[Artbook Review] High Seas, High Art: The Art of Assassin's Creed IV Black Flag

A pirate's bounty of artwork ready to be plundered by your eyeballs.

There is a premise in Assassin's Creed that we all carry a genetic memory of our ancestors; in which one could access to gain the skills of that distant relative. When looking at all the artwork for Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag, it's not too far-fetched to imagine Ubisoft's artists hooked into the Animus and channeling the French masters like Rembrandt, Monet, and Gauguin. 

Besides being the best looking Assassin's Creed to date, Black Flag is easily one of the best looking games to come out this year.

A pirate's life is a beautiful life, indeed. 

Besides being the best looking Assassin's Creed to date, Black Flag is easily one of the best looking games to come out this year.

The lush and detailed Caribbean setting is reminiscent of 2004, when Ubisoft brought us the original Far Cry. That game came out in a time when all FPS games took place in dimly-lit corridors, and Black Flag is similarly a refreshing take on the 6 year old Assassin's Creed formula. 

Ubisoft is obviously proud of their work, and this artbook in particular, as it appears in game on the shelves at Abstergo Entertainment. There are over 20 artists represented in the book, many of which also provide annotations for their work. This is where the book definitely shines, as the inspiration behind every iteration is explained by each artist. 

Raphael Lacoste, the Art Director for the Assassin's Creed brand, does a great job of explaining the artistic direction for the game in this book's foreword: 

“We are not doing the usual “family entertainment” or a caricatured version of Piracy but a more grounded and realistic interpretation of history.” 

That is a polite way of saying:

'don't expect this to be anything like Disney's Pirates of the Caribbean.'

I'm sure this is much to the chagrin of eye-patch and talking parrot aficionados. Lacoste's declaration shines through in the art, and it definitely shows that the art team spent time in Havana, Santo Domingo, and Costa Rica for research and inspiration. The cities are just 1/7 of the material of this book; there are entire chapters dedicated to just the characters, ships, equipment, and much more. 

I found the Abstergo Entertainment chapter to be particularly fascinating. The Abstergo portion of Black Flag is mostly optional, but there was large amount of time that went into designing it. This chapter also best illustrates how the design of a game can evolve. The first concept art was pretty dark and menacing, which would be the obvious approach for a branch of the villainous Abstergo Industries. The designs that made it into the game are actually more of what you would imagine Google or Ubisoft's offices to look like. 

The idea of something sinister lurking underneath an otherwise harmless looking exterior becomes far more interesting than the original designs. Speaking of danger lurking beneath the waves, the whaling portion of the game is noticeably missing from the artbook... perhaps due to its controversial nature. There is also a danger of running into minor spoilers for those who haven't completed the game before delving into this book. 

So will you need to sell your peg leg to afford this beauty?

My previous reviews of Titan Books' hard cover graphic novels have been on the low side; mostly because I felt the quality of the comic was not worthy of such a high quality printing. The Art of Assassin's Creed IV Black Flag however is not only worthy of this treatment, it also comes at an amazing price of $34.95 for nearly 200 pages of gorgeous artwork. 

 

There are close to 1,000 pieces of artwork in this book, many of which I would consider frame worthy. This book can be appreciated by anyone who just enjoys good art and especially anyone who has an interest in game design. Rather than just a bunch of design documents and wireframe models in t-poses, every page is graced by wonderfully expressive digital paintings. My only criticism would be some images have been scaled up to fill in spaces a little better, but the only people likely to even notice that are those who work in digital imaging. 

I was personally ready to give up on the series after being thoroughly dissatisfied with Assassin's Creed III. I'm still in the fairly early portion of Black Flag, but mostly because the sailing and open exploration is so incredibly enjoyable. Ubisoft has definitely redeemed the series in my eyes, and after seeing how incredible their art team is; they've earned a great deal of respect from me. Some of the most unique visuals this year have come from Ubisoft, from the quirky Rayman: Legends, to the 80's action movie love letter that is Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon. 

Ubisoft has definitely set the bar high for artistic design in their games and Titan Books should be the standard that any game related artbook strives towards, both in quality and price.

 

Our Rating
10
A pirate's bounty of artwork ready to be plundered by your eyeballs.

Featured Columnist

Lifelong gamer, artist, writer, lurker, occasional troll, and 1994 Blockbuster Game Tournament Store Champion.

Published Feb. 12th 2014
  • Germ_the_Nobody
    Correspondent
    Very nice review. I haven't been a collector of these kinds of books in a long time. Mostly because I can't afford both my gaming addiction and my comic book addiction and gaming has taken over my wallet. So, artbooks? Unfortunately not.

    I also really loved seeing the artwork and posters inside the game.

    I was also disappointed in AC3 mostly due to the story. I liked the historical events and stuff but I didn't like the lack of character development. The same thing is happening in 4. I've actually taken a break from it for awhile because I'm disinterested in the story while the gameplay is amazing.

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