While last year’s Assassin’s Creed III dropped you in the middle of the American Revolution, the latest in the series has you set sail in the West Indies in the late 17th and early 18th century.
The pirate-themed adventure is incredibly fun and gratifying, and gives the aging franchise a much-needed shot in the arm.
Available now for Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and Nintendo Wii U, Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag lets you slip into the boots of Edward Kenway, a Brit who makes his way up from swabbing the decks of a large privateer vessel to a tough-as-nails pirate in the Caribbean, determined to line his pockets with booty — by any means necessary.
While discovering new islands, looking for buried treasure, pillaging ships and swashbuckling, the hot-tempered but charismatic Kenway soon finds himself caught between two warring secret societies: the Assassins and Templars. There’s more to the story, of course — including a tie to present-day technology — but we don’t want to spoil the fun for you.
Kenway meets all kinds of characters in ports, accepts naval contracts, finds collectibles and must stay alive by weathering fierce storms, hungry sea creatures and deadly adversaries. Oh, and while sailing the Seven Seas you can expect to run into some of the most infamous pirates in history, including Blackbeard.
You’ll also be tasked with keeping your vessel shipshape, such as adding more sails, bringing on additional crew members (and even make them sing sea chanteys, if you like) and bolstering the ship’s weapons.
On that note, the ship-to-ship combat is one of the game’s highlights, and builds nicely upon the naval combat introduced in last year’s game. There’s a certain thrill in discovering an enemy ship, engaging in warfare and then hopping or swinging onboard with your crew.
Battles between large groups can get a bit messy and hard to follow at times, but it’s one small beef out of an otherwise extraordinary experience. Stealth still plays a significant role in this game, too.
While not tested for this review, Black Flag also offers competitive multiplayer modes. Similar to previous games, there are six different modes to choose from, spread out over eight unique maps.
It would also be remiss not to mention this game is absolutely huge — the largest “sandbox” environment in an Assassin’s Creed title to date. Despite the fact you can go virtually anywhere and take on missions at your discretion, the pacing is surprisingly quick. Compare this to Assassin’s Creed III’s lengthy and boring prologue sequences and cut-scenes.
Black Flag is also the prettiest game in the series, if the PlayStation 3 version played is any indication. Between the water effects, realistic-looking characters and vicious storm sequences, you’ll be pleasantly surprised at how this disc pushes the 7-year-old hardware.
The Xbox One and PlayStation 4 versions of the game will be out in a couple of weeks to coincide with the launch of the next-generation consoles, along with a version for Windows PC.
Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag isn’t only the best game in the series, but one of the finest games of 2013 so far. Between its engaging and varied gameplay, responsive controls and high production values, this multiplatform pirate adventure is well worth its weight in gold.
Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag.
Platform: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Nintendo Wi U, Windows PC, Xbox One, PlayStation 4.
Developer: Ubisoft Montreal/Ubisoft Annecy.
Publisher: Ubisoft Entertainment.
Price: $59.99 ($49.99 for PC).
Score: 3.5 stars (out of 4).
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