In Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag, the new swashbuckling entry in the series, the story is split between the future and the past. After Assassin Desmond Miles dies in the future at the conclusion of Creed III, his consciousness goes to a cloud-computing system owned by Abstergo, the corporate front for the Templars, foes of the Assassins. This shift allows us to go back in time and take command of a new character, Edward Kenway, a British businessman-turned-pirate (who, for continuity's sake, becomes the grandfather of the lead character in Creed III).
Kenway has no allegiance to either the Templars or the Assassins, which in a pirate-themed game makes perfect sense. Instead, you travel the seas, taking on contracts and plundering at your leisure. A primary task is building up your ship into something that captains come to fear.
Swampy jungles, upstart island communities, forts and more await your quiet feet and quick wits. You learn that sometimes boarding and capturing a ship or not burning a village to the ground offers greater rewards in terms of money and supplies -- crucial items to keeping your boat in top shape and allowing you to build a crew of mates. It's refreshing to have some strategy built in, unlike other games where "question nothing, destroy everything" remains dominant.
With a rich story that feels more tied to the game play than a means to connect missions together, and featuring a diverse assortment of locations and activities, Black Flag plays and feels more expansive than previous games in the series.
RATING M for Mature
PLOT Pirate devils and the deep blue sea.
DETAILS PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, $59.99
BOTTOM LINE A high-water mark for the series.