Saturday, November 29, 2014

#76: Assassin's Creed: Rogue: A Change in Perspective

All the Shin Megami Tensei games on my queue have been completed, for now. I think it is time to get back to basics with a true Press Start to Discuss column. Fortunately for me, Ubisoft has seen fit to continue their pattern of yearly Assassin's Creed releases. I do not know exactly what it is about that franchise, but it strikes the right balance between interesting game mechanics and noticeable flaws that it makes for extremely fascinating discussion, in my opinion. There are always lessons, both good and bad, to be learned from them. Now that Assassin's Creed: Rogue has been released, this week will be dedicated to analyzing it in my signature style. But before we begin, I would like to make clear that I am assume some level of general knowledge regarding the Assassin's Creed franchise. Further, this article will remain spoiler-free, since the game is still very new. Having said that:
One of the central premise of Assassin's Creed: Rogue is that it twists the typical dynamic of the franchise, where players typically take the role of a notable Assassin against the Templar Order. Rather, in this instance, the player character is someone who is trained as an Assassin. However, this character, Shay Patrick Cormack, later abandoned the Assassin Brotherhood after a series of traumatic events, joining the ranks of the Templars. Though parts of the game feels like any other Assassin's Creed adventure, particularly Black Flag, there are a number of ways mechanics are altered such that the player can feel what it is like to be a Templar, going against trained Assassins (aka Player Characters). It is these mechanical twists that I wish to discuss, because they provide the basis for how Rogue differentiates itself.

One of the first, and most obvious, way in which it does that is through the ambushes that are found throughout the open world. When exploring many of the major settlements in the game, like New York, players may begin to hear whispers from somewhere nearby. This is an indicator that an enemy is lying in wait for an ambush. Turning on Eagle Vision during this time will display a compass similar to the one from previous Assassin's Creed games' multiplayer modes. The compass points to the direction of the would-be predator. Getting closer to the enemy will result in the compass's arrow getting wider, and likewise in the reverse direction. Given this knowledge, the player must choose between staying away or trying getting the drop on their wannabe assassin. Failure to do either of these things will result in a successful ambush, and the loss in a great deal of health. Ultimately, this mechanic helps players understand just what it is like for Templars to walk around, constantly in fear of an assassin ambush. Traveling around openly becomes more difficult, and players need to be vigilant and aware of their surroundings.

The second inversion of mechanics exists in the sea-faring mechanics, which came right from Assassin's Creed: Black Flag largely unchanged. As was the case in Black Flag, performing illegal actions at sea will increase the player's notoriety, GTA-style. However, instead of bounty hunters going on the offensive, it will be Assassin vessels that pursue the player. Rather than engage in ship-to-ship combat, Assassin ships will ram into the player's ship, The Morgan, and attempt to board it. Though these enemies are just the same types of foes the player would fight on the high seas, they are given the distinct advantage. This is because the player is robbed of the initiative they would normally be afforded in a boarding section, unable to fire guns and pick foes off before the boarding process. Furthermore, the enemy stuns the player's crew during the attack with smoke, delaying the counterattack. The end result is a greatly increased chance for loss of crew members, heightening the danger of attacking ships in the open. As a whole, this offers a taste for what it is like to be on the other side of the boarding process.

Another interesting way that Rogue shifts perspectives on old mechanics is the Assassin Intercept side-missions. In previous Assassin's Creed games, starting with Assassin's Creed 2, there were a number of pigeon coops scattered throughout the open world. The courier pigeons within had messages which the player could use to activate optional assassination side-quests. Rogue changes this paradigm slightly. Since the protagonist is a Templar, not an Assassin, he has no reason to hunt down these targets. However, he has much reason to keep them alive. When he comes across a courier pigeon, he can capture it and steal the message written on it. At that point, the Assassination Intercept begins. Once the would-be target is located, Shay has a certain amount of time to kill all of the Assassins going after him/her before they begin their attack. If he fails, he will need to resort to defending the target as they are bombarded by all the remaining Assassins. Again, this is interesting because it takes an old mechanic and allows the player to experience it from a new viewpoint.

Even the assassinations play out differently than they usually do. In most Assassin's Creed games, the player will take a target unaware. In story, the intended victim is not aware that they are currently being pursued until the player reveals themselves. That way, the onus is on the player to plan out their approach so that they kill the given target and advance the plot. Rogue tends not to do this. More often than not, the Assassins that the protagonist goes after are well aware that they are about to be attacked soon. As a result, these encounters feel more like boss battles than anything. Each target has an ambush waiting for Shay, dependent on their expertise. It is up to Shay to overcome these ambushes, completing his objective.

And that ultimately ties into why Assassin's Creed: Rogue is so fascinating. The designers were not content to just allow players to go through the motions, just for the other faction. Rather, the mechanics are tailored to the concept of an Assassin going "rogue" and joining the Templars. It explores how the same tasks are different when taken from the another perspective. Even though the controls and overall framework are still the same as they were in Black Flag, the differences are enough such that the feel of Rogue is wholly unique in the context of the franchise. It is one of the more interesting explorations of alternate viewpoints that I have seen. While it will not attract new fans to the franchise, Assassin's Creed: Rogue does well to offer a fresh take on old concepts.

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