When Ubisoft announced Assassin's Creed Rogue earlier today, they set an interesting precedent for the new generation while simultaneously hedging their bets. After all, this is no mere port. It's an entirely new chapter in the Assassin's Creed series that is exclusive to the Xbox 360 and the PlayStation 3.
In that, it's also fairly unusual. Publishers are much more apt to release one game across multiple consoles, with the previous-generation version quietly being farmed out to a contracting studio. Even Splinter Cell: Double Agent, which featured markedly different plotlines and level design depending upon generation, was still released under the same umbrella with roughly the same locations. The closest comparison I can find to Assassin's Creed Rogue is Call of Duty 2: Big Red One, which was released in place of the mainline Call of Duty on the PlayStation 2 and Xbox back in 2005.
Even there, however, there are differences. Big Red One was meant to be a standalone game; there to serve as a stopgap more than anything else. Assassin's Creed Rogue, however, is being positioned on more even terms with Assassin's Creed Unity. In essence, Ubisoft is treating the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 like they have the PlayStation Vita, opting to release a separate story that can potentially be ported at a later date. And considering that the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 still enjoy large install bases, it's not a terrible move. It allows Ubisoft to hedge their bets and please both the holdouts and early adopters, and it dramatically improves that odds of superfans opting to pick up more than just one version.
Of course, it's no coincidence that Ubisoft is opting to "complete the North American saga" with this release. Rogue will undoubtedly feature plenty of new locations, but Ubisoft will also be able to surreptitiously recycle older areas like New York. It will also enable them to reuse various assets, such as Assassin's Creed III's expansive forests and fields. That said, Assassin's Creed Rogue isn't a complete retread. Among other things, it will feature a Templar protagonist this time around, thus pitting players against the game's eponymous assassins.
For Ubisoft, this is a win-win-win situation. Assassin's Creed Rogue has an opportunity to make a much bigger splash than any mere port, and it avoids the stigma that comes with being a portable spinoff of a big budget franchise. Looking ahead, it also opens the door for a remastered release, giving Ubisoft the opportunity to double dip on the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One in 2015. The only real risk for Ubisoft is that it further saturates a market already awash in Assassin's Creed.
Cunning as it may be though, it's tough to say whether other publishers will follow in Ubisoft's footsteps. The Xbox 360 and PS3 are apt to grow less viable with each passing year, and few publishers have the resources to spend on multiple releases for a AAA franchise in a single year. Assassin's Creed is also unique in that it has a vested interest in weaving together a vast, interconnected universe across multiple games, with the majority of them featuring unique protagonists. It's actually not so different from the Marvelverse in that each game is a standalone story that fits neatly into a greater whole.
Ultimately, regardless of how successful it ends up being, Assassin's Creed Rogue fulfills many roles for Ubisoft, serving as a cost-effective way to extend the franchise while catering to those who have yet to make the leap to the next generation. Tiresome as it is to see Ubisoft go back to the well year after year, they get full marks for creativity.