Continuing Ubisoft’s hugely popular third-person historical adventure series, Assassins Creed IV: Black Flag takes us to the tropical Cape Bonavista in June 1715.
Introducing the Pirate Edward Kenway, we meet him in the middle of a large naval battle during a furious storm. Firing broadside cannons and unleashing exploding barrels to send the enemies into the watery depths, it serves as a dramatic taster for what's to come.
Once victory is yours, it's time to swim to shore to begin the first of the land-based quests. The controls are intuitive, allowing you to easily scale buildings, swing on ropes or perform air assassinations. The heart of the combat is sword fighting, but you can also take down enemies with concealed blades or guns.
Missions can be approached in multiple ways. Take the stealthy approach to pick off guards from cover, run head first into battle in a blaze of bullets and smoke bombs, put enemies to sleep for a non-aggressive entry, or even send guards berserk with a drugged blow dart (once unlocked) so that they turn on each other.
Using 'Eagle Vision' conveniently highlights enemies in red, while objectives and hiding places are shown in gold. You can even tag up to 10 animals or adversaries to continue tracking their movements through walls. Though Eagle Vision can't be used while running, so is best observed from a safe vantage point.
At various points you'll be tasked with chasing down equally agile targets. Speeding across rooftops and through crowded streets, you have to keep up to avoid "de-synchronising", or rather, having to start again! Likewise, certain naval missions require you to follow a ship, while quickly going ashore to kill any guards that may trigger the alarm.
One particularly fun mission involves trying to free captive pirates from a fleet of ships. Success allows you to recruit them, which is crucial when trying to board enemy ships. Climbing between the masts and stealthily trying to pick off the guards helps to complete an optional objective (of which there are several for each mission). If you manage to gain control of a ship, you'll then have to outrun an angry fleet, massive waves and tornados in a deadly storm. All in a day’s work for a pirate!
While sailing the Caribbean seas, your crew will merrily sing Pirate songs in calm weather and even cheer if you return to the ship. Additional shipmates can be recruited in taverns or assisted when in trouble. Successfully winning a naval battle allows you sink the ship (after taking all of its plunder of course), reduce your wanted level or add the ship to Kenway's fleet. This is an addictive mini-game where you can clear trade routes and sell goods for a daily cash injection. There is also a great mobile companion app so that you can wage war on the go.
There are plenty of other diversions to keep you entertained too, like hunting for treasure or playing Fanorona - a Madagascan board game. As you progress, you can also try to harpoon a whale, dive for sunken treasure, conquer a fort and take on heavily armed ships in the hopes of untold riches. It’s so easy to become engrossed in the world that you may well forget that there are main missions to do while fighting across rooftops and building a mighty fleet. You’ll even get to meet iconic historical figures such as the infamous Blackbeard!
For those familiar with the series, you’ll know that a portion of the game also takes place in the modern day. Abstergo Entertainment is in the business of harvesting genetic memories, allowing you to re-visit the past via their advanced technology. Exploring the offices in first-person, it neatly ties the story and series together. There are loads of great easter eggs to be found too if you take the time to hack the various computers.
So far so good, but a pirate’s life has its ups and downs. In combat you can occasionally run into some camera problems, especially if you are near a traversable object. Also, trying to open a treasure chest when an enemy is nearby can inadvertently cause you to whistle, as both actions are assigned to the same button. Not ideal when trying to be stealthy! The game also crashed on a few occasions, but it didn't take long to get back into the action. Conveniently the game saves at key points in missions, so you don't need to start from beginning again. None of the above overly affected my enjoyment of the game however, so don’t let it put you off!
In terms of gameplay, the single player missions, side quests and exploration can easily keep you entertained for well over thirty hours. The varied multiplayer modes make this an even more attractive proposition. Downloadable content expands the world further, adding a new single player experience and upgrades. The game also features the longest end credits I’ve ever witnessed, prompting a cup of tea break at the twenty five minute mark!
Assassins Creed IV: Black Flag is a highly enjoyable adventure, with varied gameplay and a vast world to explore. Not only that, but it is confidently the most satisfying pirate game ever made. If you are new to the series, this is an exciting time to get involved. In short, it’s plunderful!
Review by: Sarah O'Connell
Review Date: 6th December 2013
Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag
Rating out of 5: