After only just completing my review for AC: Unity, I wasn’t decided on whether or not I would play Rogue at all. As I nursed a tin of disappointment flavoured Pringles, I wondered whether I was ready to trust Ubisoft again; there are only so many let-downs a girl can take. Eventually I ran out of break-up food and the realist in me won out, and after all, Rogue couldn’t possibly be worse than Unity. Ubisoft’s simultaneous release of Rogue was only for current generation consoles. Therefore, I dialed back certain expectations that I’d have had for next gen releases. As a fan, I instead wanted for something more important than ‘cinematic experiences’ and prayed to the Father of Understanding for nothing other than a great game.
Let’s get straight to one of the recent death blows of the assassin’s games: the narrative. In an effort to convey what I thought of the storyline with as few spoilers as possible let me say this: it’s about time, Ubisoft. Finally, FINALLY, we have some semblance of a fulfilling narrative that tugs on curiosity, gnaws at your allegiance throughout the series, and ushers AC back into the realm of great games. Yes, that’s a big statement to make, but looking at the title from its narrative and overall experience, it gave me what the series used to do so well. We have a character arc to care about, a tangible struggle to get involved in and a climax with some weight behind it. I’d been keeping track of the dates we experienced with our hero Shay and knew at some point the title would cross Black Flag and possibly Unity too. As the end drew nearer and my suspicions became confirmed, I felt the inevitability of the whole Templar/Assassin struggle creeping up on me.
Rogue built the story so clearly that even if you kept up with the dates and could guess the story well enough, it still made for a well-done ending. Being a Templar game, there was virtually no input from the hackers working for the Assassins, unless you count the server issues and some text right at the end that’s easy to miss. Instead, the scattered information on Absertgo, Templars and those they are hunting, can be accessed through Abstergo servers periodically. Instead of Black Flag’s overload of data and unhelpful insights, Rogue had only enough opportunities to build a story from behind the scenes with what was necessary or interesting. Seeing some characters again in a different light added weight to the narrative’s turns and fleshed out Shay until he came into his story.
One of the few negatives I took from the game was more of an absence than a blunder; I can hardly recall any soundtrack outside a few pivotal moments. All the ambiance of an open world environment and geographically appropriate accents were fine (it’s not that hard, Unity), with the minor exception of the first mate, Gist. He hands-down wins the ‘I never want to hear him speak again’ award for the year. The open ocean hasn’t changed much since Black Flag, with the exception of the icebergs and snow storms. There were improvements, but the faces of everyone seemed to have taken a turn in the wrong direction. The characters were either receiving sneaky tans or sporadically rubbing their faces in the dirt just before we saw them. None of this is that uncommon with 360 games and didn’t hamper the progress in any way.
Loading times were on par with the last few AC games on 360, not mood-killing lengths, thankfully. Flipping between maps, the save menus and different views in-game only lagged once or twice over the 13 hours I spent playing. Its design was a slightly more refined version of Black Flag that didn’t stray from what has worked in the past. The new items brought a sneaky grenade launcher into the fray, an entertaining upgrade to the arsenal that opened combat choices immensely. Sleep, berserk or lethal ammo options removed the ho-hum of repetitive hostile situations and incorporated NPCs mid-battle. My favourite new element has to be Ubisoft’s version of hide and seek, only theirs is more hide and stab first. The Stalkers are NPC assassins that are every bit as fast and deadly as you, as they are hiding everywhere. The entire map benefits from the random challenge of Stalkers, while your grenade launcher enjoys the exercise.
Rogue’s combat is in line with its predecessor, implementing the simple parry, attack and defence break buttons. Trying to throw in some desperate shots with the Y button was as laggy as ever, but the majority of battles in Rogue were handled without needing to resort to Unity’s bomb and run technique. The weapon upgrades were nothing too special, but at least in this game it was possible to make money off your investments to actually afford the necessary ship and item improvements. I didn’t get into the fleet side missions, not from lack of trying but they just didn’t interest me enough to put effort into them. Being the anti-assassin that Shay is offered a new way to play: the option arose to interfere with intended targets in a race against the clock search-and-destroy mission. It was a fun addition, but I found I’d rather spend the time hunting or completing collections.
I finished Rogue, locked my fingers behind my head and just watched the credits roll. These days no one watches credits (ain’t nobody got time for that!), but for the first time in too long I needed a second to acclimatise back into the real world. That’s what AC games used to do: convince you there was a battle so epic and ancient that it had to be hidden in the shadows as it decided the fate of the world. Rogue had its hiccups, but, unlike its release partner, I don’t feel the need to go foetal and eat my body weight in Pringles while I lose hope in the series. I hate to think the only reason Ubisoft’s resources weren’t pooled into one impressive game was for the potential profit from two titles, but I hope this is the last time it happens. Rogue grants Ubisoft my forgiveness, for now, but only because I want to spend more time in the game to drown out the memory of Unity. Here’s to the brotherhood-breaking, cabbage-farming, hand-me-down-wearing Shay and his rescue of Ubisoft for 2014.
Disclaimer: This review was based on the XB1 version of the game, and was provided to the writer by the publisher for the purpose of review.