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Assassin's Creed Rogue review

AT A GLANCE
  • Familiar and strong combat
  • A ton of side quests to complete and goodies to collect
  • Explanations of some less-accessible game lore
  • A lackluster story
  • Uninteresting and unsympathetic characters
  • Sights and sounds lifted wholesale from the last AC game

While hacking computers and misplaced tablets during the modern-day sequences in Assassin's Creed Rogue, I stumbled on one of the most meta things I've ever seen in an AC game. In an email discussing the possibility of reusing pirate Edward Kenway's memories in another in-universe project, the writer says, "I don't want to give the impression that the studio is just reusing the same genetic memories over and over, so while I want to recycle assets to save money, the experience has to be totally fresh." That's the story of Assassin's Creed Rogue in a digital nutshell, but without the happy ending.

After picking up my controller and starting the game, I had to briefly stop and check my system, just to make sure I had the right disc in. I was hit with an immense sense of déjà vu, as if I had seen the locations in the game before, used the same controls, done the same things. After a few hours, I realized I was right: I had already done all of these things, back when they were new and fresh in Assassin's Creed 4: Black Flag. While this isn't an inherent game-killer - and if nothing else means that Rogue boasts strong combat and side-quest variety at its core - a few hours of play reveals that Rogue loses much of what made its predecessor great, and is an ultimately inferior title as a result.

A last-gen exclusive title meant to bridge the gap between Assassin's Creed 3 and Black Flag, Rogue follows the tale of ex-Assassin Shay Cormac, who abandons the Brotherhood and takes up arms alongside the Colonial branch of the Templars. While the North American setting is unquestionably closer to Assassin's Creed 3's expansive Frontier, players familiar with Black Flag will recognize where that game's Caribbean environs are reused. Albany, for instance, looks identical to some of the offshoot islands players traversed in Edward's shoes, and the conveniently arranged fallen tree paths of the West Indies return with a force. This reuse isn't limited to settings either, with everything from sound effects and sea shanties to entire animations lifted from Black Flag's chest of tricks.

While there's nothing wrong with efficiency, Rogue's recycling of Black Flag is so extreme that it makes exploring the game world boring. Given that breath-taking locales are a well-loved staple of the series (my fascination with beautifully rendered turtles in AC4 quickly wore out the patience of my loved ones), it's unfortunate a year later, repetition means that those breaching whales and well-sung sailors elicit little more than a shrug. Rogue does maintain some of that magic in its few wholly unique settings, like Arctic caves built entirely of ice, and mountain-lined valleys beset by raging blizzards. But these are disappointingly few, and you'll spend most of your time amongst sights and sounds that lost their shine some time ago.

The game’s core handling is fine though, as should be expected after so many years of iteration on the same mechanics. Shay is relatively easy to handle, moving seamlessly between attacking, countering and defending with few hiccups. He also has a wide variety of weapons at his disposal for carrying out missions, giving you the ability to engage your target in a tense sword dual, or pop them with a pistol Indiana Jones-style. While you're still required to work within certain limits to achieve full synchronization (‘take no damage' and ‘don't be detected’ are popular examples), they aren't mandatory, and are often worth skipping to try new and creative means of eliminating your enemies.

A story yearning to be told

To fill in the blank between AC3 and AC4, Rogue features some of our favorite characters and explains how they're all connected. In doing so, it closes out questions fans have been dying to know the answers to. What happened to the Assassins in North America that made their former mentor Achilles become a hermit? What would Adewale say if he met Edward's Templar son? What wacky shenanigans did Ben Franklin get up to in France and--quick guess--did Arno show up? Rogue finally answers all of these questions, but sometimes the result isn't pretty.

Shay can also participate in a vast array of different side quests, which come in every flavor, from citizen-saving to narwhal-stabbing. Here you'll find the near-absurd level of collectibles the series is famous for, as well as brain-teasing fort-infiltrations (taking the form of gang HQ raids) that have made prominent appearances in previous titles. Perhaps most importantly, Rogue features a return of the refined naval combat so beloved in in Assassin's Creed: Black Flag, and it's just as strong here. The fast-firing puckle-gun and oil barrels (which, rather than acting as floating bombs, set the ocean's surface on fire) add an additional twist to the mechanic, and it's easy to while away the hours just taking down riverside forts and engaging in epic sea battles.

The game's modern-day storyline adds something else worthwhile, in the form of lore clarification. Playing as the same genetic memory researcher and hacker extraordinaire who starred in Black Flag's modern segments, you can search for notes scattered throughout Abstergo Entertainment headquarters, and in Rogue these touch on lore never before noted in the games. There's a special focus on information covered on the AC Initiates website, which is good, because the info there is as critical to understanding the whole story as it is hard to keep track of in-game. For fans who love the AC games, but don't want to spend hours poring over side material, these bits of data in Rogue are a boon to understanding what the heck is going on in the AC universe... particularly in regard to the re-emerging modern-day Assassins. Since information on the Initiates has popped up in Assassin's Creed Unity, this is undoubtedly the start of a trend, and checking out this info in Rogue is invaluable for those not already in the know.

Where the modern-day story delivers in some interesting ways however, the central tale of Shay Cormac falls flat. In theory the story of the Assassin-Templar conflict from the other side - seen through the eyes of a man who has witnessed the Brotherhood's dark side - should be electrifying. Unfortunately, Shay's story is structured in a way that heavily favors MacGuffin-hunting over character development, so there's little honest build-up to the moment he (mild spoiler alert!) betrays his Assassin comrades. The catalyst for his choice is certainly large in scale, but the emotional weight of that decision is never truly explored. This creates a scenario where Shay is willing to backstab his only friends and family after a couple hours of thought - suggesting he's not too beat up about it - which makes it hard to sympathize with him. That sadly doesn't change over the course of the game either; even though Shay mentions feeling guilty, those words don't translate into action or real consideration of what's going on.

The rest of the cast fares little better, as Rogue sports a revolving door of characters you barely get to interact with, making it hard to care about any of them. That notably excludes returning characters, but it’s largely due to the fact that we already love them based on previous encounters. Had they appeared exclusively in Rogue, their portrayal wouldn't evoke much emotion. Ultimately, Rogue takes what could have been a heart-wrenching journey of self-discovery and makes it into something lackluster and uninteresting. Given that Assassin's Creed is at its best when it's tearing your heart out through your tear ducts (admit it, you misted up during the prison scene in Black Flag), this situation is a big disappointment.

Even on a more superficial level, looking at questions of polish and game length, Rogue ultimately falters. The largely smooth free-running mechanic, for instance, is occasionally upset by Shay's inability to find a climbing handhold until the third attempt in the same spot. He'll also get hooked on two-inch bumps in the earth, or won't be able to start a new mission due to a guard two miles away still looking for him. Add in noticeable typos in the database portion of the game, and it’s sadly apparent that Rogue is missing a layer of finesse, which makes it feel less enjoyable than its predecessor. Perhaps even more egregious is a total length that makes the game feel shrunken. While it's rarely fair to criticize a game for a short run-time alone, Rogue contains half the content of its predecessor - six main mission sequences to Black Flag's 12 of equal length. Given that Rogue borrows so heavily from Black Flag, this disparity in play-time makes Rogue feel more like glorified DLC than a sequel, despite the retail price-tag.

Combat and an expansive side-quest system repurposed from Black Flag have a strong showing in Rogue, and the way this installment channels the franchise's intimidating lore will be helpful for fans trying to catch up. However, Rogue is ultimately hobbled by its lacklustre story, short length, and all-pervading sense of been-there-done-that. I'd take Edward over Shay any day. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go play Black Flag again. For real this time.

More Info

Release date: Nov 11 2014 - PS3, Xbox 360 (US)
Available Platforms: PS3, Xbox 360
Genre: Action
Franchise: Assassin's Creed
ESRB Rating:
Mature: Blood, Strong Language, Violence

While walking in the shoes of a Templar sounds promising, Assassin's Creed Rogue's dull story, uninspired characters, and largely recycled visuals offer little the franchise hasn't already done better.

This game was reviewed on PS3.

27 comments

  • Toophat82 - November 15, 2014 3:21 p.m.

    LoL how is sticking with gameplay that was a success a bad thing? I mean they did revise the gameplay some and add some new things of course it's not an exact copy and I'm glad they did it because personally when it comes to the gameplay at least something totally new is not always a good thing and if it ain't broke why fix or change it just stick with it and instead continue to build and add on to it. Personally I don't see how a game that has gameplay and style that works along with a new great story can get a bad score or review its a shame because if you play rogue you will find that it's fun with a great story and a gem for last gen consoles. Honestly I own both unity and rogue and rogue is the better of the two for sure. While I still like both games if I had to pick only one rogue would be it but otherwise I thought both were worth it with rogue being great and unity just good ( I own rogue on Xbox 360 and unity on ps4 btw). Lastly I would like to say as far as ubisoft and this series's I think its only gotten better and they done good job with the games considering how fast they crank them out and only issues I have had with ubisoft is with uplay not the games themselves, which I think is their biggest issue that they need to work on keeping it stable and more user friendly otherwise love their games and direction they have gone with AC and Far Cry series. I would like to add btw that if you ever call their customer support they are pretty fast, helpful, and honest about what's happening unlike some other businesses in gaming at least for me it's been that way.......
  • angelusdlion - November 17, 2014 3:28 p.m.

    Because if we want the same game we can play the older ones and not spend 60 bucks every year on near the same thing?
  • Jackonomics2.0 - November 15, 2014 12:41 p.m.

    GG Ubisoft your the new EA
  • HIM - November 15, 2014 5 a.m.

    GamesRadar, get your shit together
  • Divine Paladin - November 15, 2014 1:19 a.m.

    Wait, did you just list repetition as a negative in a series that has had NINE retail releases in five years? I don't recall that having been an issue in any of the previous AC games lately, according to GR. Not exactly a fair complaint to use NOW, and not, say, last year (or in the other repetitive AC game that launched, broken, the same day). But hey, Rogue will still win game of the month over Smash somehow.
  • winner2 - November 16, 2014 6:21 p.m.

    If it does I will flip everything table and non-table in the world
  • Divine Paladin - November 17, 2014 11:50 a.m.

    I'll help in that endeavor.
  • Chrispy_0 - November 14, 2014 10:22 p.m.

    Rogue was advertised since like June, as more of the same (black flag) on Ps3 and Xbox 360. The Fact that that's a negative is a little confusing to me, since the reviewer (as well as anyone who buys this game and knew it existed before November 11th) should have known what they were getting into half a year ago.
  • Darkhawk - November 14, 2014 8:21 a.m.

    A pox on reviews that I disagree with! Seriously, though, folks: there's a reason why we come to Gamesradar, and it's because they have a very good track record for no-bullshit evaluations. If they weren't bugged by the bugs in Unity, but the redundancy of Rogue struck them as worse, then they're probably on to something. Still, as much as I want to run around my beloved Paris, I'll wait for the inevitable Unity sequel that fixes bugs and adds in a few other French cities.
  • Psylockerules - November 13, 2014 4:10 p.m.

    im gutted this looked way more appealing to me compared to Unity, i loved Black flag and this looked like more but on ice
  • jimmisteri1234 - November 14, 2014 8:03 a.m.

    dude i can tell whoever wrote this has fair points but believe me the game is good. yes it does recycle, but the story is awesome about a quarter of the way through and the gameplay is much more revised i think that because of unitys failure everybody is jumping on the hate wagon. plus never read reviews for a game your thinking about playing. its best just to play it and see whether you like it. if your gonna get assassins creed get this one.
  • _--_ - November 13, 2014 11:56 a.m.

    --SHOOT IT IN THE HEAD --BEFORE IT BREEDS AGAIN!!!
  • RSQViper - November 13, 2014 10:38 a.m.

    What I feel this proves (as the scores given echo the community playing the games) is that UbiSoft cannot pull off making 2 games like this at once. Both have underwhelmed.
  • jimmyhill11 - November 13, 2014 9:57 a.m.

    Crying at the prison scene in Black Flag? Is the reviewer for real? That scene epitomised the laughably cackhanded story telling of the Assassins Creed series. I love the AC series but to say its at its best when it tries to engage the heart seems so off the mark that it makes me wonder about the reviewers state of mind. The storytelling in these games is probably their worst element, and one that seems to be deteriorating by the game.
  • winner2 - November 13, 2014 9:31 a.m.

    Sounds like a steam summer sale 2015 or even winter sale 2015 to me. Maybe.
  • larkan - November 13, 2014 7:46 a.m.

    So let's get this straight. Unity is buggy, poor story, and had more of the same. Gets 4/5. Rogue isn't buggy, poor story, and more of the same, gets 2.5/5. Gamesradar logic.
  • barbu-calin - November 13, 2014 7:34 a.m.

    This review is shit. I do agree with some of the points like the fact that the gameplay is mostly unchanged but the story in this game is one of the best i've experienced this year and the characters were not only great but felt human. There are enough new locations to explore and the naval gameplay is really good.
  • CombatWombat101 - November 13, 2014 11:03 a.m.

    "I thought the story was good while the reviewer didn't, so this review sucks."
  • SiphoBosa - November 13, 2014 6:19 a.m.

    "Perhaps most importantly, Rogue features a return of the refined naval combat so beloved in in Assassin's Creed Unity, and it's just as strong here." You guys actually play any of these games or are these reviews mailed into you by the Illuminati ? Smells like you guys are trying to push Unity. Last I checked Unity din;t have any Naval Combat. Last i checked Unity was a buggy mess. Come on guys be real. Yes Rogue is a rehash of black flag with a number of changes and improvement and even on a last gen console I feel it is still all round a better game than Unity. Never did I think I would see the day I believed a GR review was not a review from GR till today. Come on guys. You are better than this.
  • GR_AndyHartup - November 13, 2014 6:25 a.m.

    Shhhhhh... the Illuminati will hear you. And the reference to naval combat in Unity was purely an editing error, which has now been fixed.

Showing 1-20 of 27 comments

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