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    Assassin’s Creed: Rogue

    At the very inception of the Assassin’s Creed franchise was the desire to switch perspective and tell the darker side of a hero’s journey. When creative director Patrice Désilets finished up his latest temporal-tinged swashbuckler Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, he pitched a new direction, namely one that would ditch the titular goody goody Prince in favour of a darker, physically capable protagonist. Inspired by a book he read detailing the travels of Hassan i Sabbah a real life 11th Century Persian missionary who formed a group of Fedayeen assassins in the mountains Désilets side lined Persia’s future king and focused on a character who skulked in the shadows and delivered swift death to a series of powerful targets. Unafraid to toe the line of moral ambiguity, the assassin would be the antithesis of the sanctimonious Prince: a master tactician, a ghost in the wind, a killer.

    However, it was too much of a diversion from the Prince Of Persia framework and Désilets, alongside his team in Montreal, decided to take the idea and introduce it to a new game world. But by the time the concept had bloomed into what we now know as Assassin’s Creed, there was a much more straightforward definition of good and evil and the Assassins themselves would represent almost a Jedi-like ancient secret society that spent its time concocting ways to exterminate its dark side arch enemies, the Templars.

    Accordingly, when it came to Assassin’s Creed: Rogue touted to draw to a close the franchise’s run on the hardware that it debuted on Ubisoft has returned to the idea of a ruthless killer not shackled by his conscience by flipping the viewpoint and telling the story of the Templars.

    “This is a game about the shades of grey,” Ubisoft Sofia’s managing director, Ivan Balabanov, tells games™ . “Our fans have been asking to experience the ‘other side’ of the story for a very long time now. We decided that the timing is perfect to introduce the Templar point of view.”

    Assassin’s Creed has always been involved in much more than just simple right-and-wrong confrontation both Orders of Assassins and Templars operate within the realm of profound moral ambiguity. However, previous games have always presented the Assassins as crusaders for righteous justice, often dispatching historical figures that represented some kind of tyrannical regime or (at least with the benefit of revisionist theory) deplorable political belief. In that sense, the villainous
    side of Templars have, for the most part, been painted with broad strokes.

    Balabanov explains how Rogue will further enhance the complexity of motivations on both sides.“For us the developers this was obviously a very exciting challenge,” he says. “At the end of the day, it is quite infrequent to be given the creative freedom to make a game about the point of view of the ‘bad guys’ in a major franchise. I believe that our ambition to portray the Templars as a complex and rational organisation, which upholds high ideals and goals, has been quite successful. But the whole experience of seeing the universe of Assassin’s Creed through the eyes of a Templar will take players on a very different, very dark journey. This will be an experience in its own right, quite different from any previous Assassin’s Creed game. It’s the darkest one yet in the history of the whole franchise.”

    Shay is a monster. We’ve just watched as Assassin’s Creed Rogue’s protagonist has wandered into a crowd of blissfully unaware townsfolk, only to unleash a senseless poison attack that massacres the entire group. He then shoots a dog.

    That’s one of the big differences in Rogue, that, as a Templar, you’re given the freedom to do as much dastardly wrongdoing as you see fit without any game-ending consequences. Indeed, it’s the first time that the series has relished in letting the player utilise an assassin’s toolset to reckless endeavours and the narrative goes to some lengths to justify the tonal shift.

    The story follows Shay Patrick Cormack, a young and promising assassin. A little reckless at the start of the game, Shay at some point undergoes a very painful and traumatic experience during a mission he’s sent to. This makes him reconsider his loyalty to the Brotherhood, and leads to him taking a different journey than that of his brothers. His path leads him to the Templar order, already a grim, grizzled and determined warrior.

    “Rogue takes place after Assassin’s Creed: Black Flag and before Assassin’s Creed III,” confirms Balabanov, confirming Rogue as the final entry in the North American trilogy. “At the end of Black Flag, we see the ascendance of the Brotherhood in the New World. In Assassin’s Creed III, Connor has to rebuild the destroyed North American Brotherhood essentially from scratch. Rogue will tell the story of what happens in between these two periods.”

    This means a lot of Assassin slaughtering will take place between 1751 and 1761. “This period coincides with the Seven Years War, known better in North America as the French-Indian War,” says Ubisoft Sofia’s Balabanov. “Fact of the matter is that this was the first truly global conflict that was fought all over the planet, with Great Britain and France being the main opponents. In Rogue, we’re focusing specifically on the North Atlantic war theatre, but we hint also at the more global nature of the war, too.”

    You might not have heard of Ubisoft Sofia before, but the studio has played a major part in previous Assassin’s Creed games. It developed the PS Vita spin-off Liberation and was one of several studios that contributed to last year’s Black Flag. However, Assassin’s Creed: Rogue promotes the develper for the first time to lead studio on a major home console entry.

    “This has been a really important step forward for us, but at the same time a challenge for which we felt prepared,” enthuses Balabanov. “Making this game is both a great experience, and a big challenge, and we’ve tackled the full development cycle of Rogue simply by giving it the best we’ve got.” Although, he acknowledges that, like with all Assassin’s Creed instalments, Sofia isn’t handling the task alone. “Our working relationship with all the great Rogue teams from Ubisoft Singapore, Quebec, Bucharest, Milan, Chengdu, Shanghai has been nothing short of fantastic and I am convinced that we all, together, are delivering the game our audience expects.”

    But given that Ubisoft prefers to treat its studios as a homogenous voice rather than individual creative outlets producing entirely distinctive work, what does Sofia’s perspective bring to the series in terms of fresh ideas? “Each Studio has its own identity, culture, and style,” Balabanov retorts. “This is a great advantage for us all because it promotes diversity and innovation. While united behind the shared vision of the Assassin’s Creed brand, we have the opportunity to also leave a unique imprint on the game we’re making.”

    However, Balabanov remains coy as to what those changes are exactly. “They are primarily for you to find out in the game itself,” he teases. “They are linked to systemic and emerging gameplay, very emotional story, more stealth, very open mission setup, very diverse environments. In many ways I think that Ubisoft Sofia is probably the  best  choice for the Lead Studio of a game which explores the Templar experience in Assassin’s Creed.”

    But what will disappoint some ans is the news that the game doesn't feature the major design overhaul that its PS4 and Xbox One companion release Unity debuts on those formats. Indeed, where the fleet-footed assassins in Unity have had freerunning, combat and stealth systems completely revamped built from the ground up to take full advantage of the processing power of the new-gen consoles Rogue further refines the mechanics that were introduced way back in the first game.

    “The quantitative leap of th new generation of consoles in terms of CPU and GPU speeds, RAM and VRAM size and speed .. etc..and the software of the engine designed to take advantage of them makes it impossible for these change in the core systems to be transferred or translated to the previous generation,” Balabanov explains.

    In that sense the decision was taken based on what is feasible and what is not on our target platforms.” But that’s not to say that Rogue simply coasts on the achievements of its predecessors. Far from it. In fact, during our playthrough we found that the Templar perspective offered something of a more raw combat experience, less limited than the selection of deadly weaponry accessible to assassins. The two most distinctive examples are an air gun and a mortar, both of which fire a variety of ammunition types to cause different effects on the enemy.

    These include smoke, knock-out and shrapnel bombs, while projectile darts include berserk, which sends targets into a mad frenzy, attacking anyone nearby. The difference between the air gun and the mortar is that the former enables the player to attack from a long range with a greater accuracy, while the latter has a larger impact radius and can hit multiple targets at once. There’s plenty of risk/reward to both approaches and it does add a more straightforward aggressive stance to the standard Assassin’s combat.

    Of course, with a more destructive range of weapons at your disposal, collateral damage is an unfortunate consequence. luckily, given that the Templars are utter bastards, rogue enables you to slaughter innocent civilians without esynchronisation (because, erm, history?). So how does.

    the new suite of abilities and weapons represent the new Templar antihero? We put it to the studio’s managing director: “History is our playground,” reasons Balabanov. “This is one of our mottos. We take, in every Assassin’s Creed game, great pains to recreate the world of the respective era as accurately as possible. From this point of view, yes, firearms are present, because this was the actual reality of the mid 18th Century.

    Shay’s arsenal is also enhanced by new ranged weapons and so is the Morrigan, Shay’s ship. “Nevertheless, we look at these new weapons not as a drawback, but as more opportunities for the players,” he continues. “More weapons, with different strengths and weaknesses, means more choice for the player. In the context of a vast open-world game, this is equivalent of providing the player with the means to find and enjoy her or his style from total offence to complete stealth, from ranged attacks to close combat, and anything in between! The different weapons be they ranged or close combat ones are giving the freedom to everybody to have as much fun as possible, their own way.”

    Balabanov’s outline of the mechanics is simple but not without its merits and there are plenty of other small additions that go unmentioned including the changes to Eagle Vision that shows the direction of the enemy that has spotted you.

    In truth, much of what we’ve played indicates a thorough refinement and expansion of what previous existed, focusing on the unique opportunities that its narrative presents.

    There are questions to be asked, though: Does Rogue tie into Unity's plot? (Answer: It does but not in any way that makes owning both compulsory). What was behind the decision to release two different Assassin’s Creed games on different console generations within the same year? (Answer: to utilise new technology and still push the limitations of old). And why are there penguins in the arctic? (Answer: they’re not penguins but in fact an extinct bird, the great auk). But perhaps an even
    more suitable question than the geographical habitat of flightless birds is why would Ubisoft choose to return to New York after its much-derided appearance in Assassin’s Creed III? “It was essential that we come back to New York in Rogue,”

    explains Balabanov. “Our game is the closing chapter of the North American trilogy for that age. In order to maintain the narrative flow and keep consistency with the greater Assassin’s Creed universe (which includes also all the books, comic books, short movies, etc), Shay needed to go to New York.

    “That said, the city of New York in Rogue is a quite different one compared to New York from ACIII in two major ways,” he continues. “ First, historically. Rogue’s New York is a city 20 years younger than the one explored by Connor. In ACIII, almost a third of the city was burned down in the Great Fire.


    Rogue takes place before the fire so we have completely reconstructed the burned down part. Second, in terms of gameplay, we have completely overhauled the layout and the rooftops of the city. We have added new navigation elements, which allow the players to cross wide streets and to have fast means of going vertically from ground level to the rooftops, or the other way around. This provides for a very fluid and entertaining navigation across the rooftops of the whole city.”

    Rogue’s New York has also a different population. Besides the civilians that wander around aimlessly and cause a furore when you do something mildly unsociable (like kill someone), and the two main opposing sides in the War the British and French Sofia has introduced a new faction: the Gangs most of which are concentrated in New York. These Gangs work closely with the Assassins: you will probably remember that in the previous games the Assassins tended to work closely with the society’s fringe elements: thieves, robbers, courtesans.

    Rogue adheres to this theme, offering a different dynamic to the city. While Assassin’s Creed III had a tighter focus on its narrative, and Black Flag on exploring a massive open world, Rogue will strike a balance between the two. It fills in the gap in the canon that details the fall of the Assassin’s Brotherhood, while also opening up the map on a larger scale (we’re told the world is bigger than Black Flag). We’re only given a glimpse of this: exploring one region of the arctic in Shay’s brig, ploughing through ice fields, fighting other ships (aided by machine gun like Puckle attached to the ship) and hunting narwhales (as you do); while our adventures on land involve liberating an Assassin base. The result seamlessly blends the full naval experience of Black Flag with the series’ more traditional land-based gameplay into a satisfying hybrid. 

    But perhaps the most enticing aspect is the opportunity to embody the ultimate killer; using the skillset of the Assassins for your own Machiavellian schemes and having the opportunity to sow disorder through the world. But there’s one problem in being a bad guy: there’s always a good guy waiting around the corner to take you down.

    “You will be walking in the boots of the Hunter who is after one of the deadliest prey out there,” concludes Balabanov. “As a result, the Assassins in Rogue, once Shay turns to the Templar, will be able to do to you everything you were doing in the previous games: they can air assassinate you, attack you from a haystack or bush, stab you from the cover of the crowd. On the high seas, the assassin ships can attack and board your ship and kill off your crew. To top it off, all of these behaviours are not put in a setpiece scripted setup: they’re fully systemic and unpredictable. Without delving any further, I’d just say: prepare to be surprised!”

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