Assassin’s Creed: Rogue is the eighth main Assassin’s Creed game to come out since 2007, and the second Assassin’s Creed game to come out in 2014 alone. This style of fervent production is unheard of outside of sports titles, placing a monumental amount of pressure on development studios to create ungodly amounts of content each year. By sheer weight of probability and statistics, Ubisoft’s breakneck method of production means that eventually the machinery has to break down. Rogue may just be the first sign of danger, and should serve as an important warning to Ubisoft about the impending doom that accompanies this continued production cycle.
Rogue sees players taking control of Shay Cormac, an Assassin-turned-Templar. Following a disastrous attempt to recover a precursor relic on the orders of his Assassin Mentor, Achilles, Shay embarks on a quest to ensure such an act can never happen again. The tale of deception and revenge is fairly trite overall; whilst Shay as a protagonist is far cry away from the glory days of Ezio-led escapades. Shay is painfully reluctant to act intelligently at times and is hard to connect with substantially. He is quick to make simple errors of judgement, follows others blindly and falls for the same simple ruse, time after time. By the end short, 10-hour campaign, Shay feels almost hollow. His intentions are unclear, his actions are inexcusable and his consistent stupidity should be decried for decades to come. It’s a story that could have been fixed with a strongly-worded letter half an hour into the campaign, instead of the blood-soaked trail of violence and corpses that follows. I understand that a video game has to have conflict and gameplay to be enjoyed, but plot holes as gaping as these are impossible to ignore and actively insult the audience’s intelligence. Whilst there are certain story beats that are enjoyable and some good mission design in the last few hours, the overall journey is strongly disappointing.
In traditional Assassin’s Creed fashion, the actions of the player outside the Animus also tell a story in amongst themselves. Unfortunately, this story in Rogue is simple, bland and repetitive. When your player enters Shay’s memories for the first time, a hidden virus embedded within enters the mainframe of Abstergo Entertainment, forcing a building-wide evacuation. The CEO of Abstergo tasks your character (referred to only as “numbskull”, repeatedly) to continue unlocking the memories of Shay Cormac in order to restore the servers to full capacity.
Players of Assassin’s Creed: Black Flag will get an unwelcome sense of déjà-vu as soon as they leave the Animus for the first time. The outerworld segments once again take place in the main building of Abstergo Entertainment, albeit with significantly fewer people milling about. The player visits the same rooms in the same floors in the same order all over again, playing mini-games to unlock the same types of content and visit the same new locations one after another. It’s both lazy and boring, with a ludicrously poor conceit to explain the actions of the player. It’s a sub-par effort that has no business being in a AAA title in 2014 and actively insults the intelligence of franchise players.
The re-use of assets is not unheard of in the Assassin’s Creed series, but it is particularly egregious in this outing. Set in the wintry north-east of late 1700’s America, Rogue takes place in a strange medley of the world of the two previous titles, Assassin’s Creed III and Assassin’s Creed: Black Flag. The player still explores colonial America, revisiting New York and Achilles’ homestead, but can also set sail on their boat to the inland rivers around the area, or to the frozen seas to the north-east. These three locations are all segmented off from each other in separate maps, requiring fast-travel between them. Previous titles have engaged in similar actions, but there was a feeling of cohesion between each location. In Rogue, the differentiations in visual style and gameplay mean that the different locales may as well be on different continents.
The central framework to an Assassin’s Creed title hasn’t really changed all that much over the past seven titles, outside of the addition of boats. As such, the repetition and re-use of older gameplay mechanics in Rogue feels almost archaic. There are precious few additions to the ordinary open world exploration and collectible hunting, besides from some swapping out of collectible types for something more thematically appropriate. Finding all the collectibles has never been a particularly rewarding goal, but I was left with a feeling of exhaustion upon viewing a fully-synchronised map for the first time. There were dozens of collectibles in my small area alone, meaning there was easily hundreds to find across the world at large. When implemented to their finest, collectibles are designed to encourage exploration and promote discovery of new gameplay tactics and maneuverability strategies. In the Assassin’s Creed series (and more shockingly, across the entire Ubisoft slate of AAA games) they seem tacked on, a shallow way to add a modicum of depth to the world. A new strategy is desperately needed for the future.
Assassin’s Creed: Rogue will likely be one of the last titles for Ubisoft to release on the previous generation of consoles. There have been six Assassin’s Creed titles on that generation, which each title testing the mettle of what was truly capable from those aging machines. Assassin’s Creed: Black Flag was one of the best looking titles I’d ever played last year. These points are important to remember when I stress that Assassin’s Creed: Rogue is possibly the worst looking Assassin’s Creed title to date. The shadows on characters flicker in and out of existence multiple times a second, drawing stark attention to the muddy textures and jaggy faces. The framerate consistently drops to unacceptable standards, slowing important chases and fights to a sluggish chug. This is the first title of the series I have played on the PS3, so I cannot say for certain that it is not a hardware-based differentiation. What I can say for certain is that Rogue is neither a good looking nor well running title in any stretch of the imagination.
Amongst the sea of familiarity, one particularly intelligent addition to the series is well worth lauding. Since the third title in the series, Assassin’s Creed has implemented a rather int
riguing multiplayer spy vs. spy game of cat and mouse. These modes task players trying to discover an assassination target amongst a sea of other assassin’s potentially trying to lethally execute them. The player is given an on-screen indicator that fills as they approach their target, pointing them in the correct direction. When the indicator is filled, the target is in their direct vicinity and ready to be caught.
This has been implemented to great effect into the main game during key missions. When infiltrating certain locales, other killers will hide and attempt to hunt down Shay and prevent the completion of his sneaky deeds. Using the detection system from the multiplayer, players have to discover and lure out the hunters before they inadvertently get caught and murdered. It’s an extremely intelligent way of flipping the established standard of hunter vs. prey that permeates the ordinary mission structure in an Assassin’s Creed title, removing some of the overwhelming amount of power available to the player. It’s a gameplay system I would have no problems seeing again in the inevitable Assassin’s Creed 9 next year.
By the time I finished playing Assassin’s Creed: Rogue, I was left unsure who exactly the target market is. The game makes no effort to establish the more esoteric conventions to new players, whilst players familiar with the series (especially players of last year’s Black Flag) will feel an uncomfortable sense of familiarity with what they are presented. It’s not that Rogue is a bad game – asides from some fairly shoddy graphics and a fluctuating framerate, there’s nothing inherently wrong. The story is arbitrary and achieves little, whilst the idea of exploring the seas and discovering every hidden nook and cranny once again seems pointless without incentive. The scant few new mechanics, however, are intriguing and can be capitalised on in the future. You won’t have an awful time with Rogue, but you also won’t do anything that you couldn’t experience in a previous title. Assassin’s Creed: Rogue is neither a good nor bad game: it merely exists.