Assassin’s Creed Rogue

I'm going to NYC next week, so here's a picture of "me" close to where my hotel will be a few hundred years later.

I’m going to NYC next week, so here’s a picture of “me” close to where my hotel will be a few hundred years later.

Another month, another Assassin’s Creed – this time, I played through the last-gen exclusive Rogue, which is basically Ubisoft saying “okay, next current-gen got a shiny new title, here’s something we hastily cobbled together from assets taken from Black Flag and Unity so even the last Xbox 360 or PS3 user will want to make the switch”.

It all sounds pretty bad, and it occasionally happens to look pretty bad as well: asset recycling is abundant, bugs are aplenty and I had the game crash twice during my play through. The lack of optimization is staggering; on some of the more hectic missions I experienced strange frame rate drops all the way down to zero for several seconds, and that with a mandatory hard drive installation. Why that installation was even necessary in the first place is beyond me since Black Flag ran perfectly fine without it and it’s more or less the same game.

Yep, it's Black Flag without black flags.

Yep, it’s Black Flag without black flags. Oddly enough, there are absolutely no real pirates in these waters while the south seas were absolutely infested with them.

These technical issues aside I did enjoy my time as a Templar, even though it became pretty clear that Ubisoft didn’t bother much with coming up with an excuse to reskin Black Flag. No matter what the player character is supposed to be, the whole piracy thing is still on, although you’re now sailing under the British flag and the victims are usually French – as opposed to just everyone in Black Flag. Several missions feel like they have been lifted directly from Black Flag in terms of objectives and mechanics with only slight changes to the story. Having completed Black Flag only recently I felt somewhat fatigued by the repetition, but I guess that was to be expected.

One thing that annoyed me a bit was that while the game duly recognized my efforts in the previous games and awarded me with a specific costume for each completed prequel, I still had to go through the tutorial missions like some newbie who’d never played an Assassin’s Creed game before. At this point in the franchise’s lifespan they could really come up with a way to be able to skip all that crap and get right into the meat of the game.

No idea what secondary sequences even are because the completion tracker doesn't seem to list them, but I can't really be arsed to do more.

Something fishy is going on with the completion tracker – the three cyan bars all say 100% while the identical-colored “secondary sequences” count reads 69%. That can’t be right …

Still, the ~28 hours spent on the game weren’t a time I didn’t enjoy. However, I’m happy to leave the Americas trilogy behind and finally get into big cities like Paris and London again. The American cities really weren’t great for climbing with their small buildings and all the samey-looking forest environments just lead to extremely easy and dull climbing puzzles. And seriously: they could have put more effort into designing trees. Having only one tree per climbing mechanic is just lazy.

Since I’m going on holiday to the USA next week I don’t really want to start a big new game before that (and certainly not AC: Unity!) so I don’t know … maybe I’ll throw in Call of Duty Black Ops II since I just noticed I kinda missed that too.

Quest log update: July

Upon turning on my Xbox One today to install the next game on my quest to complete all the (interesting) AAA games I missed over the last years, I was greeted by yet another patch download. Considering how little I used the console since I got it, it’s probably no surprise, but I remember downloading a huge update only recently, so it’s getting a bit on my nerves. What’s even worse is that the update aborts all the time, but it doesn’t automatically try to resume, so I have to check on the console every few minutes. Argh!

Right after finishing the stellar, but technically flawed The Wolf Among Us, the new Batman Arkham Knight game was released. Having played none of the previous Batman titles I was interested enough to at least take a look at Batman Arkham Asylum, a game I had on my shelf for a good two years without even cracking it open. I must admit that I have very little interest in super heroes in general and Batman in particular because I am no longer 12 years old, but after watching a review on the latest game, the combat system looked compelling enough to at least take a look.

Well, what can a say – I didn’t really stop “taking a look” until I reached what I presume is the final boss fight. It’s certainly a better game than I had anticipated – and it’s still looking great despite it’s age – but I must admit the combat system didn’t really click with me. I could fumble and button mash my way to the end, but that’s probably it. Not sure if I’ll bother to try and complete it – even though I really liked the puzzles, I feel like I have seen enough of the game to move on.

Next on the agenda was The Walking Dead including its “400 Days” DLC. Oddly enough the technical issues The Wolf Among Us had weren’t present here at all, although I did run into my fair share of glitches, including an almost game-breaking bug where a door I was supposed to open wasn’t clickable until I replayed the entire scene. My verdict? Doesn’t quite beat The Wolf Among Us in terms of artwork, writing or characters, but it’s certainly an experience worth having. The DLC was nice, but rather short – I wouldn’t have bought it on it’s own, but it was included in the GOTY anyway.

93% completion is way more than I expected to reach.

93% completion is way more than I expected to reach.

Finally I felt ready to tackle the next game in the seemingly endless Assassin’s Creed franchise: Assassin’s Creed IV Black Flag. Having been severely disappointed by the mediocre third installment with it’s hodgepodge of systems, I was pretty certain the next contender would be even less enjoyable, but fortunately for me, that wasn’t the case. Black Flag certainly offers a lot of stuff, but it’s a way more structured offering than the previous game, and most of the systems actually make sense in context of the game. There’s still way too much nonsensical stuff to collect and most of the crap doesn’t even count in terms of achievements – I am looking at you, Animus Fragment! – but the treasure maps are a cool addition and I greatly enjoyed the thrill of exploring shark-infested shipwrecks. For a 360 game, the graphics were excellent, especially after AC3 was a step back in that department, and the music was also really good. One should not forget the fantastic Shanties, of which I got several stuck in my head now, especially “Leave Her, Johnny“.

Despite being not very interested in pirate life in general – again, I’m no longer a kid – I did enjoy the story very much, but the best “addition” was the almost entire lack of WTF moments in the “real world” sequences. Where all games including AC3 had a ludicrous storyline filled with crazy talk about beings of old trying to save humanity from certain doom, almost all of that got tossed out of the window. Instead, the player works for Abstergo Entertainment, a Templar-run company which is clearly a spitting image of Ubisoft, and this setup was much more fun to me than the usual doom-and-gloom setup of the older games. The cameos by certain Assassins during the present-day episodes were greatly appreciated as well, as well as the fantastic end sequence.

Not sure how the game's visuals improve on the Xbox One, but this is certainly not an ugly game.

Not sure how the game’s visuals improve on the Xbox One, but this is certainly not an ugly game.

After about 40 hours of sailing the seven seas, I got to a point where I didn’t care enough about the remaining achievements to continue playing. I loved my time on the Jackdaw, but I’ll take after Edward Kenway and move on.

I’ll need a while to recharge my spirits before the next Assassin’s Creed, which will be Rogue, so the next game to cross off my list will be Ryse: Son of Rome. Despite having the Xbox One for over a year now, I never played anything on it except for Watch_Dogs which is multi-platform anyway and certainly doesn’t look like a next-gen title should. Now I just need to wait for my Xbox One to finally download the update … 1675 megabytes to go, moving at a snail’s pace. Oh well, I guess it’s time for me to relax.

Some more about skipping the Uplay launcher

Update 2013-06-04: Seems this method no longer works after the recent uPlay update. uPlay Games purchased on Steam at least start without user interaction, but the “after game report” is still present.This is very likely a deliberate move by Ubisoft since their precious uPlay platform would be rather pointless if no-one actually had to use it. I’ve looked briefly at the new files but couldn’t find any way to skip the launcher. Damn. And here I was thinking Ubisoft tried to make up for their past mistakes …

A few days ago I wrote a piece on how to skip the annoying Uplay launcher so games “blessed” with it would work with Steam’s Big Picture Mode. At that time, I was only able to test with one game – Far Cry 3 – but came to the conclusion that most, if not all uPlay games would likely work the same way. While I still don’t own more uPlay games on Steam than before, I digged through my collection of retail titles and did some testing on them. Of course, I can’t know for sure how exactly they integrate with Steam, but that should not matter.

First of all, one thing I wanted to try was offline mode. uPlay starts up much, much faster when offline, and unless you really need the online features (or want to play multiplayer), it’s probably a good idea to just stay off the grid. Thankfully, most titles work perfectly well even without uPlay being online, so that’s that.

So here’s what I’ve tested so far:

Anno 2070: Considering this game requires a mouse to play, it’s pretty damn useless in terms of Big Picture Mode, but I had it laying around and tested it anyway. Sadly, it does not work, as the required parameters are not passed on to uPlay. The launcher never enters developer mode as a result.

Assassin’s Creed: Revelations: Does work, but not when starting the game via AssassinsCreedRevelations.exe – instead, one has to run ACRSP.exe (single player) or ACRMP.exe (multi-player) with the developer mode parameters. This might cause issues when the game is run from Steam, but I don’t know that for sure, since I don’t have the game there. Of course, the multi-player executable doesn’t work when offline, but that’s common sense.

Driver: San Francisco: works perfectly well in online+developer mode, but as stated before, it crashed once while offline. The game does check something online in the title screen, which was where the crash happened, but it never occurred again, so it might be only on first boot. Who knows. Obviously, multi-player is disabled while uPlay is offline.

Far Cry 3: I had already tested it in online mode for the first article, but it also works offline. Of course, staying offline means no multi-player.

Heroes of Might & Magic VI: Another game without controller support, so this is just for the record: it works on- and offline. Oddly enough, all uPlay features seemed to function even while offline, but I don’t know enough about the game to verify. I just have it in my collection for whatever reason …

I will do some more testing if I get my hands on more games, but it definitely looks like one can expect this method to work with most Uplay titles.

Update 2013-05-14: According to an user over at CheapAssGamer, Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon also supports this method.

How to bypass the Uplay launcher with Steam’s Big Picture mode

Update 2013-06-04: Seems this method no longer works after the recent uPlay update. uPlay Games purchased on Steam at least start without user interaction, but the “after game report” is still present.This is very likely a deliberate move by Ubisoft since their precious uPlay platform would be rather pointless if no-one actually had to use it. I’ve looked briefly at the new files but couldn’t find any way to skip the launcher. Damn. And here I was thinking Ubisoft tried to make up for their past mistakes …

I love Steam’s “Big Picture” mode. It enables me to have an almost console-like experience on my gaming PC, which is connected to my flat screen TV. With almost all new games sporting controller support, it’s just much more comfortable to play on the couch than in front of my (huge, but still comparatively small) 27″ LED display. Since game prices are way lower on PC as well, I have long ditched my consoles in favor of the “dead” PC platform.

But of course, not all games support Big Picture mode, one of them being FarCry 3. Thanks to Ubisofts stupid “Uplay” launcher, I always have to get up from the couch and click “Play” to actually launch the game, and when I stop playing, I have to close the launcher before even getting back to Steam. Searching the internet didn’t reveal much except for other players complaining about exactly the same issue.

So I started digging around in the Uplay launcher files and found a way to more or less bypass the launcher while still being able to use a legitimate installation. It’s actually very easy once you know how, because apparently, Ubisoft’s developers don’t like to click “Play” every time they launch their own game either.

To clear up any confusion: Please note that this method still requires you to have uPlay installed. The launcher needs to be able to start, so broken uPlay installations will not work! It is also not a way to circumvent the uPlay DRM but merely a workaround so you don’t have to use the mouse to start an uPlay game any more.

Here’s what you have to do:

uplay1

Go to your Steam library and right-click FarCry 3. Select Properties.

uplay2

In the window that opens, select Set Launch Options …

uplay3

In the Launch Options dialog, enter the following …

-uplay_dev_mode -uplay_dev_mode_auto_play -uplay_dev_mode_auto_quit

… and click OK.

uplay4

Start the game via Steam (Big Picture or otherwise) and the Uplay launcher will appear, but instead of having a grey border, it now should sport a reddish one as shown above. The “Play” button will not even show; instead, it’ll boot directly into the game after updating/cloud syncing, and when you quit the game, the launcher will also close without showing the after game report, jumping directly back to Big Picture mode instead.

This should work for all recent Ubisoft releases that use the Uplay launcher, for example, Assassin’s Creed III. If not, please comment below with what other game this method didn’t work.