The trouble with the ibn-La'Ahad's, the Auditore's , the Kenway's, and the Miles' is that they are absolutely shit at being assassins. For self-confessed members of a shady cult of organised killers, they are rubbish at being just that. Ubisoft would have been better off naming their most senior franchise: 'Parkour Enthusiast's Creed' or even 'Really Clumsy Bastards' Creed' because silent killers these men are definitely not.
In a move that is both pleasing and obvious, this year's instalment of Animus century hopping has stepped away from all of that assassin stuff. This time around, you're a pirate. A swashbuckler. A vagabond. Oh sure, you wear the correct uniform, conveniently equip the wrist blades but really? You're about as much of a hired killer as Batman is a real detective.
All assassin's MUST wear hoods
The upshot of all of this is that Assassin's Creed IV is the French developer's best historical outing since the second instalment in the series. Gone is the redundancy of Brotherhood and Revelations, and nowhere to be seen is the obscene hand holding found in AC III. And even better, Desmond Miles has disappeared! Hopefully down a deep dark well, or uploaded onto a plain looking USB stick that is stuck somewhere in a time vortex between two obscure dimensions that can only be found behind a dusty desk in a double locked room.
This Swashbuckling adventure is a return to what made Ubisoft's annual franchise enjoyable in the first place. The firm handshake of the last few games has finally loosed its crunching grip, and you are now free to do as you please within city limits almost as soon as the game starts.
Playing as Edward Kenway, the scarred and Swansea-based father of the last entry's Hatham, you get to play out an adventure on the high seas with a few templars thrown in for good measure. As ever, the writing of the game is disjointed at best, with this year's story being a little more up to snuff, or at least fathomable, but with pirate Teddy embodying all of the charisma of a leather jerkin.
The juggling act between interesting characters and narrative has never been Ubisoft's strong point, and as ever ACIV proves that little has changed. By now we all know what to expect: something about templars, something about the end of the world, and something about this immersion breaking thing called the animus.
And yes, the Matrix that nobody wanted is back once again, albeit in less pronounced form. Acting as a sort of meta-game that sits behind the actual adventure like a smug uncle, the Animus packs its own little story, and is less insufferable than previous instalments have shown - but really? Ubisoft, we need to talk; it's just not working out.
Gripes about the series' setting aside, ACIV does what the series does best: climbing, collecting, and stabbing things with increasingly gory animations. Powered by the need to capture a new console generation, this is the best looking game to date. Towns such as Havana are packed with tiny little details such as men fishing down by the harbour, while the wild Caribbean locales pop with colour and jaw dropping draw distances.
I can't believe it isn't Monkey Island tm
This new sense of technical accomplishment also runs further into the fabric of the setting. Tropical islands can be explored for treasures, crafting materials, maps, and more. Ubisoft have taken lessons from both ACIII and Far Cry 3, scaled down the scope a little, and made the sheer amount of content on offer in Black Flag manageable.
And to help you traverse all of these collectables and land masses, is your trusty ship and crew. Taken from Connor's boating adventures a century later, the ship elements of Black Flag are truly a joy to play. From battling freak storms, to exploring everything the Caribbean has to offer, sea fairing has never been quite so fun, this side of the Windwaker.
Unfortunately however, for all of the positives and much-needed refinements, ACIV still fails at one thing: being an assassin. Like the entire series, killing things still feels clumsy, messy, and infuriating. There are no real jabs at stealth, and too much running at random walls trying to wrangle the character into doing what you actually want them to do.
For an adventure that aims to provide the titular experience, Assassin's Creed has always struggled with its contract-killing element, and Black Flag fares no better in this department. Taking down enemies feels as unfulfilling as ever, and most of the time you'll either luck into a successful hit, or simply ride out the ever-enjoyable combat system just because it's easier.
This isn't to say there haven't been any advancements: stalking grounds such as bushes and foliage make for an easy way to traverse 'stealthy sections' but the adventure still sorely needs a cover system and a new approach to AI. Unlike other, similar titles, sneaking about never feels satisfying, and never works well as a concept.
This man was probably innocent
But putting this to one side, Assasain's Creed IV: Black Flag is possibly the best entry into the series since we first strapped on the leather boots of Ezio, and ran riot around Italy. While the campaign itself may suffer from a few hiccups here and there, the lack of a pronounced animus, and the complete departure of Desmond more than makes up for one or two short comings.
ASSASSIN'S CREED 4: BLACK FLAG VERDICT
The game looks absolutely beautiful, is jam packed with things to do, and as ever, the combat is a joy to fiddle with. But for next year? Ubisoft, it’s called Assassin’s Creed: make me feel like one.