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Ubisoft Montreal
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Release Date:
October 29, 2013

I will freely admit that I had my reservations about Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag . I loved last year’s Assassin’s Creed III and had no qualms about rewarding Ubisoft for a fantastically ambitious project, recognizing the many upgrades and additions to the gameplay that made it a positive step forward for the franchise. However, I also wanted the developers to take a year off, as this “annualization” concept puts a definite strain on innovation. And yet, I’m once again astonished by the product that Ubisoft can deliver in such a short span of time.

The latest AC adventure is polished, massive, engaging and it does feel relatively fresh. This freshness begins with the visual presentation, which is lighter, airier, and somehow even more expansive than ever before. There was a certain severity with ACIII’s landscape and towns, which was appropriate given the surroundings; it was the birth of a nation. However, the setting in Black Flag is brighter and more free-wheeling, and it encompasses the full romantic majesty of the legendary pirate lifestyle. Character detail isn’t overly impressive but the animations, world design and effects are all exquisite and a joy to behold.

Once again, Ubisoft has recruited super talented voice actors, and the result is another authentic-sounding production. Combine the stellar voice performances with a fantastic, sweeping orchestral soundtrack that beautifully complements the era, and you’ve got an audio tour de force. Some of the effects can get a little muddled, especially when engaged in naval combat, but the breadth of the sound presentation is nigh-on unparalleled. There’s just so much going on; ambient effects, voices, realistic background noise in a port or city, and the high-powered, explosive combat all contribute to the game’s high level of gloss and immersion.

With a huge emphasis on freedom, the high seas await. Many a port town is ripe for exploration and even plundering, and there are seemingly countless islands to discover. The sun shines brightly on a deep blue ocean, and one can’t help but fall in love with the golden age of piracy. Those living in such a hectic and uncertain time (circa 1715) give the game a richness of personality, and the lighter tone lends the adventure an almost bemused countenance. It’s as if the entire game is saying— “Pirates may be violent criminals, but they also know how live the carefree high-life!”

The Caribbean is full of places to explore, and the team did a great job of implementing eye-catching gameplay sequences that keep you riveted. The bright, sunny locales are a perfect contrast to the more somber tombs you may find in your travels, and those colorful characters are everywhere. The highly accomplished graphical presentation allows you to really feel the sin-packed lure of piracy, and you’re constantly surprised at the sheer size and scope of this wonderfully appointed virtual world. You can explore for hours upon hours upon hours , often getting sidetracked and losing any focus the main narrative may have.