You’d be forgiven for branding Assassin’s Creed Rogue an afterthought, as its next-gen brother, Assassin’s Creed Unity, overshadowed its release. Although appearing as a cash-in for those still waiting to upgrade their PlayStation 3s, though, this is actually a solid instalment in Ubisoft’s historical franchise, bringing with it a fresh and thought-provoking perspective, while filling in the gaps that you didn’t even know were left by Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag.
It’s been a few years since our escapades in the Caribbean, and Edward Kenway is all but dust; however, we’re chronologically around a decade away from the events of Assassin’s Creed III. Enter Shay Patrick Cormac, a typical Irishman that swiftly proves to be as cliché as his name may suggest, as he embarks upon a personal journey from Assassin to Templar. This change of allegiance is the crux of the game – hence the title – and proves to be the most important component in its narrative.
Like previous entries, the release toys with the concept of the Precursors and their infinitely advanced technologies – this time with a head member of The Brotherhood seeking to achieve some questionable results with said instruments. It’s the discovery of this misguided plot that causes Shay to defer to the apparently morally superior Templars that we’ve spent the last seven instalments massacring. This means that you’ll be playing much of Rogue in the boots of a Templar – a franchise first that certainly makes for an odd perspective.
There’s no fallacy here that the people in hoods are the bad guys, as you’ll spend much of your time getting hunted by the very Assassins that you once called brother. They’ll utilise many of the skills that Shay has access to, including assassinations from above and the iconic hay bale strike. In a bid to avoid disembowelment on a regular basis, the protagonist’s senses can identify lurking Assassins through Eagle Vision, while audio cues pre-empt you to react accordingly. You’ll need to be quick, too, as a wrong move will often result in instant death, bringing you face-to-face with some ridiculous loading times.
This tale of a turn cloak is a brief one: the story’s spread over only six sequences, making it half the average Assassin’s Creed length. Shay is ultimately pretty bland, irrespective of his unique situation, and the short story offers little opportunity for character development. Plagued by a rather questionable accent, the hero just about serves his purpose as a vessel to experience the Templar’s way of thinking, but wholeheartedly lacks the emotional connections made through humour or loss that we found with Edward. On the plus, the side missions prove a worthy distraction, and are adequately plentiful, populating a truly massive map that’s well over double the size of the Caribbean.
As the spiritual sequel to Black Flag, it’s unsurprising that – mechanically – Rogue operates more or less identically to its piratical forefather, right the way down to Shay’s move set in combat and his free running animations. This isn’t a bad thing at all, as the basis was already strong, but a little variation would’ve been welcomed with open arms. Naval gameplay makes a triumphant return with several small but interesting changes, not least your affiliation with the British. Shay’s vessel – The Morrigan – can now be boarded by enemy parties, but kill enough of these intruders and you’ll reap the rewards as if you boarded their ship. It’s a simple improvement, but an appreciated one.
Sadly, like many last-gen titles, this does feel rather choppy if you’re jumping back from a PS4 – even if it’s reportedly boasting a better frame rate than Unity currently – but it is actually graphically on par with Black Flag’s excellent PS3 release. Although the sunny vistas of the Caribbean provided an ample amount of ‘wow’ moments, the snowy geography of Rogue is not to be scoffed at. Generation aside, this isn’t a visually displeasing Assassin’s game, but it’s also no The Last of Us.
Sadly, there’s no competitive multiplayer, setting the game back once again when compared to its predecessor. Ubisoft has remained intent on forcing Uplay into this release, though, with Initiates and all of the series’ other unnecessary baggage making an unwelcome comeback. Fortunately, these are all peripheral to the main experience – unlike in Unity – but their presence alone is aggravating enough.
Assassin’s Creed Rogue isn’t really a Black Flag sequel, but nor is it Ubisoft cashing in on PS3 owners. It feels more like a really expansive piece of DLC that’s loaded with things to look at and places to go while acting as a solid continuation of a successful story. It’s unashamedly unwelcoming to newcomers and will probably only appeal to people that care about the lore of the Assassin’s Creed universe. For those less interested in the Templar, Precursor malarkey, then, Rogue can just as easily be regarded as Assassin’s Creed IV: Snow Edition.