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Only a short time away from launch, Ubisoft has been bombarding the web with countless promotional trailers, developer commentaries, and swag-heavy competitions for months now – but not even this avalanche of content could prepare us for the sense of freedom that we experienced during a recent Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag demo on the PlayStation 4.

Being an open world sample of the upcoming swashbuckling, shipwrecking sandbox, we were allowed to do just about anything that we wanted during our time with the next generation title. Starting off aboard protagonist Edward Kenway's ship, the Jackdaw, we first decided to head straight into a conveniently placed restricted area, which was heavily guarded by patrolling enemy vessels. Adjusting our sailing speed, we closed in on a smaller ship from behind, lined ourselves up alongside it, and proceeded to blast it to pieces with cannonballs. As soon as its wreckage began to sink into the abyss, we were spotted by a brig – a bigger ship that attacks adversaries by ramming into them.

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Immediately noticing the danger, several of our crew began shouting warnings at Kenway as the threat raced its way towards us. Thankfully, we managed to brace for impact with a tap of the square button just before the rammer splintered a side of the Jackdaw. From here, an enthralling engagement began that saw both vessels take some nasty hits, but thanks to our heavily upgraded ship, we were able to immobilise the enemy.

Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag left us eager to explore more from the moment we were forced to put the DualShock 4 down

Having garnered a decent feel for the unsurprisingly exciting naval combat which first appeared in Assassin's Creed III, it was time to take on a more personal role as the captain himself. Holding circle to initiate boarding, Kenway let go of the wheel and was free to control, while members of our cut throat army began diving aboard our foe's former home-on-the-water. As you may already know, going from steering the Jackdaw to exploring the Caribbean on foot is completely seamless, and it's this lack of transition that helps provide the sense of freedom that we mentioned earlier.

Throwing ourselves into the sea, we quickly climbed aboard the ruined brig from behind and started helping our allies fight the remaining enemies. Edward is just as dangerous as the Assassins we've played as previously, and his penchant for duel wielding two cutlasses makes for some fantastic looking combos. Mechanics like parrying and guard breaking are still present and haven't changed too much, but our battle played out incredibly smoothly, with plenty happening on screen at once as we fought side-by-side with many of our companions. After so much destruction, our adversaries surrendered, and it was up to us how to use them: we could add the survivors to our crew, use what was left to help repair our own ship, or send everything to Kenway's fleet.

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Triumphant and feeling a little sea sick, we exited the chaotic restricted area and headed for the nearest island. Once again hurling ourselves overboard, we swam through the shallows and trudged up the beach. Despite being a small pocket of land, the location was full of life, featuring a tiny bar surrounded by dancers and drunks. Desperate for a pint after all of that pillaging, we directed Edward towards the barkeep, only to be set upon by some rowdy customers. Another seamless transition – this time from gameplay to cutscene – led to the beginning of a brawl with these ne'er-do-wells. But they were no match for Kenway's brutal punching prowess, and soon found themselves face down in the sand as onlookers applauded our efforts. The small distraction was supposedly just one of many, but it was nice to see that the dynamic event gelled into the overall experience so naturally.

On a base level, the next instalment in one of gaming's most popular franchises is more of the same: the combat is hectic and enjoyable, while traversal remains relatively accessible albeit occasionally clunky. Nevertheless, we were impressed by the fluidity and flow of the gameplay, and the world seems to be dynamic and consistently engaging, whether on land or at sea. Even for sandbox titles, a true sense of freedom is a difficult thing to accomplish, but Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag left us eager to explore more of the Caribbean from the moment that we were forced to put the DualShock 4 down.

Have you strengthened your sea legs in preparation for a journey around the Caribbean? Are you planning to purchase Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag alongside the PS4? Let us know in the comments section below.