"Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag"
Sony PlayStation 3 (PC, Xbox 360)
ESRB rating: Mature
Review rating: 5 stars
Most game series that offer yearly releases suffer from a lack of vision due to short development times. However, the "Assassin's Creed" series breaks that mold and offers compelling game play shrouded by interesting storylines. Just like the protagonist of the game, "Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag" sneaked into my life and blindsided me with an outstanding adventure.
Players assume the role of a ruthless pirate named Edward Kenway who searches for little more than fame and fortune in the Caribbean. He's the captain of a mighty seafaring vessel called the Jackdaw, and this sturdy ship becomes indispensable in his self-serving quest. Like all games in the series, there's a concurrent plot set in modern times, but I prefer playing in the early 18th century.
While this title offers similar game play to it's predecessors, the main focus is the pirate lifestyle. In fact, Edward doesn't even join the assassin's order until late in the game. He does take on occasional assassin missions, but sailing to different islands, attacking rival ships and plundering booty takes precedence.
Sailing the open sea is peaceful and serene until players decide to inject violence into the situation. A handy spyglass lets players see far into the distance so they can decide where to go and what to do. Attacking convoys and exploring islands rewards the player with resources to upgrade both their ship and their own personal arsenal, and it's even possible to explore wrecks at the bottom of the sea.
Fighting enemies in hand-to-hand combat can be overly simplistic because of easy counter-kills, but the addition of pistols changes things up a bit. On the other ... err ... hand, ship-to-ship combat is both varied and rewarding. I also enjoy the ability to choose whether to scuttle a damaged ship or board it for more substantial rewards.
Add an interesting online multiplayer component to the mix, and "Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag" emerges as my favorite chapter in the series.