Yar, mateys! Tis time to sail the seas, buckle our swashes, and walk the planktons with our jolly rogered crew (Ed: erm…) The assassins have taken to the seas and are getting dressed in their colourful apparel in Davy Jones’ Locker Room. Your trusty reviewer takes up his sword and blunderbuss and goes trawling the seas in search of loot and victims to assass. (Ed: That’s “assassinate”. Oh never mind. I can see I’m in for a tough job editing this review.)

If you’ve gone and forgotten all there is to know about Assassin’s Creed reviews, I’ll just leave these here for you to read. It’s difficult to frame the story of Assassin’s Creed IV without referring to the events in the prior games, but the story starts out with you as a new employee of Abstergo Entertainment, a branch of Abstergo dealing with making history a livable experience. Your job is to root through the memories of one Edward Kenway, pirate and privateer in search of good footage. Inside the Animus, Edward—grandfather of Connor from Assassin’s Creed III—is out in the world looking for his fortune. This obviously involves a lot of sailing around the Caribbean, and of course, much sticking the pointy end of a blade into people whom, we assume, desperately deserve it.

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Old Assassin recruits will find much here that is familiar. Groups of (assumedly) sexy women to mingle with and cause distractions, groups of pirates you can hire as bodyguards, cities to explore, towers to climb, sheets of paper to chase, etcetera ad infinitum. The list of familiarity goes on. The clearest question, however, is “How does it compare to AC III?” The good news, folks, is that it blows Assassin’s Creed III out of the water with a wide-bore cannon. Glug glug. None of the brain-deadeningly annoying running around aimlessly in vast swathes of wilderness that was so much part of Creed III’s canon. Nope, now you’re sailing through vast swathes of sea. The key difference, here, though, is that the sea is FAR more entertaining than the old American outback ever was. The Caribbean has more islands than I can count on my hands AND feet, and therefore a good number of small towns and villages to explore (or plunder, if that’s what you feel like doing). There are ships to battle, islands to explore, castaways to rescue, and whales to …er…whale. Either way, it doesn’t really matter what you end up doing because it is all so absolutely jaw-droppingly gorgeous. The islands are really a beautiful location to place the game, and it’s not all static either. As well as day and night cycles, the weather comes by to assault havoc upon your sailing experience. Storms, rain, sunshine…it’s glorious is what it is.

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Many of the features that were part of prior games return, with twists. The pages of Franklin’s you were chasing in Assassin’s Creed III? They’re now sea shanties, and if you collect them, your crew on your ship will sing different songs. Your Brotherhood missions? Now they’re Kenway’s Fleet, and you send your ships out on trading missions in the Carabbean. The animal slaying? They’re for upgrading Kenway’s equipment, and the list of prey includes crocodiles, whales, monkeys, jaguars, and deer. It’s also far less annoying than Connor’s hunting experiences. The naval battles? Now you can board the opposing ships in a piratical raiding party and take the ship, its crew, or its cargo for yourself. One “feature” of the last game I’m glad did NOT make a comeback is its composer, Lorne Balf. I’m sorry to say but his music was simply dreary to listen to, and no doubt had just as much to do with the dreariness of Assassin’s Creed III as did the hunting, running through the outback, and boring protagonist. This time around we have Far Cry 3’s composer, Brian Tyler, and trust me, the soundtrack is much better for it. It has a delightfully jaunty Pirates of the Caribbean feel to it, which I imagine is precisely the kind of music we associate with pirates.

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Typical to newer games, Black Flag continues the gaming beyond the confines of your console. In fact, the single player campaign is enhanced by playing online, curiously enough. Dotted around the map are social chests and whale locations. These locations are shared with any friends of yours who are also playing Assassin’s Creed IV. Want more? Then there’s also the AC Initiates website where you can fulfil missions between the website and the game for more loot, exclusive missions, and so forth. Want even more? Provided you have a powerful enough phone or tablet, there’s also the Assassin’s Creed IV app, which allows you to manage Kenway’s fleet from outside the game. That’s a lot of external content already!

The multiplayer section of the game has also seen some revamping, although to a far lesser degree than the solo campaign. The familiar “gotta stab ‘em all” deathmatch mode is still around, along with the “gotta stab the one you want” wanted mode, the “first I stab you then you stab me” manhunt mode, “capture all the things” artefact assault mode, and the “capture all the areas” domination mode. Wolfpack mode, which was pulled into the multiplayer mode back in Assassin’s Creed III, is still here, too. The big new feature to Black Flag’s multiplayer, though, is the Game Lab. What this mode essentially allows you to do is craft you very own multiplayer mode from over 200 different parameters such as session time, allowable kill types, allowable weapons, and so forth. I’ve not delved too far into this, but it looks like the kind of thing that can suck a lot of time if you enjoy crafting modes.

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If there’s any convincing argument I could make for Assassin’s Creed IV: Blag Flag, then it’s this: what love I had for the Assassin’s Creed series was dulled by drudging through Assassin’s Creed III. Black Flag brought back what affection was lost and then some, and made me fall in love with the game series again. Any Assassin’s Creed fan will be playing this one, but new fans will find that there’s no need to have spent weeks playing the prior games to get into and enjoy this amazing game.

Final Score: 9 “Mr Stabby” prawns out of 10

Detailed Information:
Developer: Ubisoft Montreal
Publisher: Ubisoft
Distributor: Ubisoft South Africa (Megarom)
Platforms: PS3 (reviewed), PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One, Windows, Wii U
Age Rating: 18
Website: http://www.assassinscreed.com/