As­sas­sin’s Creed Rogue

360, PC, PS3

EDGE - - GAMES - Pub­lisher Ubisoft De­vel­oper In-house (Sofia) For­mat 360, PC, PS3 (ver­sion tested) Re­lease Out now

Ev­ery­thing is per­mit­ted, or so goes the credo of the As­sas­sins. Some way into Rogue, pro­tag­o­nist Shay Pa­trick Cormac will be­come con­vinced that hav­ing that much free­dom isn’t nec­es­sar­ily a good thing. And clearly Ubisoft agrees: upon beat­ing up a group of thugs in a pub, we were in­vited to pay £200 for in­tel­li­gence from the bar­keeper. Ex­cept we couldn’t. In­stead, an on­screen mes­sage de­manded that we, “Progress fur­ther un­til the bar­keeper can give you in­tel­li­gence.”

‘Progress fur­ther’ is an all-too-common bar­rier here, though as with most of As­sas­sin’s Creed’s con­trivances, it can be ex­plained – if not ex­cused – by the An­i­mus’s idio­syn­cra­sies. Once again, Ubisoft uses the vir­tu­al­re­al­ity de­vice to frame the his­tor­i­cal drama, this time cast­ing you as an em­ployee of Ab­stergo ex­plor­ing the glitched mem­o­ries of the afore­said Ir­ish­man, an As­sas­sin turned Tem­plar. Cormac should be one of the more in­trigu­ing playable char­ac­ters to date, and his arc has real po­ten­tial, though his voice ac­tor de­liv­ers a cu­ri­ously flat per­for­mance, with an ac­cent that only oc­ca­sion­ally lands in the vicin­ity of the Emer­ald Isle.

Be­fore he switches sides, Cormac seems happy in his role as an amal­gam of Con­nor and Ed­ward Ken­way, but while you’ll re­visit some of the set­tings of the third num­bered AC game, Rogue has much more in common with Black Flag. Ex­cept that rather than sail­ing around the Caribbean, you’re steer­ing your ship through the Ap­palachian Val­ley and North At­lantic, slic­ing through ice and har­poon­ing nar­whals as you go.

The Mor­ri­gan might have a shal­lower draft than The Jack­daw, but they han­dle pretty much iden­ti­cally. In other words, your ship’s far more ma­noeu­vrable than a ves­sel of her size should be, yet the sail­ing still car­ries a pleas­ing weight. Again, your ad­ven­tures out at sea com­pare favourably to your ex­ploits on land. You can set alight a trail of oil to de­ter pur­suers, though you’ll rarely need to flee, not least be­cause you can cre­ate dam­ag­ing waves by ram­ming or shoot­ing ice­bergs, while a puckle gun al­lows you to tar­get weak­points with deadly ef­fi­cacy. You can use th­ese tools to thin out en­emy num­bers be­fore board­ing a stricken ship, where­upon you can add another craft to your grow­ing fleet, re­pair the Mor­ri­gan, or sim­ply pocket the loot.

It’s vari­a­tions on a theme, then, with only con­tex­tual dif­fer­ences to dis­tin­guish Rogue from its pre­de­ces­sor. That’s no sur­prise: it’s clear that Unity was Ubisoft’s fo­cus this year, even if its tech­ni­cal woes would sug­gest oth­er­wise, and that the pub­lisher’s Sofia stu­dio was work­ing to a strin­gent bud­get here. Beyond the ob­vi­ous re­use of as­sets, there are some no­tice­ably rough edges to the pre­sen­ta­tion, and it’s a lit­tle too fre­quently ap­par­ent that the fram­er­ate has been left un­capped.

Still, the de­vel­oper’s pru­dence has to be ad­mired at times. It’s surely the short­est AC cam­paign to date, but as a re­sult it cuts to the chase: your train­ing is

It would be wrong to dis­miss the plea­sure of the open seas, but even here you’re be­holden to your ac­tiv­i­ties on dry land

com­pleted within 15 min­utes, when ACIII waited un­til the 17th mis­sion. Quests are briskly paced, and thus more re­playable, and when Cormac even­tu­ally be­comes a Tem­plar, the pre­vi­ous games’ mul­ti­player com­po­nent is skil­fully re­pur­posed. Use Ea­gle Vi­sion and you’ll see the fa­mil­iar cir­cu­lar radar high­light­ing As­sas­sins in pur­suit, their whis­pers get­ting louder as they ap­proach. It’s a pity the cor­ner cut­ting ex­tends to the story. At one stage, Cormac is so badly in­jured he can barely make it down­stairs. Im­me­di­ately af­ter­wards, he brawls with two men, then chases another across the rooftops. And his shift in al­le­giances isn’t as or­ganic as it might have been. The seeds of doubt are never sown. In­stead, the piv­otal mo­ment is a sin­gle, breath­less set-piece, which in­tro­duces a brand-new lo­ca­tion only to im­me­di­ately tear it apart.

It’s also a mo­ment that high­lights the in­her­ent weak­nesses of the se­ries’ foun­da­tions. De­spite its strong visual im­pact, this se­quence is a glo­ri­fied QTE: through­out, you’re do­ing noth­ing more than hold­ing the right trig­ger and push­ing up on the ana­logue stick, oc­ca­sion­ally veer­ing left and right to avoid haz­ards, while text prompts urge you to keep mov­ing for­ward, as if your ob­jec­tive was in any doubt. Rogue casts you as an ex­plorer, yet its asides are lit­tle more than a se­ries of check­boxes to tick off. This time your shop­ping list in­cludes war let­ters, totems, An­i­mus frag­ments, cave paint­ings, Vik­ing sword frag­ments and more.

In the­ory, Tem­plar arte­facts re­quire more ef­fort than walk­ing to a way­point. Each map is a hand-drawn im­age of a lo­ca­tion with an X mark­ing the spot, though it also tells you the pre­cise co­or­di­nates, mean­ing there’s no chal­lenge in dig­ging up your re­ward. Or rather, part of it: there’s a weary sense of in­evitabil­ity to the re­minder that you’ll need to col­lect all 24 to claim your prize.

It’s symp­to­matic of a se­ries so con­cerned that its play­ers might not be en­joy­ing them­selves that the idea of af­ford­ing them the free­dom to dis­cover things is no longer a con­sid­er­a­tion. It would be wrong to dis­miss the plea­sure of the open seas, but even here you’re be­holden to your ac­tiv­i­ties on dry land, re­quir­ing the money from your grow­ing prop­erty em­pire to fund im­prove­ments to The Mor­ri­gan, and the hares and foxes needed for craft­ing pro­tec­tive gear and weapon pouches.

As­sum­ing you’re sim­ply con­tent with con­tent, Ubisoft bus­ies you with don­key work. And so once more you syn­chro­nise, seek­ing out that same tree on ev­ery is­land with the bro­ken trunk you can sprint up, just so you can lengthen your to-do list. Even as the ocean stretches out in front of you, you can feel the in­sis­tent pull of the pub­lisher’s hand. The idea that noth­ing is off lim­its is a prom­ise this game has ab­so­lutely no in­ter­est in keep­ing; in As­sas­sin’s Creed Rogue, ev­ery­thing is re­stricted.

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