2014 was a pretty rough year to be a fan of Assassin’s Creed. Ubisoft’s attempt at bringing the series into the latest console generation was calamitous at best, but in all the tumult surround Assassin’s Creed Unity, it was easy to forget that it wasn’t the only AC title being released. Assassin’s Creed Rogue, previously only available on Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, has finally come to PC and – in extremely good news for AC fans – it’s the game you were hoping to play last year.
Assassin’s Creed Rogue focuses on an Irish Assassin named Shay Patrick Cormac who was operating in the North Atlantic during the Seven Years War. Shay is a relatively recent inductee into the Brotherhood and is being mentored by Achilles Davenport – who you may remember mentored Connor in Assassin’s Creed III. Though Shay has a lot of potential, he also has an insubordinate streak a mile wide. He questions his assignments and denigrates authority figures.
Achilles feels he may be able to temper this by giving Shay more important duties. He sends Shay to retrieve a Piece of Eden, one of the series’ signature artifacts and an item of great power but when Shay claims the artifact with disastrous results, he begins to see the Brotherhood of Assassins in a different light. Before long, Shay has defected to the Templar Order, desperate to either sabotage what he sees as the Brotherhood’s willful, uncaring path to destruction or destroy them all if they resist.
It’s a tightly-wound, pull-no-punches bit of storytelling. This is especially refreshing to see from a series that often prefers to disperse its narratives over long periods of time to wring the maximum amount of grandeur out of its many settings. The campaign itself clocks in at just over eight hours, making it by far the shortest Assassin’s Creed campaign in the series history but, I’m telling you, the game is way better for it.
It’s also the first game in the series that allows us to play as a Templar for the duration. The last time we were able to play as a Templar was when we got familiar with Haytham Kenway in the early part of Assassin’s Creed III. Shay’s story is an unhappy one. He feels as if he was conned by the Brotherhood and genuinely believes he is doing the right thing. Whether he actually is doing the right thing or not is largely left up to you. It’s refreshing to finally see things from the other side, to get inside the Templar’s heads and find out why they fight as hard against the Assassins as they do.
This PC version represents what is, without question, the most polished Assassin’s Creed game available to date. In terms of both performance and story-telling, it manages to stand above Assassin’s Creed Unity, even if it’s not quite as pretty as it’s next-gen cousin. Ubisoft have built this game to be a showcase for exactly how far the series has come in a single hardware generation, and it shows. The game ran at a flawless 60fps on my rig, with the settings maxed out which was the perfect salve for banishing Unity’s stuttering frame rate from my memory.
Textures are crisp and the water, in particular, looks as lovely as ever with heaving waves and gorgeous reflections. Having the game run at that frame rate really does allow you to take in some of the finer detail work done on the game. Your new ship, the Morrigan, looks utterly majestic against the endless ocean and the setting sun.
The environments on offer are a bit of an evolution from what we saw in Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag – seaside shanty towns and overgrown islands waiting to be explored. You are turned loose once again in eighteenth century New York City, as well as the icy northern Appalachian regions. These icy areas are a newer feature added to the franchise and see you piloting your ship through frozen waters, using an icebreaker to plow enjoyably into new areas. You can also blow icebergs apart with your cannons to create rogue waves that will demolish smaller enemy ships which adds an enjoyable new element to naval combat.
Moving about as Shay works much the same way it always has – he’s cut from the same knife-wielding, parkour enthusiast cloth all the other Assassin’s Creed protagonists were. It might be my imagination but he doesn’t feel as heavy as Edward Kenway was to run about and he’s certainly not as argumentative as Arno is when trying to get him to climb things. The one thing I really did miss from Assassin’s Creed Unity was the super smooth Parkour Up and Parkour Down system that game had. Going back to the last-gen climbing system was a bit rough – at one point, after climbing all the way to the top of a particularly tall structure, I hit the wrong button and Shay threw himself to his death in the street far below without complaint. I’d honestly forgotten that that could happen.
Combat has been tweaked and actually now feels more like the Batman: Arkham games than anything else. It’s welcome change and it makes combat flow much better. Much more fluid and responsive than Unity’s sluggish, lossy combat.
In terms of mission content, there’s still a lot of stuff we’ve seen before on offer – go here, stab this person, escape. Trail this person. Chase this guy. Locate this person and then stab them. There’s not a lot you’ll find that’s particularly new there and that’s a bit disappointing. Thankfully, because the campaign’s tight pace doesn’t muck around you don’t end up having to spend as much time playing the mission types you don’t like which is a bit of a blessing.
Being a last-gen Assassin’s Creed title also means that Rogue is devoid of the multiple systems and required unlocks that plagued Unity. Shay is already an Assassin by the time the game starts so he’s pretty much ready to go. The only things to be unlocked here are weapons, ship upgrades, costumes and crafting bonuses. If that seems simplistic, that’s because it is and it’s the way it should be. There is none of the bloat that sank Unity here – instead, Ubisoft have trimmed the entire experience down into the things that made Black Flag work so well.
I can see Rogue taking heat for not being enough of a departure from Black Flag and, in fairness, they are very similar games when you get right down to it. For an Assassin’s Creed die-hard like me, this is precisely the game I’m looking for when I boot these games up. Shay is an interesting lead, the story is well-written and dovetails every AC title from Assassin’s Creed III onward into Assassin’s Creed Unity in a way that doesn’t cheapen the this game’s own narrative. The game runs without a single flaw and getting to ride about on the open sea with a crew full of grizzled mariners singing collectable shanties is an experience unique to this series.
Seven games. Ubisoft managed to pump out seven Assassin’s Creed games in a single console generation and look how far they were able to take it. Once they get their heads around this new console generation, oh the places we’ll go and people we’ll stab. I can’t wait.
Review Score: 8.5 out of 10
Highlights: Lovely visuals; Shay is great; story is tight
Lowlights: May be too similar to Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag for some
Developer: Ubisoft Sofia
Released: March 10, 2015
Platform: PC (also available on Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3)
Reviewed on PC