Tag Archive: Shay Cormac


Switching sides

If you told me back in August, when Assassin’s Creed Rogue was first announced, that it would be the superior Assassin’s Creed game coming out this year—even though it’s a last-gen exclusive—I’d have said you went and lost your mind. But, here we are, several months later, and after having played both games to completion, I can attest that this is indeed the case, with Rogue serving as a perfect conclusion to the series’ time spent exploring Europe’s North American colonies in the 18th century.

Assassin’s Creed Rogue takes place between Assassin’s Creed III and IV, set against the backdrop of the Seven Years’ War (known as the French and Indian War here in the U.S.) during the 1750s and tells the story of Shay Cormac, a bright trainee of the Assassin Order whose first solo mission ends in horrific disaster. Furious at the Assassin Mentor, Achilles (yes, the same one who, in his later years, would train Connor Kenway in Assassin’s Creed III), Shay tries to undermine the Order’s future plans. Gunned down by his former associates when he’s caught in the act of stealing key precursor-race documents, Shay is left for dead in a snow bank just off Achilles’ Homestead in Massachusetts, where he’s found by a group of Templars and nursed back to health. Thus his conversion begins: From great Assassin prospect to one of the most effective Templars who ever lived.

I was originally afraid that Rogue would feel boring and would be nothing more than a complete copy-and-paste job with elements from the two games with which it links narratively. Instead, Rogue feels like coming back to an old friend. Familiar but changed in the time since last I saw it, full of new tales, but keeping the same mannerisms that makes it uniquely Assassin’s Creed.

For example, the game’s one proper city, New York, is completely different from what we remember in Assassin’s Creed III, since Rogue is set before the Great Fire of 1776. Buildings that were smoldering husks during Connor’s adventure are now mansions and monuments perfect for climbing. You can also undertake plenty of new side missions here, as well as in the outposts scattered about the brand-new Hudson River Valley region.

One instance of these side missions comes in the form of gangs led by Assassins that plague different areas. By removing the threat of these ruffians, you can increase the wealth of the area they formerly inhabited. Shay then gets a cut of that new wealth via the game’s economy, similar to the system seen in Assassin’s Creed II and Unity. As he helps the colonists prosper, he prospers as well, getting a steady flow of income to his bank account. He can also increase an area’s wealth by using materials collected during ship battles to rebuild important buildings that have seen better days.

Rogue also features Assassination Interceptions. Before, you’d go to a pigeon coop and get a side assassination mission. Now, you’re trying to catch pigeons to prevent assassinations, throwing a wrench into the Assassins’ plans. These defense missions provide a fresh twist on an old formula, since you have a time limit to hunt down would-be killers in a crowd and take them out before the target falls to a hidden blade or a pistol shot.

Also, the waterways that you sail on are new here. While the aforementioned Hudson River Valley and North Atlantic regions provide a topography that looks similar to what you saw in Black Flag, it brings its own set of challenges, such as clearing out French colonies in order to claim them for the glory of the British Empire or discovering a variety of collectibles like war journals and Native American totems.

Besides new outposts and colonies to explore, just the act of sailing itself is fraught with new dangers. Due to the freezing waters, icebergs are a constant threat—but they’re also a lot of fun to destroy as your crew gives a rousing “Huzzah!” with each one that breaks apart. You’ll also often find and recover building materials that were frozen inside the ice, giving you some additional economic motivation in bringing about their destruction. What’s more, sinking icebergs can cause huge waves in the surrounding waters, and by timing your shots right, you can sink nearby enemy gunboats and toss about other small ships to turn the tide of a battle more in your favor by adding that extra element of chaos.

Naval battles also see an upgrade. Not only does Shay have different weapons than Black Flag’s Edward had at his disposal (like flaming oil barrels that do massive damage if you can get an enemy ship to sail into them), but enemy ships are also more willing to go on the offensive now. Several times, it looked like I was going to have my enemy ready for boarding—but they rammed my ship and tried to board me instead. The results were the same, though, with me killing a dozen or so of their crew and stealing their cargo, and privateering as Shay felt a lot more invigorating than pirating with Edward.

Combat hasn’t just changed at sea, though. Shay has some special new weapons that come as a result of crossing paths with some of history’s most influential figures, like Ben Franklin, who bestows upon you a grenade launcher. I know—it sounds ridiculous that a grenade launcher would exist in the 1750s, but documents prove that Franklin had been working on a grenade back then. If you should happen to pilfer the prototype, and combine it with another new weapon in your Air Rifle, then history would be none the wiser. Admittedly, the grenade launcher is a bit overpowered and quickly able to whittle down crowds of enemy forces with just a few well-placed shots, but it’s also a lot of fun—I ended up using it more as an ace in the hole than something I’d frequently carry into battle.

Beyond the pleasant gameplay tweaks, Shay’s story is easily one of the most enjoyable we’ve seen from the series. With the large gap in history between Assassin’s Creed III and IV, Rogue avoids being backed into the corner that most interquels have to deal with, where the game has to start and end—no matter what—at a certain point in order to keep continuity in place. It also neatly ties up a few loose ends, especially in regards to a huge chunk of Haytham Kenway’s story.

Shay also proves himself as one of the strongest characters in Assassin’s Creed lore, and he almost instantly became a personal favorite for me. His constant struggles with his conscience—he’s often racked with guilt for leaving his former friends—shows a doubtful, remorseful side we rarely see from any series protagonist. The strong supporting cast of both Assassins and Templars only makes Shay a more well-rounded character, since he interacts with each in different ways—whether it’s the Templar George Munro, to whom Shay feels he owes his life (and he kind of does) or the contempt he shows the stuck-up French-Canadian Assassin Louis-Joseph Gaultier. In fact, I enjoyed Shay’s tale so much, and it offered such an intriguing glimpse into the other side of the Assassin-Templar war, that I was more than happy to pledge allegiance to the Templars when all was said and done.

It wasn’t just Shay’s point of view that told the Templar side of the story, however. The real-world sequences return in Rogue, once again having you play the role of an Abstergo Entertainment employee in Montreal. When you first access Shay’s story, it unleashes a virus that slams the building into lockdown. Only by bringing the computers back online, little by little, can you access more of Shay’s tale, and as you hack your way through a brand-new series of inventive and fun puzzles, you’ll learn more about the history of the Templars and what they think of the Assassins.

Even with these gameplay tweaks and the enjoyability of Shay’s story, it needs to be said that Rogue is a far from a perfect experience. In terms of narrative, Shay’s story is the shortest adventure in Assassin’s Creed, lasting only six Sequences. This puts a huge crimp on pacing—by the end of the game, Shay’s just chasing down all his former associates, one mission right after another, with little to no buildup. His dialogue’s also hit-or-miss: At some points, he’ll provide memorable, poignant lines, but in other spots, he’ll deliver cheesy catchphrases over and over again like a 1980s B-movie action star (I swear, if he said, “I make my own luck” one more time…).

Also, some glitches forced me to restart several main story and side missions. Often, assassination targets would spawn in (or behind) a wall, so I couldn’t reach them. I’d have to kill myself to desynchronize and then pick the mission back up from a checkpoint. Doing this once or twice always did the trick, but it was just the idea that I had to start entire sections of a mission over because the game became unplayable at points. Long load times and the occasional bit of lag also had me in constant fear that the game would crash at any moment. Unlike Unity, which did crash half a dozen times while I played it and also required several mission restarts, Rogue never completely locked up, at least.

Rogue also lacks a lot of the replayability we’ve seen in more recent Assassin’s Creed titles. There’s no multiplayer to speak of, competitive or cooperative, so once you collect all the items and complete all the side missions, there’s really not much else to do. As unpopular as it proved to be (I personally liked it, but I admit to being in a minority), at least the competitive multiplayer of previous last-gen entries offered something to bring you back for more.

Despite the rushed nature of the narrative and the semi-frequent technical glitches, I still found Rogue to be a far more pleasurable experience than I anticipated. It does just enough to put its own stamp on the franchise while also giving us critical story details in order to tie up loose ends between Assassin’s Creed III and IV. It acts as the perfect swan song for the franchise on the last generation of consoles, putting a neat-and-tidy bow on the Colonial Era Trilogy.

Developer: Ubisoft Sofia • Publisher: Ubisoft • ESRB: M – Mature • Release Date: 11.11.14
8.5
The perfect Assassin’s Creed swan song on last-gen, Rogue offers perhaps the best protagonist the series has ever seen—even if the gameplay will be too familiar for the liking of some.
The Good Shay’s adventure is a perfect conclusion to Assassin’s Creed’s time in Colonial America.
The Bad Crams a lot of story into a short time, which hurts narrative pacing terribly.
The Ugly The shaggy, porno-esque goatee Shay sports before turning Templar.
Assassin’s Creed Rogue is available on Xbox 360 and PS3 and is coming to PC in 2015. Primary version reviewed was for Xbox 360. A retail copy was provided by Ubisoft for the benefit of this review.

50 Shades of Shay

With so little information out there right now about Assassin’s Creed Rogue, I admit I was very worried about what I’d see when I finally got to play it. I was convinced that last-gen games couldn’t offer up as enjoyable an experience as their new-gen counterparts. But if Rogue proves to be the swan song for Assassin’s Creed on Xbox 360 and PS3, there seems to be no better title to possibly do it with.

Over the course of about four hours, I was able to play Sequences 3 and 5 in Rogue, where we first get to see Shay Cormac fall in with the Templars, who would tempt him away from the Assassin Brotherhood. They show him a different way of doing things—a possibly better way of doing things—and then we see his meteoric rise up through their ranks.

During these two sequences, what I found most interesting was watching how Shay reacted to how the Templars went about fighting the war, how he questioned his own motivations, and even second-guessed orders from Haytham Kenway, the Templar Grandmaster of North America at the time. This small cross-section of gameplay made me realize this was much more than a simple revenge story.

Shay has the potential to be one of the deepest, most complex protagonists we’ve seen from the series, because he’s constantly fighting a war within himself—as well as in, and around, colonial New York City. The underlying themes of “How far would you be willing to go to feel safe?” and “How much does freedom cost?” were also constantly on display each time Shay had one of those integral moments of doubt, making him highly relatable given the current temperature of world affairs.

I was also pleasantly surprised by the gameplay. When I first heard that the game was set in New York City again, there was definitely some trepidation that we’d see a lot of copied and pasted elements from Assassin’s Creed III. And, yes, the layout of the city’s roads seem to be similar to what we saw then, but because this game takes place 20 years before the bulk of Connor’s story, it’s a very different New York—one that’s not been touched yet by the Great Fire of 1776. This means new buildings to climb and new things to see, even if some will definitely serve as callbacks to previous games.

Speaking of the time period, though, I think the thing that excites me the most about Rogue is that, although you’re not playing as a Kenway, the game really seems to serve as the bridge for Assassin’s Creed III and IV, filling in key gaps in the story and tying up loose ends. Since it comes after those two games, though, it’s taking the best elements of both of them and mashing them together.

The sailing is just as good as ever, and the idea that you can now be boarded while traversing the high seas adds a brand-new dynamic to the North Atlantic and Hudson River Valley that Edward Kenway’s Caribbean in Black Flag didn’t have. Shay’s Fleet is also very different from Edward’s because while Shay is fighting the Assassin-Templar War, the Seven Years’ War is going on around him, and he can send his ships into the naval conflict of the war and actually have a more direct say in a huge historical event instead of just sailing for more coin.

Some old ideas also return in new ways in Rogue. A new economy system has been instituted so that as Shay liberates more districts from enemy control, he’ll see more money flow into his bank account. He can also spend money to fix up key buildings in and around New York to promote further development of his own wealth, all in the hopes of not only making his own life better, but hopefully better for the people he hopes to protect in the Colonies.

Rogue also brings new weapons. Besides iconic stuff like dual hidden blades and an assortment of swords from the time period, Shay will meet up with his old friend Ben Franklin, who’s working on a grenade prototype that Shay can attach and launch from his rifle. This is, surprisingly, historically accurate—Franklin did make a grenade prototype that never saw mass production. And maybe that’s because Shay was running around, using it for Templar plots instead!

We also see the return of the Stalker enemy type; they were prevalent in Assassin’s Creed: Revelations and would dress in civilian garb and try to sneak up on and attack Ezio. Similarly here, Shay’s stalkers won’t just hide in plain sight but also in outhouses and bushes to try to get the drop on him when he least expects it.

Despite my early fears about Assassin’s Creed Rogue, this short preview demo allayed much of my worries. As soon as I picked up the controller and started running around New York and then sailed out on the high seas while listening to some classic sea shanties sung by my crew, it felt like I was coming home to an old friend. But while there’s more than enough here to make Assassin’s Creed Rogue feel extremely familiar, there’s also just enough new stuff to keep you on your toes. Couple that with Shay’s compelling story, and Rogue does more than enough to remind us that last-gen isn’t quite dead yet.