By Brian Robbins

¬†After the dismal Assassin’s Creed III, Ubisoft is set to return to greatness with the fourth installment of the killer franchise. One of the fundamental problems of the previous game was that it just wasn’t that much fun. After extensively playing through the game and trying out all of its tricks, it’s safe to say the Assassin’s Creed franchise is back on its feet.

The first big change is the setting. Just looking at the box art you’ll right away realize that you’re a swashbuckling, Han Solo-esque pirate, which is odd considering that this game is set before the third installment. Maybe they had trouble finding a interesting setting after the Revolutionary War, or perhaps they wanted to emphasize Assassin’s Creed III‘s best feature: the ship battles.

Either way, the setting works wonders. The atmosphere here is almost as important as the main character himself, Edward Kenway. This will be the closest you’ll get to being a scoundrel pirate in the 1700s. You’ll have the wind carrying your personalized pirate ship across the Caribbean, and perhaps you might find yourself getting into a couple of drunken fistfights along the way. The game is loaded with accurate time-setting pieces. It’s your playground, so go and live your Jack Sparrow fantasies!

You’ll be playing as Edward Kenway, who is a pirate yearning for something more. Throughout the ten hour campaign, you’ll find him at odds with his fellow pirates and his quest to find out more about the Assassin’s group. The story is plenty entertaining and Mr. Kenway is one of the best video game characters since John Marston from 2009’s Red Dead Redemption.

Upon starting the single player adventure, you’ll notice how capable Edward really is. This was the first time in an Assassin’s Creed game that you don’t feel helpless in the beginning. Edward is a cunning pirate first and foremost and can kick some serious ass, and fortunately the gameplay showcases that. One of my favorite additions was the use of Edward’s arsenal. He’s not just limited to hidden wrist blades or even cutlasses, he can use a variety of pistols. With these flintlock pistols, Edward pulls them out and fires them individually. It was extremely fun and satisfying to wipe out a poor regiment of British and Spanish troops all at once.

Along with the land-based gameplay of the series, you’ll also have plenty to do on the ocean. Being a pirate means you’ll be in charge of your own ship. You can customize the appearance and weaponry of your vessel to your heart’s content. When you engage enemies on the open sea, you can cripple them enough to board them. This was one of my favorite features and makes you feel like an actual pirate.

There’s plenty to do besides the main story as well. Aboard your ship you can go deep sea diving to gather resources, you can also hunt creatures that live in the sea and on land to upgrade your equipment. The game is also an open world. The map is vast, and it’s impressive to land on an island, jump off your ship and continue on your mission, wherever it may be.

With multiplayer, there are plenty of features as well. It wasn’t anything special but it’s entertaining enough to keep you occupied. They also have a perk system, similar to Call of Duty that lets you customize all of your features and equipment. This portion of the game won’t replace your copies of Battlefield, Call of Duty or Halo for long. It’s a nice feature but more or less forgettable.

If you’ve already played this game on Xbox 360, or Playstation 3, should you go out and buy the next-gen versions? Probably not. They didn’t add anything remarkable to the Xbox One or Playstation 4 version of the game other than crisper visuals like shadows, foaming water, and swaying plant life. I will say, if you skipped out on buying it on the previous consoles, absolutely go out and buy this game now. It’s the most feature packed singleplayer experience on Xbox One and Playstation 4. Just don’t expect to show this game to your friends or family to demonstrate what the new systems can do graphically.

¬†Overall, Assassin’s Creed IV is a vast improvement over last year’s installment. It adds a more likeable lead character, a story that makes sense and gameplay that’s actually fun. There are some hiccups such as the typical “follow your prey” objectives, bland multiplayer and sometimes buggy platforming situations but nothing that will negatively impact your play through. With that being said, Assassin’s Creed IV is one of your best bets this holiday season.