Even as Ubisoft stumbles over itself to patch its bug-ridden new-gen flagship, Assassin's Creed: Unity, the Assassin's Creed juggernaut rolls ever onwards with yet another instalment, this one for the previous console generation. The good news is, Assassin's Creed: Rogue is a stable, finished game that runs smoothly and looks very nice on the older consoles. The bad news? Aside from a somewhat superficial and slightly gimmicky change in protagonist, it is decidedly lacking in new ideas. It is packed to the brim with the best bits of previous games, but without adding anything new to the pot, players will have to decide if there's enough here to make them fork out for yet another Creed game.
Set in the colonial era of previous titles Assassin's Creed III and Black Flag (not to mention portable spinoff Liberation), the major point of difference for this latest entry is that players are put in the stealthy leather boots of an Assassin-turned-Templar hero, switching the perspective to that of the series' traditional villains. In a blockbuster series like this, it's a fairly daring move to have players take control of one of the bad guys, and the idea is an intriguing tweak on the Assassins Creed mythology. However, in practice Rogue plays out as yet more of the same in a series that has seen eight PS3/360 instalments released in the last seven years, and is in grave danger of wearing out its welcome with all but its most ardent fans.
To its credit, the story, which sees charming Irish ruffian Shay Patrick Cormac undergo a crisis of faith and turn his back on his Assassin background, adds a few much-needed shades of grey to what has up to this point been a very black-and-white, good-vs-evil ongoing narrative. In Rogue, series antagonists the Templars are shown to be much more than the oppressive, freedom-hating control freaks we've seen before. And in fact, as players delve further into the game, information arises that reframes many events from previous games in a much more morally ambiguous light.
While its story may cast an interesting shadow of doubt on the moral high ground of previous games, its plot, unfortunately, is somewhat less ambitious, content to steer players through the standard Macguffin-chasing and errand-running that is fairly typical of modern open world games. Find an item for Benjamin Franklin, lead a naval attack on the French with Captain James Cook, rescue some British soldiers under siege – it all gives the impression of stuff happening when really it's just wheels spinning as you sail and free-run around the game's impressively sized maps.
Even a spectacular-looking set-piece in the streets of Lisbon fails to add much emotional weight to the event that causes Shay's defection to the other side, a moment that should have been a dramatic high point but which fizzles with a lack of build-up or proper exploration.
In any case, the shift in perspective makes little difference to Rogue's gameplay, which handles like a direct sequel to last year's swashbuckling Black Flag. With Shay starting out as an Assassin, his abilities are identical to those of previous protagonists – even though he does lose the iconic hood – and though a new air rifle and grenade launcher add a fresh whiff of gunpowder to players' arsenals, there's so little new gameplay on offer that it's hard to get too excited.
In fact, for better or worse, Rogue plays like a sort-of greatest hits for the Assassin's Creed franchise. The naval exploration and ship-to-ship combat of Black Flag take centre stage again, while features from previous entries in the series return, such as Brotherhood's gang hideouts and Assassin's Creed II's city renovations.
On top of this, Rogue's already extensive content is padded out with masses of collectables sprinkled far and wide around the map, though by now it feels more like work than fun running from map marker to map marker, picking up endless amounts of baubles.
Likewise, the game's crafting and upgrade system, its naval campaign mini-management-sim and its hunting challenges all add more stuff to the game without necessarily making it more fun.
Assassin's Creed's combat is still equal parts flashy and frustrating. Its simple counter-based action is pretty and accessible enough to do the job, but feels more and more in need of an update as the series' contemporaries continue to refine their mechanics. Coming on the heels of the kinetic and fluid fighting in Shadow of Mordor, watching enemies circle harmlessly around Shay as he executes a lengthy kill animation on their comrade seems like a disappointment.
Likewise enemy AI is laughable in restricted areas, with guards that have spotted Shay giving up the chase completely after losing sight of him for just a few seconds. These issues will be familiar to and perhaps forgiven by series regulars, but their persistence is indicative of the lack of innovation across the board.
Though the amount of content on offer in Rogue is as extensive as always, with so much repetition it's hard to wholeheartedly recommend Assassin's Creed: Rogue to anyone but series diehards. Its gameplay is a solid but uninspiring combination of the best bits of Assassin's Creed games past, and while at least its story tries something new, players who have been there done that may find that Rogue feels more like an expansion than a standalone game.