[REVIEWED] Assassin’s Creed: Rogue – Let’s call it Black Flag 1.5

If you know about Rogue even before reading this review, you’re probably better-informed than most of the world’s gamers – there was precious little hype around the game while Ubisoft focused far more on its next-gen Assassin’s Creed, the slightly wobbly Unity.

If you did, and you were smart enough to snap it up you’re probably smiling right now because as it turns out, Rogue is a damn good game. It feels like Black Flag 1.5, with a bit of Assassin’s Creed III mixed in, and it’s a good blend that combines Black Flag’s brilliant naval battles with ACIII’s expansive land-based activities. Basically if you liked Black Flag and wanted more land-based assassinations, you’ll enjoy Rogue.

ACR - Ships

Questioning the Creed

As the name suggests, it’s not your average Assassin’s Creed. Rogue stars Shay Patrick Cormac as an Assassin who goes, well, rogue after things don’t go so well on a mission. This causes him to question his loyalty to the Assassins and, more importantly, the Creed. Disillusioned, he switches allegiances and joins the Templars, the Assassins’ sworn enemies.

Shay is the first lead in an AC game to do this, and seeing the story unfolding from the Templars’ point of view is a breath of fresh air as they’re clearly not the monsters they’ve been made out to be in every single previous Assassins game. It’s a subtle tip of the hat to the idea that the right side to be on in any conflict is the one you choose, and that your chosen group’s enemies will always be made out to be monsters to serve your cause whether they are or not. It’s a decidedly deeper insight into real life than I expected from a videogame, least of all an Assassin’s Creed. Good job, writers.

Of course, as it’s a previous-gen-only game Rogue is built on Black Flag’s graphical foundation, and ends up looking and playing really similarly. Ubisoft hasn’t just done a copy and paste, though (although it has re-used a lot of Black Flag and ACIII’s art and assets), there’s also a few new things added.

For most of the game you’ll be sailing around the US eastern seaboard and jumping buildings in New York city – but stray too far north and there are now icebergs to either avoid or shoot. Jump into cold water and Shay will freeze to death if he stays in too long.

ACR - Cold
Yup, it’s as cold as it looks.

The icebergs are particularly well done and shatter satisfyingly after a shot or two from your ship’s cannons, causing a medium-sized wave that can damage smaller ships during combat. They tend to stick out of the scenery quite a bit, almost like they’re out of place, but they’re a fun addition nonetheless. Shay’s ship, the Morrigan, can also cut through the ice sheets you’ll find blocking your way in the colder regions (there’s even an achievement for slicing through 500m of the stuff).

Allies made foes

Because you’re now fighting against the Assassins, you should totally expect to get stabbed from the shadows on a regular basis, and that’s exactly what happens. Rogue introduces Stalkers, Assassins that hide in bushes and haystacks (and sometimes in plain sight) who leap out at you when you pass by and stab you to within an inch of your life. Their presence is indicated by a soft susurration, and activating Eagle Vision shows Shay the direction they can be found, but they’re not always detectable until the last second.

It’s an understandable addition to the game, but it’s honestly bloody annoying when, in the middle of a pitched battle with five guards who’ve hit you a couple times already, one of these Stalker buggers runs up and finishes you off. Happened to me fairly frequently in my playthrough, and while it inspired respect and caution, it also had me gritting my teeth in frustration on occasion.

More of everything

When Shay is on land, there’s even more to do than there was in Black Flag. The most notable addition to the usual collection activities and viewpoint synchronisation are Gang Hideouts that must be cleared out and taken over. These are a lot of fun, as you must find and eliminate the gang leader, take out scouts, blow up supplies and chop down gang flags before you can move in. It can be quite a challenge to get it all right in one go, and of course you must also keep a lookout for those damn Stalkers who tend to pitch up at inopportune moments.

ACR- Climb

Once liberated, Shay gains a strategic foothold in the area, where he can replenish supplies, upgrade nearby facilities and grab any cash that has accumulated in the bank. And accumulate it will, thanks to the integration of several new money-making opportunities in the game that ensure Shay is never in much need for the stuff. Facility upgrades earn Shay a passive income over time that must be regularly collected from his bank, and extra cash can be earned by playing Naval Missions.

Series aficionados will recognise the Naval Missions mini-game if they downloaded and played Black Flag’s Companion App, which had them sending their fleet of ships around the world on various money-making missions. This time around it’s integrated into the main game, with no need for an extra app for a tablet gamers don’t necessarily own, and growing Shay’s fleet works the same way as it did in Black Flag: by capturing enemy ships in thrilling naval battles and adding them to Shay’s ship roster instead of scuttling them for cash or using them to repair his ship, the Morrigan.

Tighter ship controls

I don’t know if this is entirely subjective or not, but it felt like the Morrigan responded even better than the Jackdaw did to my commands; she seemed to turn tighter, fire faster and easily outmanoeuvre enemies in combat, only succumbing to enemy fire when I intentionally took on more powerful ships than I had a hope of beating (I had to try, right?) or a Bounty Hunter or military ship happened to pass by as I was terrorising the high seas and decided to intervene. Ah, fun times.

ACR- Fight
Once disabled, enemy ships must be boarded and captured.

These ship-to-ship encounters were the game’s highlight for me. I loved kitting out the Morrigan with upgrades, I enjoyed working my way up to a stronger hull or more broadside cannons by conscientiously going after ships laden with the metal, wood and cloth I needed for the upgrades, and the feeling of tangible improvement was oh-so-satisfying. The same applies to Shay’s upgrades – health and pouches for his equipment mostly – which again required that he kill and skin various animals, including aquatic animals that could only be taken down with the ever-challenging harpooning mini-game.

ACR - Narwhal
Sure it isn’t PC, but at least the harpooning is just make-believe.

Shay himself, on the other hand, controls just like Edward did in Black Flag, meanning that game’s fiddly controls make a return here. It may be my own lack of co-ordination, but I found myself mis-jumping every now and then, ending up in places I was pretty sure I wasn’t intending to go – usually thin air with a big drop beneath me. It was aggravating, but focus and determination won out as I put more effort into controlling Shay.

Thanks, Mr Franklin

If you enjoyed shooting human opponents with Berserk and sleeping darts, Rogue sees the addition of Berserk and sleeping grenades courtesy of a major historical figure that affect more than one person at a time, opening Shay’s strategic options even further. The most fun of these is the new shrapnel grenade that kills multiple enemies outright with just one blast. I often used them to thin numbers before going in with my blades, a tactic that proved its effectiveness time and again. Fighting hasn’t changed much, still using the tried-and-tested block-counter-kill mechanic of previous games. I think I noticed more kill animations this time around, though, indicating slightly more than just a copy-and-paste job.

If you stick to the main campaign only and ignore all the side-missions and collection activities you can blow through Rogue’s story in about fifteen hours. Naturally, you’ll be allowed back into Shay’s shoes to do all the free-roaming your heart desires afterwards, but honestly I’d recommend taking your time, exploring the absolutely huge maps and collecting as much as you can while doing the occasional story mission. There’s so much to see and do in Rogue that simply steamrolling your way to the story’s conclusion won’t do the hard work Ubisoft put into it justice.

Faithful to a fault

So yes, Rogue sticks quite faithfully to Black Flag’s conventions, even culminating in a similar – and similarly annoying – platforming segment right at the end, but since I really loved Black Flag, Rogue hit all the right notes for me. I was also quite pleased to see Ubisoft including a bit of a segue into Unity towards the end, tying this previous-gen Assassin’s Creed neatly into the first current-gen title.

Even though Ubisoft is clearly leading with Unity this year, there’s no reason to feel like they skimped on Rogue – this is a full Assassin’s Creed game, and a damn good one at that.

Assassin’s Creed: Rogue is out now for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, with a PC release coming in early 2015. It sells for a recommended retail price of R799, and is definitely worth the cash.


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