Take to the high seas in Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag

With Assassin’s Creed now an annual instalment, there is increasing pressure on Ubisoft to deliver a new game worth playing every year. The developer successfully milked Assassin’s Creed II’s setting for what it was worth, with three full-priced releases featuring the exploits of Ezio Auditore da Firenze, all while recycling game assets, locations and characters. After enduring the monotony of Ezio for a few years, last year’s Assassin’s Creed III felt like a breath of fresh air — the new interesting setting of 18th century America, protagonist Connor, well-imagined cities in the form of Boston, New York and the near-infinite possibilities in the game’s wilderness. Another great addition was ship combat; now, Ubisoft is demanding that you put on your captain’s hat again, because Assassin’s Creed IV is all about seafaring and pirating.

In a lot of ways, Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag feels like a completely unfamiliar Assassin’s Creed experience that’s more akin to a (really violent) Sid Meier game. Captaining the Jackdaw (which will be “acquired” by protagonist/pirate-turned-assassin Edward Kenway within the first hour of the game) is a crucial part of Black Flag, and it involves more than just barking orders at your crew to stop singing sea shanties. You’ll have to recruit pirates to join your crew (this can either be done by rescuing them or by hiring them at taverns located at settlements throughout the Caribbean), manage plundered resources, ammunition stores, ship repairs as well as Kenway’s fleet, consisting of captured ships which can then be sent on missions across the American side of the Atlantic. As appears to be the trend these days, Assassin’s Creed IV comes with a companion app for Android and iPad. It can act as a second screen (showing the world map), as well as an interface for managing Kenway’s fleet missions. You can also track your game progress and achievements. You will be able to assign missions even when the game is not running all thanks to the power of the cloud —for instance send your ships on overnight trading missions (because trips take a while, but can be expedited by playing with anyone on your uPlay friends list), wake up in the morning and enjoy the loot.

Sailing in Black Flag is way more fun than it has any right to be. Newly introduced hazards in the form of water spouts, killer waves and storms will need to be weathered while you’re embarking on a voyage from Havana to Nassau, and even in the middle of an already-hazardous skirmish with a Spanish frigate. The dynamic weather, day-and-night cycle and random encounters while at sea really add to the experience tremendously. Ship combat has been greatly improved from AC3, feeling less scripted while offering a more dynamic, rewarding experience. It’s great feeling to sink a British Man-O-War after outfitting the Jackdaw with the right upgrades (done over the course of several hours of random combat to gather the required resources). In fact, it would have been great if the game granted access to all the side activities at sea, ship upgrades and more without having to progress in the story. There are other piratey things to sink your teeth into as well — drunken brawls, treasure maps, whaling and more. When Black Flag is being a game about pirates, it’s a whole new experience — one that is a disparate, contained world within the Assassin’s Creed universe. It’s just that when it sticks to its script, it can fall a little short on occasion.

This time, Black Flag’s “real world” story unfolds in the offices of Abstergo Entertainment. The company is now using the footage captured from the memories of the likes of Ezio, Altair and Connor to create experiences for consumers. There’s a lot of mystery here, and playing as a new recruit of Abstergo entirely in first-person, you’ll have tonnes of stuff to explore and uncover.

Assassin’s Creed IV’s AnvilNext game engine was first introduced in Assassin’s Creed III but really comes into its own in this year’s title. While the PS3 and Xbox 360 aren’t able to fully showcase the engine’s potential because of hardware constraints, the PC and next-gen versions of the game can look quite remarkable. As with other Ubisoft titles, the PC version of Black Flag is able to take advantage of Nvidia hardware to add some much-needed visual oomph to the experience. Assassin’s Creed IV is fully 4K optimised, takes advantage of an effect called “turbulence” which causes smoke to disburse in a natural way (cannon and gun fire looks incredible as a result) and features some of the best foliage, lighting and water effects seen in a video game.

Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag is available on PC, PS3 and Xbox 360 in India.