do you stop to stare at the textures on buildings in a current-gen title, for instance? – but even many hours into the game, I find myself transfixed by the textures on display.
One of the greatest advantages of the PlayStation 4 version are the draw distances, which seem effectively limitless most of the time. I have noticed texture or environment pop-in two or three times, but it is an extremely rare occurrence, and for the most part, exploring the world of Assassin’s Creed IV, by land or by sea, is a completely seamless experience.
The game also runs as smoothly as possible, with nary a framerate hiccup in sight, and the upgrade to full 1080p resolution provided by the game’s November 20th title update only increases the next-gen value. At native 1080p, Assassin’s Creed IV looks even better than it did at the PlayStation 4’s launch. Everything is just a little smoother, a little sharper, a little more impressive (water effects, again, get the biggest and most noticeable leap, with particular regards to depth of color). Resolution matters, and the 1080p jump is certainly one of the PlayStation 4 version’s greatest assets.
Unfortunately, graphics take a hit on the multiplayer side. While I did not experience any significant framerate dips or visual instability, everything is just a tad less sharp, detailed, and dynamic, with multiplayer levels looking more like a current-gen title than the main campaign. That said, online play through the PlayStation Network is fast, fluid, and stable. I cannot say if there are any clear advantages over playing multiplayer via current-gen systems, but the PS4 is an extremely fast system with regards to online connectivity, and this is fully reflected in Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag.
Finally, it must be said that the game plays fantastically on the DualShock 4. The controller’s excellent, satisfying triggers make the game’s free-running mechanics as comfortable as possible on the player’s hands, and while the integration of the controller’s central touch-pad for map navigation isn’t perfect – the control is just a bit too imprecise to easily target an objective – I appreciate the touchpad’s utilization for quickly scrolling around the game’s immense map.
Those who have yet to upgrade to the PlayStation 4 should play Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag regardless of what console they own – this is easily one of the year’s best games, and will still provide plenty of enjoyment on the PS3 or Xbox 360 – but if you own a PlayStation 4, this is undoubtedly a must-have title. It shows off the new hardware spectacularly, and is an invaluable part of the launch lineup.
This review is based on the PlayStation 4 version of the game.
A great game is made even greater thanks to the power of the PlayStation 4, with stunning graphics and performance enhancements that make next-gen the best place to play Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag.