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Assassin's Creed: The Rebel Collection

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: Ubisoft
Developer: Ubisoft
Release Date: Dec. 6, 2019

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Switch Review - 'Assassin's Creed: The Rebel Collection'

by Andreas Salmen on Dec. 25, 2019 @ 2:00 a.m. PST

Assassin's Creed: The Rebel Collection includes Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag with all single-player DLCs and Assassin's Creed Rogue.

Buy Assassin's Creed: The Rebel Collection

It's been 12 years since Ubisoft released the first Assassin's Creed game. After several ups and downs during the course of the previous console generation, the franchise finally evolved into more of an RPG experience. If you're a Nintendo Switch owner, the newer titles are unlikely to come to the system anytime soon, so instead, Ubisoft is hard at work to make past titles available on the system with Assassin's Creed: The Rebel Collection.

The first attempt, a port of Assassin's Creed 3 and Liberation, was a little rough around the edges, with sub-par performance and a selection of titles that are decidedly mediocre compared to the rest of the franchise. The newly released The Rebel Collection combines Black Flag and Rogue into one collection and includes DLC, making this a better value proposition. It includes a fan-favorite entry and an often-overlooked but enjoyable adventure that takes a different approach to storytelling than the rest of the bunch. While they run well on the Switch, one can't help but notice that the game design has aged poorly, and the gameplay is still frustrating.

The star of the show in this collection is certainly Black Flag, the last mainline entry on the previous console generation that pretty much ran on everything, including the current-gen PS4, Wii U, and Xbox One. In many ways, it was a departure from the trilogy that preceded it, doubling down on sea traversal and naval combat to essentially create a pirate game — and a pretty decent one at that. Where previous entries confined players to larger city locations, Black Flag takes place on the open sea, with less of an emphasis on larger structures or cities. We take control of Edward Kenway, a pirate who ends up involved in the conflict between the Assassins and Templars that eventually inspires him to join the Assassin brotherhood. It feels like a less serious entry that's more concerned with being a decent pirate game than trying to shoehorn it into confusing layers of lore from prior entries.

The same can be said about Rogue, the often-forgotten entry that succeeded Black Flag on the PS3 and Xbox 360. This game lets players take control of Shay Cormac, an Assassin-turned-Templar, and it finally mixes up the "Assassins are good, Templars are bad" mantra so we can play a decent story that challenges the previous titles' depiction of the central conflict. Slightly annoying Irish accent aside, Rogue is far from the best game of the franchise, but its unique story partially makes up for it.

In addition to the two bigger entries, The Rebel Collection also includes all Black Flag DLC. One is a short and forgettable entry in the Aveline storyline (known from AC: Liberation), and the other is a slightly longer story DLC called Freedom Cry, which follows Adéwalé, a character who's present throughout both Black Flag and Rogue. There is a fair bit of variety here, including arguably two of the most interesting characters and storylines in the franchise to date, but as soon as you get into the gameplay, the differences fade rather quickly.

Apart from storylines and protagonists, there's not much to distinguish the experiences otherwise. DLC aside, both Black Flag and Rogue are very similar in that they focus on ship combat and traversal between smaller islands and spots of civilization. Whereas Black Flag has you as a pirate in the West-Indies, Rogue has you do very similar tasks in the North Atlantic, looking like a cross between AC3 and Black Flag in terms of environments and setup. Rogue gets more city-based action, with much of it taking place in New York, but otherwise, the experience is relatively similar. The AC formula was starting to show its age when both of these titles were initially released, and that's still the case today.

The core of the experience still involves easily scaling buildings to stalk and kill your targets, preferably unnoticed. Add to that the naval combat sections, where we can battle and plunder or sink other ships, and you have roughly explained the biggest parts of the experience. Most of it is fun on paper — at least if the gameplay systems wouldn't frequently intervene in the fun.

The climbing system is as unwieldy as you remember. The world is littered with the same conveniently placed obstacles that are intended to grant easy climbing access, but it's rarely as fluid as it wants to be. When it works, it truly feels great, but it's constantly overshadowed by getting stuck on walls, missing jumps, and other inaccuracies that make climbing feel anything but controlled. You may not be able to climb structures that look easy to scale, your character may decide to not grab things in the vicinity, or he might even jump to his death for no apparent reason. If we were left to our own devices, that certainly would be good enough, but the game frequently puts you into situations where the controls and climbing behavior cause frustrating moments.

Both games remind you of how tedious some of the missions can be. Within the first few hours, both games will put you through missions that require tailing or chasing people on foot and eavesdropping without being detected. Given a climbing system that's often inaccurate and clunky, these missions quickly become annoying and are often failed because your protagonist wouldn't grab, jump, or move in the expected direction — and that's just the tip of the iceberg.

Both games feature the same types of missions over and over, many of which are chases, clearing out outposts, and fetch quests,. The inclusion of ships also naturally includes combat encounters, diving, harpooning, and pillaging. It's not a small list of activities, but they are closely repeated across all games and DLC in this package, so they don't get better over time.

What makes it worse is that the combat is outdated and rarely challenging. Regardless of enemy count, swordplay is always the same choreography of wait, parry, counter, kill. There are no high stakes, no matter the enemy. While kill finisher moves look deadly and brutal, they aren't an adequate payoff if you haven't done anything to earn your victory. There will be instances when you take down a whole fort or city worth of enemies without actually moving more than 10 meters or using more than three buttons. That makes combat a very straightforward mechanic that one can sit through but doesn't need to engage to master. That's a shame, since both games never attempt to pose a challenge. Most of the failed missions don't hinge on a lack of skill, but on a lack of control over what's happening on-screen. A big part of the difficulty is the AI that is either erratic or stupid, ignoring dead comrades or forgetting they just witnessed a murder and returning to their post. You don't have too many options to actually be stealthy (there isn't even a manual crouch option), but that may be more of a blessing than a curse.

Not everything here is bad; it just hasn't aged well. Both games weren't masterpieces when they were released, and they are much less so today. They do have their moments, even if it's just to tell an interesting story in a fictional historical setting. Both entries craft a world that is easy to get lost in. Take your ship across the map, attack and board other ships for our own gain, or investigate a small island we haven't visited before is where both Black Flag and Rogue shine. Setting sail into the sunset, hunting whales or finding pirate treasure feels as close as we have gotten to a good pirate game in the past decade. Everything that these titles do is not specifically known from an Assassin's Creed game, and that's what makes them memorable. There is a lot to explore here, and it feels like an interesting world to exist in. The downside is that there isn't much variety to it after a while, but there certainly is a lot of content.

That's what will ultimately decide whether you'll enjoy Assassin's Creed: The Rebel Collection. It's a collection of solid entries in the franchise, but it comes with its own baggage. If you're fond of the franchise, you probably already know what you're getting into and will likely enjoy these titles on the Switch. If you're new to the franchise, all of the charm, familiarity, and nostalgia will likely be lost on you, and the clunky gameplay systems are going to be frustrating. If you want to take the dive and explore some older titles, this is probably as good a starting point as any, besides the Ezio Trilogy.

Both games are rather excellent ports. All games in the collection are not quite as pretty as the versions on the PS4 and Xbox One, but only marginally so. The graphics show their last-gen origins, but they run fluid at what seems to be a rather high resolution. The game appears very sharp with a few ragged edges, probably due to absent anti-aliasing, both when playing portable and on the TV, making this possibly the ultimate edition to own if you're looking to buy either game. It didn't matter if we were roaming bigger cities, involved in large sea battles, or explored remote islands, the game always performed well and looked good. The Switch also has the portability bonus, so aside from pricing, there isn't a huge reason to pick up the games in any other format. There are a few additions to the Switch iteration, such as motion aim, limited touch-screen support, and HD rumble, but none of that had a huge impact on the way I played.

Assassin's Creed: The Rebel Collection is tough to judge. It combines two of the series' more intriguing entries from the previous console generation into a package that is feature-complete and runs and looks pretty much as well as one can expect from a portable device. That alone is probably all you need to make a decision about whether you'd enjoy it. For better or worse, the included games are the same as they were. Your mileage may vary, but as a fan of the franchise, I was reminded of how dated the mechanics and controls are, so I didn't enjoy my return to the AC universe as much as I'd hoped. They aren't bad games, but they are far from excellent. Overall, there is a lot to do here, but between the amazing and fun moments, the collection interjects a myriad of frustrating, irrelevant, or tedious content. Given what's included, the $40 price tag is fair, and you'll have at least 30-40 hours of gameplay to enjoy.

Score: 6.5/10

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