Assassin’s Creed: Rebellion review

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Developer, Publisher: Ubisoft Entertainment

Released: September 26th, 2018

Reviewed on: Razer Phone, Android 7.0

Available via: Google Play

Fall tends to be a good time for video game releases, and the mobile market is not an exception. Ubisoft have added a surprising hit to their Assassin’s Creed franchise with the recently released Rebellion title, which is unexpected after the disappointing Identity. Rebellion not only stands out as a much better title, but also does so in the least expected format possible that brings a strong game design to the table. Presented as a side scroller, Assassin’s Creed: Rebellion is a free-to-play title that you might overlook because of its visual design, but it packs in extensive depth to make for an interesting experience. I never expected to like its cartoonish graphics style, nor the way it presents the experience, but Rebellion grows on you after a few play sessions. Among the spin-offs, this is easily the best Assassin’s Creed game I’ve played, and the 2D design works surprisingly well here. Despite its free price tag, Rebellion packs in a lot of high quality features to like, and leaves little to be disappointed in, although expect to see common features found in free mobile titles.

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Playing Assassin’s Creed: Rebellion, I often get reminded of another Ubisoft’s attempt to bring the franchise into 2D, namely the averagely received Chronicles spin-offs. The gameplay basics integrate nicely into the side-scrolling plane, which also makes the controls much easier for mobile devices to handle. Rebellion plays very smoothly, yet it’s still Assassin’s Creed at its core, offering the array of gameplay styles in each level that made the series so popular. Without the hassle of 3D controls on a touchscreen, the game is very absorbing, and allows players to relax with a simplistic turn-based layout that still brings across a fun experience. The gameplay alone could carry it, but there’s also much more to this Assassin’s Creed, with layers of complexity laid on top of the stellar game execution. Like or hate its design direction, Rebellion works great as a tie-in to the franchise by executing its ideals very well.

The gameplay offers many of the same systems you’d find in Rebellion’s bigger brothers, minus the open world, and is executed through turn-based action. By tapping on different parts of the level, you move a character through a zone usually filled with parkour and enemies, and combat is executed by clicking various functions. The movement is kept simple, with no real controls to speak off, and works really well on a touch screen device. The game does most things for the player, but there is enough involvement required that you wouldn’t grow bored of it. Levels require a certain level of planning, depending on character stats or enemy placement, and can be executed in a variety of ways. If you happen to have a stealth specialist, enemies can be slipped by unnoticed, and heroes with a strong stat for parkour excel at movement.

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The latter makes up an interesting gameplay idea here, whereby you move by tapping between level sections and the camera zooms in to offer a close up view on one of your characters. From there, the game presents various actions for the player to take, being combat or parkour. These are commonly found in each section, although parkour is done rather nicely, with quality climbing animations to back it up. As aforementioned, the way you’d complete a level entirely depends on the character roaster you’ve brought along, and certain ones may unlock further specific options for completing a level. Gameplay really shines with really simple controls here, and works exceptionally well on any touch screen device.
Characters specialize in diverse attributes, and the game allows you to bring 3 along at a time, which is extremely helpful in missions requiring a blend of a few gameplay types. Stealth heroes have the option to sneak past foes to entirely avoid combat, although that doesn’t work in every environment. Agile heroes have more options for movement, which also opens up new paths, but their combat skill is much weaker. Across a few character types, you get a well fleshed-out roaster that allows for some variety in playthroughs. Then of course you have silent assassins or open fighters, which are definitely essential for any level. Assassin’s Creed: Rebellion works at its best when it gives you all these diverse options, and they make gameplay truly exceptional with a lot of depth. The good thing is, mission design is built on variety all the time, which keeps the game engaging despite slow progression.

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There’s about 45 recruits to acquire in total, so the game is definitely aiming for longevity here. Assassins are obtained through DNA fragments that are either rewarded or can be purchased in the in-game store. Because these rewards are randomized, however, players are never in the know at what they’re getting, and acquiring some of the rarer heroes will take an extensive playthrough. Rebellion is fairly generous with rewards, and gives out DNA cubes or fragments on a consistent basis. A daily reward system and extra objectives make sure you get access to most heroes without purchasing currency. It’s on the fairer side of free-to-play game design, which is fairly impressive of Ubisoft.
You’re given a decently large map split across five regions, although there is no open world to speak of. Each area offers a few storyline missions, as well as a variety of smaller side objectives allocated between legacy, standard and loot missions. It’s worth doing all as there’s a sizeable gap between missions in the main story, and they also reward useful items besides a chunk of experience. Legacy missions award DNA fragments used to unlock characters, and some of these you’d grind through fairly often if you’re aiming to level up your heroes throughout the game. There’s a certain level of grind tied into here, but missions are fun and stellar gameplay makes it all worthwhile. After completing a mission, the game judges players on their walkthrough by awarding stars, which is something we’ve frequently come to see out of a vast range of mobile titles. Here, stars are determined by the remaining characters in the roaster after a mission. Have all three heroes standing, and you get full completion; less and the game takes away a star per character. While not the best, this system works pretty well here, encouraging players to seek alternate routes for the sake of keeping a character alive, and it is always exhilarating to scrape by with all three characters. As a downside of the free-to-play experience, missions require intel to be able to play them, which is a limited resource at player disposal. Your HQ generates additional intel, and I’d also usually get outlevelled sooner than I’d be stopped from playing missions, so it’s quite difficult to completely run out of intel, but having that system there is bound to cause some frustration for invested players.

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Players are able to scout the level in advance

On the downtime between missions, you’d typically spend time in your Assassin stronghold building new materials and upgrading heroes’ stats. There’s also a base management element that allows players to construct various rooms for different purposes. It is designed very similar to XCOM: Enemy Within (which you can also enjoy on Android by the way), where you have a choice of empty rooms to construct in. Assigning characters allows these to generate resources in real-time, and thankfully doesn’t lock you from using the same heroes on missions. Upgrading them is also important, as missions increase in difficulty over time, and you certainly wouldn’t want to leave heroes without attention. The levelling system works similar to that in Assassin’s Creed: Origins, and requires a certain amount of side content in between the main story missions. Here in Rebellion, it makes sense though, as free mobile games tend to include slower progression systems.
Just like in XCOM, certain rooms in your headquarters allow to produce weapons, armor and necessary resources, which make your heroes stronger as you upgrade them with better equipment. The system works pretty well, whereby you assign one of the heroes to craft a piece of gear, and it still lets you use them in missions at the same time. There’s a diverse selection of gear to craft, distributed between different types, and as your brotherhood levels up, more options become accessible for the player. Rebellion is designed to have a drawn out progression, and getting everything to the max will certainly take a while, although the process is fairly rewarding. With a rapidly increasing difficulty curve, players are best to use all the systems the game offers to upgrade heroes as much as possible, which will keep the experience frustration-free. However, there are still a few complaints to leverage with the pacing, like when I’d be three levels below the next story mission, and quickly running out of side missions I could take on. This forces a bit of a grind with previous challenges, but they award good experience and materials.

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Finally, the visual style is a surprising hit I didn’t expect to like, blending cartoonish character models against the more realistic background detail behind the environments, which overall make for a visually nice picture. It’s interesting how Ubisoft modified existing characters from mainstream Assassin’s Creed titles into a different form, and although hero models look borderline silly, there’s enough to like about the visual style and movement. Animations run very smoothly, and Rebellion is definitely among the best platformers on mobile systems. The developers have done a good job at replicating the excellent movement of the series into a smaller format, and seeing characters leap through the air in 2D is just as fun as watching them in 3D. Surprisingly, the background detail is pretty outstanding to look at, featuring well-drawn detail and packing in many distinct objects, with fore- and backgrounds blending together expertly. For a game that packs cell-shaded looks, this is certainly impressive.
Ubisoft created an interesting take on the series by foregoing the burden of 3D modelling and tough controls on mobile devices, instead choosing a much simpler but effective design concept. Assassin’s Creed: Rebellion may look far-removed from its mainstream siblings, but shares a lot of similarity within the depth of its systems. Simplistic controls ensure the game is easy to play on a touch screen, but gameplay offers a lot of depth nonetheless to keep the experience engaging. There’s a lot more to Rebellion than seems at a first glance, and its rewarding gameplay will keep players hooked into its deep progression system. Assassin’s Creed: Rebellion is an excellent platformer and integrates the mainline series gameplay well into its framework, delivering an absorbing experience throughout its runtime.

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