Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag

Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag
Assassin's Creed III may have been a polarizing entry in the Canadian-crafted franchise, but pretty much everyone agreed that the ship-bound segments, a first for the long-running series, absolutely killed.

So Ubisoft's Montreal team cleverly ditching that game's sullen half-native assassin Connor Kenway in favour of his grandfather Edward, an actual pirate of the Caribbean.

The best thing about the Assassin's Creed games has always been their ability to transport you back in time. From the Middle Eastern Crusades to the Florentine Renaissance to revolutionary America, each game has transcended any gameplay, design or narrative flaws thanks to the pure joy of playing the past.

Black Flag, however, polishes up many of those flaws, making it the strongest entry yet as far as playability, even if the setting has arguably less historical import than many of its predecessors and the storyline makes less sense than ever.

Past games revolved around the centuries-spanning war between the Illuminati-like Templar and their Assassin foes, both in the game's present-day sci-fi bookends and their virtual-reality historical explorations. This time Kenway isn't really affiliated with either side. A Welsh farmer who became a privateer to earn a nest egg for his lady, he only puts on the familiar robes in an attempt to claim a payment owed to a shipmate who was an Assassin. He then meets up with the Templars, but soon commandeers his own ship and becomes a proper pirate whose allegiance is primarily to himself.

The non-virtual segments are similarly detached from the franchise's usual framework, in part due to the events at the end of AC III. This time you're play-testing a videogame being developed by the Templar-run gaming studio Abstergo which is based, like Ubisoft, in Montreal. And the gaming industry in-jokes only get more meta from there.

But the meat of this meal is, as ever, the historical world-building and this world is the biggest they've built yet, with the cities of Havana, Cuba, Kingston, Jamaica and Nassau, Bahamas bolstered by countless other locations across the Caribbean that you'll find by simply sailing about. There's plenty to see and do (and kill) on land, but the game will be remembered for its seafaring, both as far as the intense naval combat and relaxed oceanic exploration.

Releasing a new game every year can be a trap for some studios (see: Call of Duty), but AC manages to avoid it here, not just by moving the clock back to the golden age of piracy by essentially turning their open-world game into an open-ocean one that makes out expectations walk the plank.