*Free review copy provided by Ubisoft*
Assassin’s Creed Rogue has a relatable protagonist and an intriguing premise, so it’s a shame that both are wasted on a mundane game that was churned out to drag a few more dollars from gamers who hadn’t upgraded to the PS4/Xbox One generation. The mission structure is uninspired, you spend most of your time on a ship sailing to new locations with little purpose, and the 10-hour campaign makes Rogue feel more like a remastered Vita title than a PS3 one.
Shay Cormac is an Irish member of the Assassin’s Creed working in the North Atlantic during the Seven Years War just prior to the American revolution. He’s immediately likable, with a tendency to challenge authority and generally be a pain in the ass. It’s refreshing to see someone ask questions about the limits of what should be done in the name of the Creed and whether endless assassinations are necessarily the best way forward.
The Assassins are after Pieces of Eden from Precursor temples, hoping to collect them all before the Templars use them to control the world. An attempt to take a Piece of Eden from a Haitian city is interrupted when an earthquake hits and destroys the region. When Shay witnesses the same thing happen in Lisbon, he realizes that stealing the Pieces of Eden is what causes the earthquakes. Shay questions the motives of the leader, Adewale, and doesn’t like the answers he receives. Shay soon ends up working with the Templars to stop the Assassins destroying more cities as they search for the Pieces of Eden.
I love this premise. The Templars were always treated as a “big bad” with little in the way of context for why they were bad. Sure, they wanted to control the world, but how? And why? Is that intrinsically worse than a cult of assassins deciding who deserves to live and die? Don’t expect Rogue to answer any of those questions.
The campaign is far too short to delve into the Templar’s true motives or decide which faction you’d rather side with. Shay doesn’t join the Templar’s until nearly the halfway point and the campaign is only 10 to 12 hours long. Ideally, Rogue would have been longer, but if a short campaign was necessary for budget reasons then at the very least the introduction should have been trimmed significantly.
Of that 10 hours, far too much time is spent sailing aimlessly around the ocean on your ship, the Morrigan. Most missions involve sailing to a distant location, talking to someone near the harbor, and then sailing to another location to grab a document or kill a target. If Rogue took place in a large city, as most of the other games did, the story would have been over even quicker. It’s only the process of returning to your boat and sailing across the map that drags the story out to double digits. You never feel like you’re a captain of a crew or that there’s any point to all this sailing, beyond the fact that Ubisoft clearly spent a lot of time on these systems for Black Flag and wanted to get more use out of them. However, I must admit, the water looks phenomenal. I’d want to use that again, too.
You can fight other ships and either sink them or board them for extra resources and new crewmates. Extra weapons for ship combat are gradually unlocked: you can leave a trail of burning oil behind you; weaken defenses with cannons and then follow up with puckle shots to hit weak spots; or bombard them with mortars. However, combat options do not always equate to combat depth. Each fight ends up playing out the same way. When a ship is far away, you hit it with mortars. If it gets closer, you fire the cannons and follow up with puckle shots. If a boat is trailing behind, you leave fire in your wake.
That’s not to say every ship battle is easy. Ships have levels and going up against a ship that is of a much higher level than yours is going to be a slog. The presence of enemy ship levels suggests that your own ship has a level of its own, but if it does then I couldn’t find it. You only know whether a ship is a higher level than you by looking at it through your telescope and seeing if the text is in red or white. Red = danger, white = go for it.
Most of the land locations are small, indistinct towns with little going on. You can find treasure lying around or help people randomly being held hostage in the middle of the street. There’s no context for any of this. You see people tied up and held at gunpoint, so you kill the people holding the guns. That’s it. There are some forts to capture which requires bombarding their defenses from your ship and then attacking on foot. This is some of the better content and yet it still smacks of procedurally generated nonsense with no spirit or passion behind it.
New York is the only major city you spend time in, although you aren’t there much. It’s a shame, because New York looks great here. Ubisoft has captured a pre-revolution new colony feel, complete with roaming redcoats and English pubs. There’s a side quest to clear out gangs and build up the city but it gets boring after a couple of missions. There’s also a fleeting visit to Lisbon which has a set piece reminiscent of the older Uncharted games; it’s easy but impressive to look at.
I’ve always enjoyed the bread and butter assassinations in this series, even though they require little in the way of skill. Rogue follows in this tradition. The enemies are dumb, but there’s still something satisfying about sneaking towards two guards and quickly executing a dual assassination or leaping from a bush to kill a guard when his friend isn’t looking.
After Shay joins the Templars, you have to deal with assassins lying in wait for you. They can be hiding in bushes, blending in amongst crowds on benches, or lurking on rooftops. It reminded me of the multiplayer from Brotherhood, except there’s no challenge to spotting the assassins in Rogue. You can hear them from far away and they are easily spotted with your eagle vision. I appreciated the idea, but wish it had been implemented a little better.
If you are spotted, you can easily fight your way out of trouble. Even in the middle of a heavily guarded town, guards will only ever come at you in groups of about three and they are easily handled with a couple of counters or heavy attacks to break their block. There’s nothing even remotely satisfying about combat. It’s slow and turgid; Shay’s animations take an age to unfold, but it doesn’t matter because you can easily button mash your way through it.
Shay can buy new swords, guns, and ammo pouches, however you don’t need any of them. Since stealth is still the main focus, having a better sword is only ever relevant when stealth goes wrong and combat is too easy to make any purchase worthwhile. In fact, most of the purchases are completely pointless, and I ended up hoarding all my money from the beginning to the end because there was nothing to spend it on.
The only upgrades that are remotely useful are those for your ship and to buy them you need a supply of metal. Unfortunately, metal only seems to be available from other ships. This means that in order to deal with the late-game ship combat you’ll need to do other ship battles to prepare the Morrigan for the encounter. I found ship combat boring, so this was like being told I could speed up the paint drying process by going and watching a different type of paint dry first.
It’s hard to believe Rogue was sold as a full price release near the end of the PS3 era. It’s a clear step back from previous games in the same series, let alone being anywhere near the quality of other titles of the same period. The story is woefully short. Sure, you can spend 25 hours going around and completing all the side content, but it doesn’t tie into anything. It’s not even convenient. In prior games, you would pass by characters offering side quests while exploring the city and so it was easy to pick up a quest or two if you wanted them. Rogue makes you get on your ship and travel to specific tiny villages that otherwise have nothing to do except the same boring content again and again.
Somehow, despite Rogue being over three years old, there are still bugs and glitches. Most of them are more amusing than frustrating, but I did have to restart one mission when the man I was supposed to kill bugged out and became invincible despite just standing out in the open.
Rogue feels like a budget game and that is no better exemplified than the modern day nonsense which has once again been crammed into the experience. I had no idea who I was playing as in the modern day content. It’s all from a first-person perspective and looks like a cheap walking simulator except with less active gameplay. You’re in an office that is apparently on lockdown, although you’d be hard-pressed to tell based on the complete lack of any atmosphere. You gradually unlock servers by solving a set of insultingly simple puzzles and then head back into the animus. One of the later puzzles was so easy I never even thought about it. I simply tapped right twice on the analog stick and it was solved.
There isn’t much to say about the remaster. It looks nice, although you won’t confuse it with a brand new game anytime soon. It still runs at 30 FPS, but it’s consistent and I didn’t notice any dropped frames.
Rogue resembles a C-team project from beginning to end which is especially disappointing given that the underlying premise had so much potential. Rogue could have been an essential game in the franchise, if only for the story and the rare chance to see inside the world of the Templars. Instead, we barely get any story development except for cameos and knowing references to other games. The missions are tedious and the lack of interesting locations is a step back from previous entries. Rogue might have scraped a three out of five if I’d reviewed it back in 2014, but in 2018 it doesn’t even deserve that.