Causing havoc on the high seas has never been so much fun, writes John Walshe.

From Jim Hawkins to Jack Sparrow, we’ve long been in love with pirates, so setting the fourth instalment in the superb Assassin’s Creed series in the golden age of buccaneers makes sound business sense for the folks at Ubisoft. It also makes for a game that’s so much fun to play. After last year’s seriously good, but very serious Assassin’s Creed III, which took ages to get going, Black Flag seems like an arcade game in comparison.

OK, so you spend the first few hours running around Havana, stealing maps, killing bad guys and exploring view points, very similar to previous titles in the series, but it isn’t too long before you find yourself helming The Jackdaw, with a crew of bloodthirsty cut-throats, sailing the Caribbean in search of booty and rum.

You play Edward Kenway, a young Welshman whose dreams of fortune and power led him to the life of a privateer in the Caribbean. Alas, when the Anglo-Spanish war finishes, Kenway is no longer in the service of his king, and so the game begins in 1715 with our anti-hero earning his living as a common-or-garden pirate, but still harbouring dreams of something bigger. A get-rich-quick scheme sees him becoming embroiled in the ancient battle between the Templars and the Assassins, and despite himself, Kenway ends up a key figure in the struggle.

While the land adventures don’t deviate greatly from the blueprint that has served the series so well – with stunningly created cities like Havana, Kingston and the spookily named Sacrifice Island – it is at sea that Black Flag really comes alive. Like a souped-up, supersized version of Sid Meier’s old classic, Pirates, you find yourself up to your nosehairs in flying cannonballs as you plunder Spanish ships, plantations and ports throughout the New World.

The game looks beautiful, with superbly rendered taverns and Cathedrals, and elaborate character models. It sounds incredible, with solid voice-acting, realistic battle noises and even lusty sea shanties the order of the day. The plot and gameplay is addictive enough to keep you coming back for more, as you upgrade your ship and your arsenal in a bid to grow your fame, fortune and notoriety along the Spanish Main, all the while cognisant of the fact that you’re playing a central part in an age-old conflict between good and evil. Black Flag is the most fun you can have at sea without an actual parrot on your shoulder. Why are piratical games so damn good? They just ‘Arrrrrrrr’! Ahem.

Platform: PS3, X360

Publisher: Ubisoft

Age Rating: 18

Score: 4/5

John Walshe