Developer: Ubisoft Montreal
Publisher: Ubisoft
Release date: October 29
Price: $59.99
Score: 8/10

The idea of freedom is at the heart of Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flag, but unlike the previous entries into the series Black Flag does a great job of showing us why freedom is so great instead of just telling us.

The incredible vistas of the Caribbean come to life with roaming pirates, jumping whales, fierce storms and rouge waves. Edward Kenway has come to this pirate republic to make his fortune and return home, but home is slowly becoming ever more distant as he goes deeper into the secrets of the first civilization and great war between at the Assassin’s and Templar. The world of Black Flag is incredibly detailed. Each island has unique buildings, whether they are windmills, cathedrals or Mayan ruins. Pirate cities are fleshed out with ample bars and dancing girls and no shortage of barfing pirates and a lot of rum to boot. However, the best thing about Black Flag is getting out on the open water.

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Sea combat seems a bit daunting at first, but after a few attempts you’re not going to want to leave your ship; and you don’t have too. On your ship, the Jackdaw, Edward can explore and discover new locations, battle and board ships and even capture forts to use at pirate bases. The battle simulations are staggering at first, seas can become rough – storms have a way of coming out of nowhere – and your crew scurrying across the deck while manning cannons and exchanging rifle fire with the opposing ships is a bit mind- blowing at first. Boarding those ships lets Edward man a swivel gun to wipe out of a few of their troops then feel free to hop on a line and swing over in swashbuckling style to finish off the job. Once ships are taken they can be used to repair your own ship, to reduce your “wanted” level, which keeps larger ships from hunting you, or Edward can add the ship to his pirate fleet. The sailing controls are easy but we learned to respect the weather in Black Flag. The environmental effects are not only beautiful, but also deadly.

The cool blue waters of the Caribbean can instantly turn into a raging storm with waves taller than your ship and waterspouts dancing around your ship. Fog banks can obscure your ship but a swift wind can push you up on the rocks. Controlling the Jackdaw isn’t complicated, controls are limited – you’re not going to be trimming any jibs here, sorry sailing fans – but the ease of controls let us look around at an incredible environment. The game’s mini map will show the locations of important items, such as fishing grounds, from a distance but Edward can use his looking glass to spot ships, determine they’re value and size, as well as scout for wrecks, fishing spots and floating crates of goods all on the high seas. Life on land is almost as good. Islands are packed full of ways to make money, assassinations, kidnapping couriers, raiding treasure chests and locating treasure maps that will lead you to buried gold. While Edward's climbing abilities are visually exciting, mechanically, they’re a little too easy. It doesn’t have the drama and fear of falling that games like Tomb Raider, but instead focused on fun. With ess technicality this allows players to quickly scale almost anything and pounce on top of our victim’s head.

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Ground combat comes in a couple familiar varieties, swordplay is exciting but limited to a prompted attack types. So attack,wait for a prompt to change attack, counter and it’s easier said then done. After a few tries you’ll recognize when can use a human shield or whether you need to break the guard of a soldier to get around him. When you have it down it’s a thing of beauty, although it doesn’t seem to matter much whether you’re using the Assassin’s hidden blades, swords, or pistols, combat plays out is much the same way. Much more fun are running assassinations, but in some missions you’ll find yourself doing a lot of hiding in bushes and luring over guards to take them down one by one. The open world of Black Flag means you can do just about anything outside the missions, but once they begin you need to see them through. Sometimes this means that on the way to save your friends you’ll stop to kill and skin a few iguanas - you know - just because you can. These missions are based around truly breathtaking set pieces.

In one particular mission Edward is running through dense jungle and undergrowth for nearly the entire map until he emerges at the base of a series of waterfalls that are incredible rendered. The open world also means there is a lot to do, so much so that it all seems a bit overwhelming in the beginning. While Black Flag does have a lengthy training-wheel phase you’re defiantly in danger of dying from the second you start. Much has been said about the amount and size of the world of Black Flag and given the amount of detail and the quantity of side-missions and unique items to find, you could easily spend 100 hours just fooling around throwing spears at sharks. The characters in Black Flag are interesting if not a bit politically correct for an M-rated game about pirates. Some of the pirates, like Black Beard, were based off historical accounts, maybe that’s why the pirates seem like the most rational characters in the game, it might also have to do with them not trading slaves.

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The issues of slavery and the fate of freeman comes up through conversations with your Quartermaster Adewale, easily the most likable character in the game. While Edward and his pirate brothers speak of forming a republic of there own, Adewale is a practical ex-slave who sees his best chance of freedom on the high seas, even if he’s there to prop-up the ego of Mr. Kenway. We’re happy Adewale is getting his own expansion some time next year for Black Flag. The narrative of Black Flag can get a big plodding towards the end and manages to even be - dare we say - heartwarming when everything is said and done. Edward starts the game not as Assassin or Templar but an already seasoned pirate. Romping around as an Assassin in the middle of war gets him into a bit of trouble and things begin to slowly be revealed, but you will see it coming.

It’s a tight and fairly straightforward narrative, it is lengthy though. This is not a story you’re going to wrap up in a weekend, or even two, but it does grow the world of Black Flag is such a way that narrative progress unlocks so many features that you’ll be taking a lot of breaks to hop into diving bells, explore ruins and diving in caves to worry about finishing too quickly. Early in the game the subplot starts rolling out as we learn the fate of Desmond and your role in reliving the memories of your ancestors. These parts are more than just cut scenes, as you’ll have to complete some tasks but the first person view is what is most jarring. At some point you realize you’re playing yourself, and you’re a star.

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Black Flag does have a few issues, one of them being the amount of eavesdropping missions, it adds a panic to your usual sneaking but doesn’t advance the story that much since whatever is heard is instantly recapped by a character so it just feels unnecessary. You’ll often find yourself climbing things you didn’t mean to at pretty critical moments, I do wish there was a way for Edward to run without climbing up everything, but this is a matter of taste. Jumping across rooftops, even if they are tiny pirates shacks, is still very gratifying. The crafting system will be instantly

This is not a story you’re going to wrap up in a weekend, or even two. You’ll be taking a lot of breaks to hop into diving bells, explore ruins and cave diving to worry about finishing too quickly.

recognizable from Far Cry 3 although it seems unnecessary. There is little need to craft much of anything unless players want to change their outfits or add another gun to their holsters all things that seem should also be for sale in the many weapons shops, but are not.

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This was a little bit of a let down because how amazingly fun hunting can be. Maybe not on land, where you’re pouncing on a poor deer but spearing Great White sharks might be one of the greatest video game moments of this generation. The first time it happens we nearly fell out of our seats. Multiplayer also seems tacked-on but we were only able to play a limited amount during our review, we wouldn’t recommend picking up this game strictly for multiplayer.

Overall, Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flag is the best and most carefully designed AC game yet. But the most exciting parts of the game take you on the high seas and leave behind the story completely. The enticing waters of the Caribbean will pull you into its massive and bloody depths as you roam a sea filled with warring nations and natural dangers. Black Flag is an ambitious game that allows the pirate sensibility of fun over the plodding history lesson of the Assassin and Templar war rule the day.

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