Review Price to be confirmed
Available on Xbox 360, PS3
Released: November 11th
First Impressions: Assassin’s CreedWhile Ubisoft has clearly focused the lion’s share of its development budget and attention on the next-gen Assassin’s Creed: Unity, it’s good to see that it hasn’t abandoned those with last-gen consoles. Assassin’s Creed: Rogue gives them a new chapter to enjoy; one which ties together the eras of Black Flag and Assassin’s Creed 3, and then goes off-chart by focusing on a renegade assassin, who ditches the brotherhood to play for the Templar team.
Why? Well, we’re not quite sure. The new star is Shay Cormac, a relatively new recruit to the Assassins who feels first disillusioned and then betrayed. Swearing vengeance, our dark ‘oirish’ hero goes over to the Templars and becomes an Assassin Hunter, using the resources of the order to exact justice from his foes.
The action is set in the period between Black Flag and Assassin’s Creed 3, and we can expect to see returning characters, including a certain Haytham Kenway. It will play across locations spread around North America, including the frozen seas of the North Atlantic, New York, Quebec and chunks of the North Eastern coast. It’ll also take in the events of the Seven Year’s War as fought by the Colonial forces of France and Britain in the region. The good news? Where previous Creeds have had the Brits as the villains, in Rogue they’re actually fighting on Shay’s Templar-loving side.
From what we’ve seen and played of Rogue, both the best and the worst thing you can say about it is that it’s a bit like Black Flag, season two. There’s a lot of naval action, a lot of enemy HQs to be captured and converted, and the general look and feel is near identical. In a way, it shares the same relationship to Black Flag that AC: Revelations had to AC: Brotherhood, even though it has a different hero on a slightly different time.
In fact, it’s with Shay that Rogue really rings the changes. The team at Ubisoft Sofia claims to have tightened up the movement and introduced some new moves, including a rather nice wall-jumping manoeuvre that you can try in enclosed vertical spaces.
Our new hero also comes with new gadgets, most particularly a primitive grenade launcher that fires smoke, bezerk and shrapnel grenades. On the other hand, he still has Edward Kenway’s darts, effectively giving you a choice between going quiet and going loud. It’s still a game of stealth and sneaking more than all-out blasting, but that doesn’t mean you can’t use some distraction or destruction here and there. What’s more, as a (boo, hiss) Templar, Shay doesn’t need to be all wishy-washy about dishing it out. It’s not just possible to play a more offensive game; it’s actively encouraged.
If Shay is a tougher hero, then his vessel – the Morrigan – is the ship to match. It’s smaller, faster and more agile than Edward Kenway’s ship, the Jackdaw, and it comes armed with a flammable oil-slick defence, rapid-fire deck cannons and a rather nasty high-speed ramming move, yours at a double-tap of the A button. We had the pleasure of trying it out against a small group of enemy ships, and the naval combat feels even smoother and faster-paced than it did last-time around, as you use your new techniques to wreak havoc on your floating foes.
Having cleared the seas, we proceeded to a small French settlement, ripe for the taking. To grab it for the Templar cause we had to eliminate three snipers and tackle the captain; a task we accomplished with a mix of stealth, guile and accident-prone, blundering assault.
There’s a lot of this kind of thing in Rogue, with both French settlements and assassin gang hideouts to take over, and we’re told that each will have different victory conditions, not to mention different shops and facilities to repair and then use. Getting cash and resources then upgrading your settlements will keep you busy when you’re not occupied by the main campaign, and provide benefits that will help you as you make your way through it. You can also expect more hunting, item gathering and a lot more coastline to explore.
After the glories of Unity, you might expect that Rogue would look a little disappointing. Well, it’s pretty close to Black Flag in terms of graphics quality, but given a rather more wintry spin with all that ice, snow and black water. Even from a quick hands-on it’s obvious that the old AnvilNext engine still holds up pretty well, and there’s still some impressive detail and sumptuous lighting to enjoy. It might have the same feel as Black Flag, but the different setting helps give it a different style. It’s no Black Flag expansion pack.
If there’s anything worrying about Rogue, it’s that it might turn out to be too much like Assassin’s Creed: Revelations, taking the core of a brilliant predecessor – there Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood – but focusing too much on side activities, and on layering on new gadgets and mechanics. Much will depend on the standard of the characterisation and the story, not to mention how much difference the Templar spin makes. At the moment the on-land activities we’ve tried feel a lot like they did last time and the time before that, even with the change of side.
Most gamers will be more excited about the more radical and dynamic Assassin’s Creed: Unity, but that doesn’t mean you should see Rogue as a booby prize for last-gen stalwarts. More Black Flag isn’t an entirely bad idea, and there are enough changes and connections to make Rogue very appealing to long-time fans. Is it dark and different enough to make its own mark? We’ll have to wait until November to find out.