Assassin’s Creed Rogue has found itself at a bit of a disadvantage upon its release. After all, it’s a last-generation effort that arrived day-and-date with Assassin’s Creed Unity, the first next-generation exclusive entry in the multi-million stealth-action franchise. Fact is, most people are probably more interested in seeing what the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One version is capable of, and are likely to dismiss Rogue as a quick cash-grab. However, this perception isn’t entirely fair. In reality, Rogue is a substantial game in its own right, packed full of content, and a story that puts a spin on the traditional Assassins vs. Templars plotline that has made up the backbone of the franchise thus far. Concurrently, however, it’s also a reminder of why it was probably best to make this the final last-gen title in the series, as it’s showing its age.
Set during the mid-1700s during the Seven Years War, Rogue introduces an all-new protagonist in the shape of Irishman, Shay Patrick Cormac. Initially a member of the Assassins Brotherhood during the game’s early stages, Cormack begins to question the motives of his fellow brothers, and ultimately, defects to the Templar cause following a catastrophic event in Lisbon, Portugal. It’s here that the meat of the game takes place, as Cormack goes about hunting down his former brothers in arms. As a character, Shay isn’t as charismatic as Ezio Auditore or Edward Kenway, but still manages to avoid the stoicism associated with the likes of Altair and Connor; he’s an anti-hero with an interesting story, but not much more than that.
Mechanically, Rogue slots neatly into the successful paradigm established with last year’s Black Flag—and for the most part, that’s no bad thing. As such, expect to be plundering on the high seas and getting stab-happy on land, as Shay soon pinches a ship and commands his own crew of misfits on board the Morrigan. The decision to once again bifurcate the core gameplay, namely by having sea and land-based activities, keeps things fresh and ensures you aren’t spending too much time doing one thing, though there’s a sense of familiarity about the proceedings that will either please or disappoint fans.
Fortunately, both areas have received a couple of additions to spice things up. For starters, naval combat now carries the threat of being boarded by your enemies, forcing you to play on the defensive and offensive, while on-foot missions now flip the assassination missions on their head: you now protect the Templar victim by dispatching the attacking assassins before they strike. It’s a great twist on a series tradition, and plays to the series’ stealth strengths nicely as you use Eagle Vision to locate your quarry, before striking swiftly and deadly from the shadows. You also have to deal with stalkers who conceal themselves in bushes or on rooftops, and can only be detected via Eagle Vision or by listening to the ‘whisper’ audio cue taken from past multiplayer games to warn you of their proximity. It keeps you on your toes, and adds a new dimension to combat especially as most foes are your typical grunts wielding massive axes or rifles, forcing you into open conflict. Elsewhere, new collectibles, such as deciphering cave drawings and collecting war letters, help flesh out the narrative, while other distractions such as rescuing prisoners or aiding friendly warships out at sea punctuate exploration on land and sea, respectively.
Yet despite this, Rogue is very much an amalgamation of ideals from previous AC games; in many ways, it’s like a ‘Greatest Hits’ package. Everything from Brotherhood’s renovation system to Black Flag’s Naval Campaign are present, both of which facilitate income and essential supplies, which are both needed to upgrade Shay’s equipment and the Morrigan itself. There’s also forts to pound to rubble, enemy camps to raid for supplies, and criminal hideouts to capture, the latter which echoes the Borgia Towers of AC: Brotherhood. Staples such as viewpoints, animus fragments, and chests also complement the sheer amount of content up for grabs, both in and out of the Animus.
While it’s easy to criticize Ubisoft for chucking everything but the kitchen sink at players to pack its seafaring sandbox full of content, everything Shay does at least carries some relevance from a narrative point of view. Indeed, if there’s anything you accuse Rogue of being, it’s not trying an awful lot new. The combat in particular, while the most nuanced of the Creed games up until Unity, suffers from a constant feeling of overpowerment. Shay can literally take on dozens of foes without much trouble, and new weapons such as the grenade launcher—which can be packed with shrapnel, sleep, or berserk ammo—further makes the Irishman a one-man killing machine, as does the silent air rifle. The parkour system is thankfully easy enough to use, although still suffers from some twitchy controls here and there, where it’s easy to have Shay run up random walls or slipping off precarious clifftops by accident.
Rogue is made up of some stunning environments, and despite the ageing hardware, it still manages to pump out some great-looking vistas. Sailing through a snowstorm on the high seas or gazing out at a majestic horizon from the top of a viewpoint offer some undeniable eye-candy, even if some of the character models are starting to show the wrinkles of PS3 hardware. There’s a couple of clipping issues and slowdown present, though they’re pretty inconsequential in the long run.
Sadly, voice acting is more hit and miss. Shay’s exaggerated Irish tongue reaches almost caricatural proportions at some points, while Christopher Gist—Cormac’s grizzly shipmate and long-term Templar companion—possesses only what I can describe as an annoying habit of enunciating every other word in a booming, wooden fashion. Other characters fare much better, including a certain Templar Grandmaster who fans of past games should recognize. It’s a pity too, as the story proves pretty compelling in places, and the soundtrack further complements the on-screen antics in typical Creed fashion.
Rogue eschews any form of multiplayer component, which exposes one of the game’s fatal flaws: the campaign’s story is woefully short. In fact, it’s easily the shortest Creed I’ve played to date, and while the copious amount of side-quests will have you putting in well over 30 hours, it’s a shame Ubisoft couldn’t extend the campaign some more. I felt I didn’t get much chance to explore the game world within the confines of the story, and there was little incentive to upgrade my abilities, unlike Black Flag, which seemed to interweave exploration and story in a more cohesive, complementary manner. Nonetheless, there’s still plenty of stuff to enjoy if you explore—and take advantage of downtime between missions.
Overall, Rogue is a fitting send off for the multi-million selling series on the console generation it started off on back in 2007. Sure, it’s not particularly innovative and suffers from a few niggles, but it’s a solid entry with an intriguing take on the Assassins vs Templar lore, with plenty of content to back it up.
Assassin’s Creed Rogue was reviewed on PlayStation 3 via a promo copy supplied by the publisher, Ubisoft.