Being a Templar has its perks.
Sure, the Assassins have a noble cause to fight for and a trillion useless collectibles in the vault, but a life on the run wasn't enough for Shay Patrick Cormac. Thankfully the Templars are equal opportunities employers, meaning that even former enemies get immediate access to the latest military technology (including psychotropic drugs and air rifles) subversive experimental gear and insanely generous expense accounts... on the proviso that they agree to track down and murder all their former associates.
And hang out with Haytham Kenway -- who we've already identified as the coolest character in the entire series bar none -- as a bonus. Frankly you'd be mad not to.
Assassin's Creed Unity may be jumping time periods and console generations this Christmas, but for those who haven't yet invested in a PS4, Xbox One or gaming rig, there's still some unfinished business to take care of.
Cormac, now a card-carrying assassin hunter, gets all the latest kit directly from his new employers. On the sea this translates to a brand new boat, The Morrigan, which is a far cry from the leaky old Jackdaw. It's a top-of-the-line strike vessel designed to evade blockades and punch straight through enemy defences in order to track down fleeing Assassins, equipped with the latest advances in naval warfare.
Front-firing cannonades allow you to pummel targets while presenting a minimal profile, dodging and weaving thanks to the Morrigan's enhanced manoeuvrability. Flammable oil slicks can trap fleeing vessels or set unwary pursuers ablaze, not to mention defend against potential reverse boarding actions, whereas canny commanders can directly target specific weakpoints with the Puckle Gun: a forebear of modern machine guns. They all fit snugly into the familiar naval controls we learned in ACIII and perfected in Black Flag, but the new toys and newfound speed boost make for a much more aggressive and dynamic affair with more options on hand.
Oh, and "punch straight through enemy defences" also wasn't a throwaway line, seeing as the reinforced Ram lets you cleave smaller or damaged vessels in half. You'll need all this high-tech gear, mind, since now the English, French, pirates, Assassins, gangs and even icebergs are fair game if they're stupid enough to stand in the way of the Templars and their increasingly convoluted conspiracy.
Cormac's technological superiority doesn't end once you've traded sea legs for dry land. His silenced air rifle, lifted straight out of the Templar equivalent of Q Branch, fires silently and can be used to deliver an array of darts and underbarrel grenades to distant targets. Sure, some of these darts and bombs explode to cause radial damage, deny areas or create distractions, but the Templars tend to prefer a more insidious approach.
Sleep and berserk darks are the order of the day, then. Cormac an render key targets unconscious or flood entire areas with debilitating gas, moving freely with the aid of a low-tech gas mask. Sleeping targets tell no tales, but can also be brutally remotely murdered by enemies under the influence of Berserk psychotropics, causing a horrible fracas that lets you slip by unnoticed. Again, this new arms race helps to add options to Cormac's arsenal, and thus to our own personal repertoire, which should make for a more varied gameplay experience compared to some of the more linear missions in Assassin's Creed III and IV. Taking down gang hideouts, for example, includes multiple objectives (killing commanders, replacing flags, sabotage etc) and can be completed with a range of stealth, poison, evasion and brutal swordsmanship.
It's important to remember that Shay's hunting the most dangerous game imaginable, however. Assassins. Unlike previous enemies, these new 'stalker' AI archetypes will hunt you right back using all the tricks in the book. They'll hide in bushes for stealthy takedowns and even bushwhack you with aerial pounces, ensuring that you'll need to stay alert and keep one step ahead to avoid being... well, assassinated. Being hit by one of your old favourite special moves won't necessarily kill you outright, instead just dealing an enormous amount of regular damage, but they should make for some exciting cat and mouse encounters.
Will Assassin's Creed: Rogue justify a fourth series entry being released in the same calendar year? Will it advance the story in a satisfying way? It's still too soon to call, but judged on what I played of the Gamescom 2014 build, being bad has serious benefits.