The Assassin’s Creed series is proper weird. We’ve seen the Crusades, punched the Pope into submissions, signed the Declaration of Independence (well, stood around a bit while historical domain characters signed the Declaration of Independence) and even been a pirate but the one thing that all the games have had in common is heroes who stand against the tyranny of the furtive Templar Order. Assassin’s Creed: Rogue takes that final plunge across the divide and onto the other side. Let’s flip the script and go kill some Assassins.
Assassin’s Creed: Rogue (PC, PS3, PS4 [reviewed], Switch, Xbox 360, Xbox One)
Released Nov 2014 | Developed / Published: Ubisoft
Rogue was a simultaneous release alongside Unity – Ubisoft’s odd little bone thrown to those of us too poor or stingy to afford fancy new consoles. Whereas Unity took the series somewhere new and different, Rogue is instead content to conclude the narrative of the games set in the Americas. It sits both narratively and tonally in-between the piratical hijinks of Black Flag and the solemn war story of III. In Black Flag we saw Edward help weaken the Templar presence enough for the Assassins to get a foothold in the Americas, and we saw the decimated remnants of the Assassins which Connor return to powers in III, but this game shows us the Assassins at their heyday in America, and how the Templars cut them apart.
Our protagonist is the preposterously Irish-named Shay Patrick Cormac (a shame his voice actor isn’t equally Irish, oh dear). At our story’s outset he is a young Assassin in Achilles’ Brotherhood, but we already know that isn’t how this story is going to end. The fact that the end is a foregone conclusion, given away by Assassin’s Creed III and indeed even Rogue’s own box and synopsis doesn’t ever lessen the impact of it all, and Shay’s anguished and furious departure from the Assassins tries its best to pack an emotional punch.
I say “tries its best” and that’s because Rogue is let down a little by its writing. Shay lacks the charisma of the series’ best characters, but he’s not the weakest link here – indeed, his transformation from slightly cynical free spirit Assassin to dour and murderous Templar is played out quite well. The other Assassins we meet during our brief stint in the Brotherhood however are almost uniform in their utter shithousery. When we met Achilles as a broken old man hiding in a run-down estate in III he still carried an air of impetuous arrogance and the triumph of Connor is in thawing him; however here he is at his peak, the Mentor of the American Assassins, and a prime example of exactly why the Assassins fell. Under his leadership the Assassins have become typified by a sneering imperious attitude and Shay’s fall is easy to empathize with; obviously there’s a discussion to be had here about our unreliable narrator, but either way the Assassins we meet are dicks.
For the increasingly small number of you who care, the modern day bits are the same as in Black Flag. Presented from a first-person viewpoint, we play an unnamed, un-faced Abstergo employee made to relive Shay’s genetic memories through an Animus. Unlike other games where you’re in contact with Assassins this time you deal with Templar enforcers, like the spiteful Violet da Costa and the terrifying Otso Berg. Like its predecessor, you mostly just wander around and solve puzzles to earn bits of lore like databases in between playing the actual game. Since the events of III, it’s hard not to feel like the modern day story is more and more vestigial; in fact this time it doesn’t even have the justification of major narrative developments happening like in Black Flag.
Speaking of Black Flag, I hope you like the gameplay of that game because an awful lot of Rogue is lifted from it. Shay commandeers a brig called the Morrigan at the beginning of the game and from there the ship gameplay proceeds just as in Black Flag. I’m not sure buccaneering was as prevalent in the frozen North Atlantic seas but it makes for exciting gameplay so I shan’t complain too much. The Morrigan operates basically the same as the Jackdaw, though it comes with a couple of new weapons, like the automatic-firing Puckle guns and being able to leave a trail of burning oil behind it. Sailing on the frozen Northern seas comes with unique challenges. Icebergs must be dodged, and can be blasted and sunk during fights to cause large waves to overwhelm enemy ships, and Shay’s exploration is a little restricted as well; the seas are pretty chilly after all compared to the balmy waves of the Caribbean, and Shay will start to freeze to death after taking a dip into the ocean.
Unfortunately, being a side-game comes with some side-effects. The North Atlantic is a significantly smaller area than the Caribbean to sail around in, though it isn’t Shay’s only playground. The North American River Valleys offer a balmier, if more restrictive, place to navigate, while later on Shay also visits the bustling hive of New York City. These are all filled to the brim with stuff to do, though as usual most of these activities are just exercises in map-clearing. Many are reskinned events from Black Flag – following treasure maps now leads to Templar collectibles rather than buried loot for example, while the returning trading Fleet mechanic sees Shay direct Templar efforts across the Seven Years War, rather than building a monumental pirate fleet like Edward did.
The Templar-themed reskin is the big reason why we’re here though as Shay employs his skills against his former comrades. Tasked by the Templars with dealing with the Assassin presence in the colonies, Shay must work to clear their influence bit by bit. Some events have survived unaltered – bombarding forts, plundering warehouses, whaling, and the entire ship combat and boarding mechanic are identical to their use in Black Flag – but some new ones crop up to fit Shay’s unique remit. On arriving at some settlements Shay can sneak in under the noses of guards and cause some disruption, taking out key guards, chopping down their colours and sabotaging resources to force them out; Shay can also come across fortified Assassin headquarters which require similar means to dislodge them. Assassin forces offer a greater challenge however as they use all of your own tricks against you; some creep through the series’ trademark hiding spots, waiting to catch you unawares and deliver a killing blow, and plenty of enemies will drop smoke bombs to disorient you long enough that they can escape. These offer some of the game’s best moments as two forces with access to the same abilities struggle against one another.
Rogue is a short game by the franchise’s standards; the plot is only 6 sequences long, and each of the three maps is a bit smaller than players might be used to – its comparable to Revelations perhaps in that regard. That’s alright though – it was only ever intended to be a stopgap, and yet it’s still a better time than most of the franchise’s smaller in-between releases like Liberation or the aforementioned Revelations. Personally I had a grand time with it; the piratical gameplay might not make any sense for the time period but it remains exciting and engaging, and the change in narrative focus is enough to entertain – the shorter runtime is pretty good for that really, as the game doesn’t drag on too long. The remaster still remains inexplicably expensive though, in my opinion, and the limited release on older consoles means it can still be a bit of a bugger to get for patient gamers. It’s worth it for those invested in the series, though Rogue is probably a bit of an obtuse entry point for any gamers playing catch-up.
5/7 – GREAT. Damn fine stuff, a game that doesn’t quite make the top echelon of games but sparkles regardless and holds the interest expertly. Make the time to give this a play.