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Assassin's Creed: The Rebel Collection (Switch) artwork

Assassin's Creed: The Rebel Collection (Switch) review


"Yo ho ho and a bottle of Mountain Dew"


Ubisoft has a reputation for having samey open world games involving climbing towers in order to fill a map up with tons of collectibles and chores. Well, full disclosure: Assassin's Creed Black Flag is my first one, so I can't rate it among the all those other ones, nor even other games in the AC series. So perhaps I am not the best judge if you want to know if the Ubi Method is poorly implemented here, and if it had become too stale by this point. Perhaps I'm too much of an outsider to become jaded by the saminess. Who knows? But as an outsider, I can tell you that it's not a terrible idea.

I know, that's hardly a ringing endorsement. But the reality is that Black Flag feels better than a sum of its parts, so breaking it down into those parts feels like cheapening the game somehow. It is, as the name suggests, an AC game set in the golden age of pirates. You are Edward Kenway, a pirate whose fate becomes intertwined with an eternal war between Templars and Assassins in a story that I don't care about (not a knock on the game, just, well, I don't care). It means you sail a ship throughout the Caribbean, and while on land can run and climb and jump all over the place like some sort of Parkour artist. And you can kill people in lots of random ways (with assassin in the title, what do you expect?). But as you're running and climbing amongst these jungles or historical cities like Havana, you can climb up large churches or observation decks in order to synchronize yourself with your surroundings... which basically means you get a panoramic cutscene along with revealing everything on your map that you can do.

And there's lots to do on that map.

That's where the problem lies with breaking things down. On the one hand, a lot of this stuff feels like boring busy work. You can collect the chests for some money. Or collect anima fragments, which give no in-game reward but tend to require some sort of platforming challenge. Manuscripts are like chests, except guarded by enemies. Messages in a bottle are just lying there. Treasure maps require you to grab the map, then go to the location to dig for treasure (the map will tell you what island to go to, but you have to figure out the crude drawing to find the exact place). Sea shanties require chasing them across obstacles, while Mayan artifacts require solving a ridiculously simple puzzle. You can also pick up mini missions such as an assassin contract to kill someone, raid a warehouse, or help out a Templar. And that's just on land! At sea, you can raid enemy ships, take over forts, go diving for sunken treasure, or hunt whales.

A huge variety, but a lot of it is just going somewhere with minimal interacting. The Mayan puzzles are barely even puzzles. While the anima fragments and sea shanties suggest platforming challenges, so much of the platforming stuff is automated that its more about recognizing the specific routes the game railroads you into rather than the joy of finding your own way. And with combat, your abilities don't really expand after 30-40% of the way through the game, so it can get quite repetitive. That refers to both naval and personal combat, although the naval part at least has a sense of progression with more significant upgrades than Edward alone. Ultimately, exploring the potential of the game eventually stagnates, and in many ways the mechanics of the game can't keep up.

It doesn't help that, because of the wide variety of moves you can do (both in movement and in combat), the controls are heavily simplified. Don't get me wrong, this is better than an absurdly complicated control scheme that makes everything impossible. But it does mean that lots of stuff is automated, which means your pirate is often doing stuff you don't want him to do. I want to run along the path, not up the wall! And combat can sometimes feel like simply pressing Y over and over until you get the prompt to press A...

I know, I'm just complaining. But I liked the game. What gives? Well, part of it is that, because the game just throws so much stuff to do at you, you are free to ignore the boring parts. I'm not going to grab every single chest or anima fragment in the game, but I'll collect them if they're on my way. Diving for treasure is as awful as every other underwater segment of games, so other than the one time I'm forced to in the story, I'll avoid it. I don't care for assassinating, but raiding warehouses was fun: slowly sneaking through the sugarcane fields to eliminate the guards leading to the watchtower, then the guy on the watchtower, then finding the keymaster, then sneaking to the warehouse. Attacking forts is cool, bombarding merchant vessels is fun in moderation. Sure, if I was a completionist I would be aggravated, but why would I force myself to do something that feels like a chore? And since there's so much stuff here, leaving 2/3 of it untouched didn't feel like a waste of space or an unfinished game.

But just as important is the aesthetic appeal. Admittedly, this is something that will vary from person to person, but I feel like Ubisoft got just the right aura. Not in the story, but in how the characters and world feel. The combat FEELS like Flynn-esque swashbuckling. That "Press A to counter" I mentioned? You can use it to stab, but it can also just toss one soldier aside so you can focus on the other for a few moments. There's pistols, of course, but only one shot at a time. So it's an opening to thin the crowd rather than being a shooting game. The timing of your attacks feel like the character is in a pirate movie rather than a videogame.

And if there's an entire army after you? Desperately running and jumping and climbing over everything to escape them is frantic fun, especially if you can knock out one or to along the way by finding a temporary hiding spot. That's when the platforming feels good (well, except when your character doesn't react the way you want him too...); you don't have time to perform pinpoint jumping, so the automation is a relief. Planning a route is irrelevant when the goal is just to run. And the guards WILL catch you if you simply run along the ground, so there's an incentive to escape any way you can. Sure, the game emphasizes stealth and slow, methodical actions, but introducing a little frenzy felt quite fun, in a Jack Sparrow-y way.

Or consider the sailing, which can often be boring (just look at Wind Waker for example). And it's true, there's long periods of downtime. But your crew will sing sea shanties during that time, which is nice. But they won't sing them unless you teach them the songs, and those songs are one of the collectibles. That's cool, a real, tangible benefit to collection beyond upgrades or clothes! And the naval combat is elevated by the chaos surrounding it, especially your crew shouting out orders and suggestions as the wood splinters around you. Then you board a crippled vessel, and it's just as messy, just as chaotic as you would expect. Again, while the mechanics of the game may simply be adequate, the aesthetic feel of the pirate world is spot on.

I suppose that's both a confirmation and condemnation of the Ubisoft method. On the one hand, an open world pirate playground kept me entertained through the entire game, with me able to pick what I liked about it and ignore the rest. But it doesn't leave me eager to play other, similar games, because a lot of the mechanical aspects aren't great. But then again, with the shear number of these games out there, that still leaves a few with a setting I'd like to try. And it doesn't take anything away from the enjoyment I got in this game alone.

3.5/5

mariner's avatar
Community review by mariner (February 24, 2020)

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