The PlayStation 4 launched in India in December 2013, and the Xbox One followed in September 2014. Globally, both consoles started selling a little over a year ago, and most new games have been releasing for both, the new generation of hardware as well as the PlayStation 3 and the Xbox 360. One year down the line though, we're starting to see some more established franchises break away from the previous generation hardware.
One of the biggest titles to do this is Assassin's Creed. Ubisoft's series has grown in popularity and become a big draw, so when it was announced that the latest game in the series would release only on the PS4, Xbox One and PC, skipping the older consoles, many were disappointed. Post release though, looking at the scale and detail that has gone into Assassin's Creed: Unity, most agreed that it would've have been near impossible to replicate the experience on older consoles.
But there was a concession made for people with older consoles by releasing another game, titled Assassin's Creed: Rogue, for the PS3 and the Xbox 360.
Both games were released at around the same time, but Ubisoft focused on distributing review copies of the next-generation title, perhaps not wanting to divide attention between its two offerings. In our review of the Assassin's Creed: Unity, we noted that the game is beautiful and that the large crowds make the game very immersive.
We also pointed out to technical issues in the game, and bugs which ranged from annoying to the utterly game breaking. Things reached a stage where Ubisoft actually announced that it will give free downloadable content to everyone who bought the game, and anyone who bought a season pass for the game's updates got to choose a free game from Ubisoft.
Recently, we got a PS3 copy of Assassin's Creed: Rogue, and after finishing the main story it was clear that the two games could not have been more different. Played back to back the differences between the two games appear very starkly. It raises some real concerns about the future of the Assassin's Creed franchise as well, because frankly, Rogue is the better game, even though it was clearly the B-side in this year's Assassin's Creed release.
In terms of story and narrative, neither game really captures the highs of either Assassin's Creed II, or Assassin's Creed 4: Black Flag. But where your motivations in Unity seem unclear at best, at least Rogue is a little more interesting as it sets you about hunting down assassins. That's because this game gives you the Templar perspective in the war between the Assassin's and the Templars, and that is a nice touch.
And while Unity looks amazing with its beautifully detailed streets of Paris, the game lacks polish. Not in terms of its visuals - those have been buffed to an oily sheen - but rather in letting the player have fun.
This was a problem with the first Assassin's Creed game as well - it launched amidst a lot of hype, and the historical aspects of the game were put together perfectly - but the actual gameplay was often unintuitive. The controls needed to be fine-tuned, and as a result, the game lacked flow. Add to this the somewhat serious tone of the series and you ended up with a very interesting game that did not live up to its potential.
Last year's Black Flag on the other hand was a fine tuned delight that was willing to take some liberties with the core notion of what an Assassin's Creed game is. We spent entire days playing this game where our character never stepped foot on dry land at all. It might have been called Assassin's Creed, but the majority of our sessions were spent in sailing the seas and hunting down the Spanish. And the English. And whales. We might have gotten a little carried away with the whole cut-down-everything-that-moves spirit of things.
Unity goes back to formula even as it tries to dazzle you with bright lights and crowded alleys in Paris. In contrast, Rogue takes place in the dark North Atlantic, and largely repurposes the naval combat of Black Flag - to great effect. At the same time, putting you in a Templar's shoes was a much needed step in keeping the series fresh and it drives home an important point - the series is getting very repetitive, and annual releases are not helping things along.
While we enjoyed Rogue far more than Victory, there's no denying that both games are cashing in - just in very different ways. Rogue is a very thorough retread of the wonderful Black Flag, and this results in a very enjoyable game that lacks much innovation or improvement. Instead of releasing it as an expansion to Black Flag however, Ubisoft decided to release it as a completely new game.
On the other hand, Unity was released full of bugs that were slowly fixed - but what can't be fixed is how flat the game feels. Tweaks to combat barely even feel incremental, while the stolid narrative of the game feels almost stultifying. Between the failed innovation of Unity and the unimaginative offering of Rogue, we're left to worry that Assassin's Creed has run its course.
With the next game possibly releasing in 2015, and possibly set in Victorian England, Ubisoft doesn't have much time to fix its game, but we certainly hope that the series will be able to find its soul again.