“Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flag” review

 “Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flag” flew under a banner of skepticism when it was revealed after the launch of “Assassin’s Creed 3.”

People were concerned, after having to wait years for another numbered “AC” game, that one coming out so quickly after another meant there might be something wrong with it. At best, many gamers felt that it would be as much of a flutter in the series’s cape as “Revelations” was.

Thank goodness they were wrong.

Strolls in the jungle require the buddy system if Edward’s about.

While the series may be having trouble innovating on itself at this point, there is no question the developers are trying hard to perfect and change the formula enough so that it’s not just jumping and stabbing anymore. It may be hard to take the assassin out of “Assassin’s Creed,” but it certainly isn’t difficult to put a little pirate in there too.

When naval combat was introduced, many players rejoiced for a new game mechanic that had nothing to do with horses, houses and platforming in tombs. Unfortunately, “AC3” didn’t have enough of it. “Black Flag” takes that much-lauded gameplay and ramps it up to eleven.

Of course, it can be laughably easy at times. There are genuine moments of tense gameplay as you battle it out with larger vessels and hope your poor little ship can withstand the beating it’s taking from cannon fire. The more upgrades and time you put into your ship, the better you become and the fights become easier.

Boarding your prey is one of those guilty-pleasure moments as you fire a swivel gun onto the enemy’s decks to thin out the heard before your men jump into the fray. The larger the ship, the more objectives you’ll have when taking it over. Sometimes you’ll be tasked with killing specific officers, the captain, or cutting down the ship’s flag to demoralize the crew.

Now, should someone buy this game for the naval combat alone? No, they should buy it for the sea shanties. I’m kidding, of course, but in all seriousness the sea shanties are to “Black Flag” as the radio stations are to “Grand Theft Auto V.” They break up the dull traveling, and sometimes make you want to skip fast-travelling altogether just so you can hear more.

Of course, there are plenty of buildings to scale, places to explore, treasures to find and assassin contracts to fill while you’re traversing the Caribbean. Any veteran of the series will be satisfied with the amount of side tasks that are available, and pleased with the open-world gameplay that is presented.

From finding buried treasure, to hunting sharks or exotic animals on forgotten islands, or even diving through a wrecked ship and finding sunken treasures, players might find themselves totally forgetting this is an “Assassin’s Creed” game until they remember that protagonist Edward Kenway has hidden blades tucked into his sleeves.

Speaking of the protagonist, he’s a far departure from many of the driven young men this franchise has presented us with in previous installments.

Even sharks are not safe from this assassin!

Selfish, indifferent and often times frustratingly greedy, Edward is a refreshing twist on the main character thus far. Not to mention his entrance into the story is well placed. I won’t go into too much detail, but for those who’ve played “AC3,” they make it make sense to a degree that is believable. That’s all I’ll say.

Bouncing off of the word “believable,” holy crap is this game beautiful. It may not be photo-realistic but the weather and colors and lighting make you believe you’re in a tropical paradise that has just begun to be explored and colonized. It’s so gorgeous you may just sit on your ship for a while off the coast of an island just to watch the waves and clouds roll by.

In place of the convoy system that was overlooked and under-used in “AC3,” “Black Flag” has a fleet system that allows for small battles and trading to be done in a similar fashion. While it’s not essential to the gameplay, it’s a fun little diversion when getting back on the ship.

The writing is fantastic, the music is beautiful, the gameplay is fun and it looks stunning. There isn’t much more you can ask for in an “Assassin’s Creed” game, and “Black Flag” delivers it all.

Unfortunately, it also delivers some old bugs in that pretty package. Constant “spaghetti-body syndrome” with all of the ragdolling soldiers. Clipping issues with Edward on certain surfaces and while he’s climbing seem to jar the player out of immersion. And still, there is some imprecision with the free-run mechanic. After the seventh game in the franchise, you would at least think they would have fixed the ragdoll bodies from flopping around a bit. But, alas, it’s not so.

Should you buy, “Black Flag” if you’re an “AC” fan? Yes. If you’re not, should you? Wait a bit and then do so. A good game that would have made a good launch title for both new systems if they had either been sooner or if the game was pushed buck. Lucky for us, it wasn’t pushed back.

A retail copy of the game was purchased for the purpose of this review.