Shiver me timbers, ya landlubbin' bilgerat, Assassin's Creed has abandoned the quiet killing days of the American Revolution and set sail for adventure on the high seas! Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag continues the story of the Animus, a complex system that allows the user to explore the genetic memories of their ancestors, and this time players will inhabit the shoes of Edward Kenway, a previously straight-laced lad who finds himself becoming a secret killer among pirates.
Ubisoft has once again changed the setting of its popular stealth and platforming series, but if you're looking for the kind of roguish charm found in something like Pirates of the Caribbean, a replay of a Monkey Island game might suit you better. Playing Black Flag means a lot of following and tracing subjects until you can get your greedy assassin hands around their necks. Again, the controls have been changed and streamlined for the worse, as longtime players will greet moments of confusion as they adjust to new ways of doing old things that aren't particularly any better. One exception is the gun controls, which are significantly improved over Assassin's Creed III.
Instead of making substantial improvements to the stealth engine, Ubisoft has opted to again dial up all the optional things a player can do in their historical setting. There is a truly dizzy array of what Ubisoft calls "content," but what a lot of increasingly disgruntled players call "check boxes." If you enjoy said content, there isn't a lack of it in Black Flag; the game will keep you playing for days. But much like Tomb Raider, from earlier this year, it's hard to shake the feeling that it's more highly bureaucratic office work than a game.
The graphic environment players explore is breathtaking, detailed and enchanting, but from a character perspective, it's dull and significantly less colorful than one would expect from everyone's favorite swashbuckling era of daring escapades. If you always wanted a more down-to-earth example of what life was like on the islands back then, you might warm up to the landlocked assassin's life.
If, however, you're the type who loves to sing along to the "Yo ho, yo ho" song at Disneyland, the sea is where it's at in Black Flag. Everything about the ship mechanics in this game screams of far more originality, soul, fun mechanics and fresh ideas than the staid land portions. Boarding other ships, in order to climb the mast and silently destroy your target while the chaos of a storm or a pirate raid erupts around you is an exhilarating and heart-thumping, original take on how the series has always set dizzying heights for its assassins to climb and conquer. Outfitting and improving ships, firing cannonballs, hunting sharks, recruiting nasty new pirates -- if this was the majority of the game, we'd have a masterpiece here.
Unfortunately, it's more like half the game. We're left with a good game saddled with a boring open world tax duty between the juicy parts.