Posted on November 17, 2014, Phil Hornshaw Assassin’s Creed Rogue Review: Even Blacker Flag
The easiest and most accurate way to describe Assassin’s Creed: Rogue is to call it Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flag II.
And actually, that might be a bit unfair to other sequels with numbered titles that have done more with the formula than Rogue has. Rouge pretty much just more Black Flag, but with snow this time, and the wherewithal on Ubisoft’s part to finally do away with those god-awful eavesdropping missions.
That’s not all bad, since Black Flag is one of the deeper and more polished Assassin’s Creed games, but it also demonstrates the major issues with the franchise. Rogue’s premise is to put players not in control of the usual Assassins, but of a member of their sworn enemies, the (usually) totalitarian Templars. Rogue was the opportunity to flesh out the Assassin’s Creed world, to maybe open up some lines of philosophical debate between the two factions, and to add character to the usual gallery of future stabbing victims players take down.
Instead, Rogue winds up just being more of the same, more of the same, more of the same.
Assassin’s Creed: Rogue
Platform: PlayStation 3 (Reviewed), Xbox 360, PC (Early 2015)
Developer: Ubisoft Sofia
Release Date: Nov. 11, 2014
It’s not as though Rogue is without an interesting core idea — the franchise is full of assassins who have eventually turned coat and joined the Templars, and in this case it focuses on Shay Cormac, a man whose own moral compass seems to run opposite that of his Assassin mentor, Achilles. Fans will remember the old man version of Achilles from Assassin’s Creed 3 as the guy who trains that game’s protagonist, Connor. Here, Shay and his mentor clash on philosophy a bit, but their real schism comes from methods, and the loss of innocent life.
It’s about a third into the game when Shay actually breaks with the Assassin Order after a mission goes particularly badly. He winds up in New York, eventually falls in with some Templars, and he does what he did for the Assassins — follows orders.
This is the first Assassin’s Creed game that really puts an emphasis on the Assassin-versus-Templar lore the games have laid down, rather than dropping players into an active historical backdrop. In fact, the Seven Years’ War between the French and English in the Americas barely gets any traction as a setting at all. Instead, Rogue is the story of how the Assassins went from kicking ass with Edward Kenway and pirates in AC4 to being a broken, nearly extinct order in AC3 (which is how they connect chronologically).
But none of this winds up being all that interesting, despite Shay himself being a pretty well-fleshed out AC protagonist.
Rogue never actually starts to explore the differences in ideologies in the Templars and Assassins and how a man as seemingly morally straight as Shay could wind up taking on all his former friends. Instead the game just paints the enemy faction with broad brushes — as always — to justify lots of sneaky killings. Usually the Templars are the guys who are willing to off a few civilians to meet their goals, and who think peace is more important than freedom (and want to build a New World Order to achieve it). But in order to make Shay relatable, it’s now the Assassins who seem willing to exact some collateral damage, who throw in with criminals as a means to an end, and who come off as generally not-good. Shay never has to really ask himself what he believes and what he’s attempting to achieve, because the other guys keep doing bad guy things. That’s not an exploration of characters and ideas, it’s just narrative gymnastics so you still get to feel like a hero.
Rogue was a chance for Assassin’s Creed to really revitalize itself as a franchise with interesting ideas, but it’s a pretty wide miss on that opportunity.