I have a strange relationship with the Assassin’s Creed series. I played most of the first one before my save game got corrupted, and I could never bring myself to start it again. I skipped every instalment until the third one, whose setting instantly reeled me in. I hated it. I gave up after it made me sit through one too many powerless sections. I put my heart on the line when I trusted that Black Flag would be better—it was different, it promised me! It turned out to be an amazing game, even when considered outside of the franchise. So I was immediately excited when I heard about Rogue, which seemed like Black Flag 2.0.
Unfortunately, Rogue plays more like Black Flag 0.5. All the basics are there, but it lacks the spark that made Black Flag exceptional. That’s not to say that Rogue is no good—I actually enjoyed my time with it a lot. It just doesn’t hit the same levels as Black Flag does, and it does suffer from some pretty disappointing let-downs.
Rogue bears the scars of outdated technology, and while it wears these scars well, they’re still an ugly blight on the otherwise detailed world. I played it on my pretty powerful PC, and even with graphics set to max, textures are flat and draw distances fall short. Since one of the main attractions of these games is that they let you sail your own ship, the quality of the water is an important aspect of this attraction. Black Flag’s water was a thing of beauty: it sparkled with different shades of blues and greens and sun glistened off the waves. Rogue’s water is more of a dull blue blanket spread out around your ship. Islands in the distance were an exciting chance for exploration in Black Flag, and there are even more of them in Rogue. Sadly, the sheer number of them doesn’t make up for the fact that they look lifeless as you sail past, which makes me more likely to keep sailing past them without stopping. It’s disappointing, but none of it really matters, because it you can look past Rogue’s lacklustre graphics, it really is a worthwhile game.
The control scheme is the same as Black Flag’s, which is a familiar comfort. It meant I could instantly feel like a badass again. It also meant that I was using all the tricks up my sleeve long before the game flashed me their tutorials. I appreciate that these mechanics aren’t locked off before their tutorial, and I’m sure everyone else who’s played Black Flag is too. Having dabbled in Unity, I can tell you that I prefer the controls of Rogue overall, but there are some modern additions that I miss. I was surprised and disappointed to find that I’d reverted to a time when I couldn’t roll in combat, not use Eagle Vision while running. Overall, though, the controls of Rogue feel more responsive and intuitive, which is slightly worrying for the future of the franchise but a valuable factor in Rogue’s survival in the next-gen market.
The story is nothing to write home about, but Rogue’s best offering is its twist on the franchises’ typical story template. For the first time (and it is about time!) you get to play on the other side of the Assassin/Templar war! I was half-expecting this change to feel tacked onto the end of the narrative, almost like an afterthought, but Rogue weaves this story well, and it introduces a lot of new collection missions and side-quests. The constant villains of the series, Rogue gives the Templars their moment in the spotlight, and tried to remind players that the organisation is not necessarily as evil as they appear. Although I can’t help feeling a little disjointed by this reminder, because even when thinking back on the Templars of other games with Rogue-tinted glasses on, I can’t help thinking that they’re mostly evil bastards. But at least Rogue gives you enough justification for switching sides so that you can enjoy this change. No one who knows anything about Rogue should be surprised to hear that you start as an Assassin and are soon betrayed by the brotherhood after you take offence to their apathetic attitude towards civilians. Once you’ve joined the boys in red, you set off on a race to recover ancient artifacts, and end up facing down your old friends.
I’ve only had one showdown with an Assassin so far, but I enjoyed the encounter. Instead of the regular combat, which is generally oh-so-easy, there are a few extra steps involved in defeating your new enemy. None of these made it much of a challenge, but it was a nice touch.
Speaking of a challenge, the stealth aspect of Rogue doesn’t offer any. Like all the Assassin’s Creed games I’ve played, the guards are all still deaf and half-blind, and as long as you make sure one isn’t looking directly at you, you can do whatever you want. For the stealth-lover in me, this is disappointing, but it contributes to the sense of being an unstoppable force that the AC games have always instilled.
A large part of that unstoppable force comes from the arsenal of tools you’re equipped with. You start the game with most of the tools that Edward Kenway had at the end of Black Flag, but as the story unfolds you collect new ones. New tools are slow to come by at first, which made me worry that Ubisoft had been too lazy to add anything new to your belt, but finding them is worth the wait. The rifle that shoots noise-maker darts and doubles as a sleep-grenade launcher is hard to take seriously, but it’s a lot of fun to use. Not only are there new tools, Rogue also introduces new naval mechanics that put Black Flag to shame. Your ship, the Morrigan, can now be boarded by other sailors, so prepare to defend her while enemies try to ransack her. I never liked how one-sided the naval combat was in Black Flag—the Jackdaw was by far and wise the best vessel on the sea and you were almost untouchable—so this is a welcome addition that makes you feel more vulnerable while maintaining the non-stop energy of the best parts of these games.
Ubisoft have kept with Black Flag’s modern day setting, which at first felt like cheating, but they seem to have tweaked it enough to keep it enjoyable. Hacking computers is less frustrating, and so far I haven’t had to take too many slow walks from A to B. You’re still endlessly ordered around by NPCs however, which gets tiresome. Exploring the Abstergo office reveals some wonderfully self-aware jokes that genuinely made me laugh. Far Cry 3 adorns the cover of a magazine, and—my favourite—a staff email admits that the company has dropped the ball on its lack of female characters.
Rogue had the potential be come off as a stale rehashing of Black Flag, but it makes the most of its tried-and-tested mechanics and weathered story template to provide fans with what they unabashedly want: a new high-seas adventure that whisks them away to unexplored lands in romanticised times. If you’re undecided about which Assassin’s Creed game to play next, my money is on Rogue. Unity looks flashy and has nifty new features, but Rogue just gets me: it knows what I want and it’s excited to give it to me on a not-so-shiny platter. Anchors away!
Review by Alana Young
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