The black sheep of the family.
With the release of Assassins Creed Unity stealing the spotlight with its next gen buzz and marketing, the team at Ubisoft also somewhat quietly released another Assassins Creed game for the old guard of consoles. Assassins Creed: Rogue fits neatly between Black Flag and III, and ties those two narratives together through the eyes of Shay Patrick Cormac. The Assassin turned Templar runs into many familiar faces that series fans will appreciate during the course of his take on the events of the North American theater of the franchise. Those expecting an experience radically different than the bookends of this story may find the gameplay experience a little too well worn, however.
As a protagonist, Shay feels similar in a lot of ways to the standard Assassins Creed formula. Brash, arrogant youngster is naive and easily manipulated at first, but learns discipline and maturity as the story progresses (although is probably still manipulated, but I digress). What Shay has that many of the other leading men and women of the series don’t however, is the turn. It’s no secret to those that have seen any preview at all of the game that at some point Shay switches sides. The circumstances leading up to this and the events that follow though are captivating enough to make up for the lack of shock factor. The deciding factor in and of itself is tied beautifully into a real historical event, and does the job of selling his change of allegiance in an admirable way.
Platforms: 360, PS3, PC
The characterization of the supporting players ranges from solid to underwhelming, and the same could be said for the interactions and battles between Shay and his former associates. I could tell that Ubi really wanted to establish connections early in the game that would payoff later. While this works well with a couple of the characters, it falls flat with others. One such confrontation with a former ally was basically ruined by a silly “synchronization” objective. For full synch I needed to kill him with a Puckle Gun (basically a swivel mounted machine gun). Shooting him from across the map completed the objective, but really caused a disconnect, not just in the following cut scene but in the emotion generated by the kill. If they continue to feature “synch” objectives in the future, Ubisoft should take care to ensure their completion makes the story they are trying to tell more cohesive, not less.
The game play in Rogue is basically Black Flag 2: Cold as Ice edition. While the setting may be different the fundamentals are mostly the same as last year’s well received title. Still a balance of on foot and naval activity, still a ton (and I mean a TON) of collectible items and a very similar formula to the towns and cities. The game does a good job of breaking up this content as players go along; sections and missions focusing on the naval battles were followed by more heavy on foot gameplay, so the game doesn’t get tired by itself. If players were sick of the formula (or just plain didn’t like it) going in don’t expect world shifting change from Rogue. Players will never forget that they’re playing what is essentially the “Empire Strikes Back” middle phase of the Kenway trilogy based on the action alone.
The naval missions in the game expand slightly on the game play featured in Black Flag thanks in part to the time elapsed and the North Atlantic setting. There are the aforementioned Puckle Guns instead of the Swivel guns from the last game, and burning oil instead of exploding barrels. Obviously, based on the geography, players will find a lot of ice in the water. This impacts not only maneuvering but can also assist in combat, as destroyed icebergs create large waves that can sink smaller vessels. Players should expect to spend a decent amount of time attacking and boarding vessels if they want to upgrade Cormac’s ship (the Morrigan), but they can be boarded too. The consequences of enemies’ new ability to board the ship are understandably brutal, as players often lose quite a few crew members before they even have much time to react.
Another major difference on the nautical front is that thanks to the shallower draft of The Morrigan, players can now sail inland through the River Valley. This portion of the map basically has them floating down the bends of the river, with various small towns or outposts along the way. The folks at Ubisoft have done a good job of making sure that sailing in this section feels similar to the open ocean, but different enough to prevent monotony.
In addition to the above, the game also features New York as the major city. The city is far bigger than any featured in Black Flag, and contains a lot of different distractions to keep players busy. The Assassin Towers from previous games return in the form of Gang Hideouts, which require the leader to be killed and the flag to be cut down to capture. Complicating this is the new ambush system where players can be attacked in very familiar methods by hidden assassins. I knew if an attacker was nearby based on screen cues and a whispering noise. This trigged me to go into Eagle Vision to try and find them before they ambushed. A handy threat compass also appeared to point me in the right direction. This new mechanic is interesting at first but somewhat quickly wears out its welcome. Now I know how all the guards I’ve killed from bushes or treetops over the years felt.
Combat is mostly the same as Black Flag with a few additions. The air rifle takes the place of the blow gun with the long range ability to fire Berserk, Sleep, or the brand new Firecracker darts. Berserk and Sleep are as helpful as usual, but I didn’t find the Firecracker functionality to be that helpful outside of a few spots purposely built for it. The other major new addition is a grenade launcher that offers similar functionality to the darts, but with an obviously much larger blast radius. The grenades allow for some nice crowd control options but also don’t really make massive changes to the standard formula.
The three areas mentioned above (as well as some other more self-contained spots) make this one of the biggest Assassins Creed games yet in terms of sheer size. There are so many different collectibles that I would struggle to name them all off to you. The unfortunate thing is there is very little motivation to actually collect any of them. There are so many that all unlock very similar things (mostly clothing options) that each becomes somewhat pointless. If you’re the type of person that collects just to collect, you’ll find a ton here. Don’t expect the story to hand hold you to these places though; the main campaign doesn’t even touch many of them, which tends to make them feel more like optional window dressing.
Anyone who enjoyed the gameplay of the last several iterations will find a lot to enjoy here, particularly on the once again excellent Naval Missions. If you didn’t like Black Flag though there is nothing here that will change your mind. The story does a great job tying together some loose ends between 3 and 4, as well as adding some new wrinkles to the universe, and there are also some hooks into Unity, so even fans of the series who have already moved on to the next gen should probably take a detour back in time for the 6-8 hours the main campaign lasts. In many ways, Rogue feels like the perfect closing chapter to the generation of consoles that gave the series their start, while also shining a light on some of the areas that need to improve going forward.
Review copy of game provided by publisher.