Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag (Xbox 360)

Ubisoft moves its killer franchise to the age when pirates ruled the seas

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Ubisoft Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag

Pros

  • Well-tuned ship mechanics that make sailing and sea combat a breeze
  • No extended tutorial mode stopping you from enjoying the story

Cons

  • All of the side quests and added content can be overwhelming
  • Story and setting not quite as interesting as the renaissance era

Bottom Line

Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag is the closest thing you can get to a virtual pirate experience. While it doesn’t quite reach the highs of Assassin's Creed II, it’s still one of the best entries in the series.

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Another year has passed, and with it an additional Assassin’s Creed game arrives in time for the Christmas season. After diverting the series to the American civil war era with last year’s Assassin’s Creed III, Ubisoft has this year moved it to the age of high seas and piracy with Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag. It is a change designed to invigorate a long running franchise, which that has not taken a break since its debut in 2007 with the original Assassin’s Creed.

A pirate’s life for me

Black Flag stars Edward Kenway, a privateer in the Caribbean and West Indies during the 18th century. He is a new protagonist in a new setting that is completely different from past Assassin’s Creed games.

In past games, the protagonist was inducted into the order of assassins through their lineage, but Kenway is a regular pirate that happens to take on the identity of an eliminated assassin. Kenway’s intention was to complete the assassin’s delivery job to get paid, but he instead finds himself taken on a path towards becoming a real member of the assassin’s order.

Third-person environmental exploration has formed the core of the Assassin’s Creed series, though the pirate setting in Black Flag means that ocean adventuring gets pushed to the forefront. The ship sailing mechanic was briefly introduced in Assassin’s Creed III, but it forms a major component of the gameplay in Black Flag.

In fact, you will be in control of a ship soon after starting the game, and before long you will graduate towards open-sea piracy. In addition to climbing up tall buildings and monuments in order to scout out historical figures and kill them, you’ll also be navigating the Carribean with your ship to visit other exotic islands in the region.

Straight into the action

The Assassin’s Creed series went from strength to strength with the trio of renaissance era games (Assassin's Creed II, Brotherhood and Revelations), though last year’s Assassin’s Creed III stumbled somewhat. The colonial setting was not very interesting, the protagonist wasn’t memorable, and the game featured an extended prologue that acted as the in-game tutorial. More than that, it seemed as if the series was finally struggling under the weight of its own scale and ambition, to the point where it felt somewhat bloated and a chore to play.

While Black Flag comes with its fair share of content, both existing and new, Ubisoft seems to have taken the criticism on board to make the game more streamlined and manageable than Assassin’s Creed III. Not all of the fat has been trimmed, but the key shortcomings seem to have been addressed in Black Flag.

The Caribbean setting and piracy gameplay are both exotic and enjoyable, respectively, and there is no extended prologue stopping you from playing the actual game. Kenway is not quite as interesting as a character as the renaissance era’s Ezio Auditore, but he is a significant improvement over Assassin’s Creed III’s Connor. Together, these improvements amount to what is likely the best entry in the series since Assassin’s Creed II.

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