Here we are, a month or so on from the release of the first Assassin’s Creed game for current gen consoles only. With it came the expectations of vast cities to explore, graphics that will make your eyes bleed and perhaps some new gameplay mechanics to help freshen up the aging franchise, harnessing the new power under the hood of the PS4. In reality, what we got was a game so broken it was, in some cases, rendered unplayable. In other cases it gave children nightmares with the infamous disappearing face skin glitch. Simply put, it should never have been released in the state it was in and raises the question again – “Has the internet and the ability to add patches to games made game developers lazy?” – The answer to that is for another time. To the matter at hand, we decided to review Assassin’s Creed Unity after all the patches (four a last count) as to experience the ‘finished’ game.
Assassin’s Creed: Unity sees you transported to 17th century Paris to fill the shoes of one cheeky chappy called Arno Dorian, who was framed for the death of his loved ones farther, and while serving time in prison, discovered he is an assassin. It’s not the most engrossing story in the world, but to be fair, it’s a lot simpler than previous Assassin’s games and is more enjoyable because of it – basically because it makes sense. Although there are links and reference to previous games, you don’t need to have played any of them to get the most out of the Unity story.
When the game begins, you have the whole of Paris to explore which is a daunting prospect given the sheer size of the city. Thankfully, the ‘Pakour’ rooftop running has been re-invented making travelling a much more entertaining prospect than simply pressing R2 and up from previous games. Unity has as many open buildings ripe for exploring as there are closed off ones. Jumping from rooftop to rooftop, dropping through an open window, running up stairs, jumping out another window onto a tree, then continuing your non-stop run is exhilarating. That is when you’re not stuck that is. You see, despite the many updates, Unity still feels unfinished. There are times when you jump from one object to another and your character will float there. Or when you’ve stepped up on a bench, there are times when you can’t simply walk off it, you have to jump on to something else. When free running as described above, everything works fantastically, but when trying to navigate smaller areas, it gets a bit tricky and frustrating. I guess, Arno just seems a bit too (and there is no better word to use than) “sticky”.
There are lots of other changes to Unity, the biggest being RPG elements. As you progress in the game you can purchase new skills to upgrade your character. These include new or improved Assassins skills or a myriad of weaponry ranging from swords, staffs, and heavy axes to pistol and rifles. Previous games just had our hero wielding swords and guns so the addition of long range melee weapons is a welcome touch. All of this contibutes to a more fluid and streamlined combat system that has an overhaul since Black Flag.
Compared to any other Assassin’s Creed game, there are a lot more side activities to partake in. Of course you have your treasure chest to find and collectables to collect, but Unity throws in some new events. Anything from street crime, which are randomly generated events where you have to stop a pickpocket or intimidate some thugs, to carrying out some small Assassin missions, buying properties and then all the way up to murder mysteries to solve. That’s right, there are now events that allow you to gather evidence, look for clues and solve a crime. Are these necessary? Probably not. They almost seem like Ubisoft had some spare memory to use up and decided to put in some “whodunit” mini games. Irrelevance aside, it is nice to see there is something with a little more depth added to the blanket of icons that crowd the Parisian map.
So that’s the game in a nutshell, but lets look in more detail at the mechanics of Assassin’s Creed Unity. After all, you know what you’re going to get with an AC game, but have the improvements Ubisoft have made for the first current gen outing worked to make Unity a better game than previous Entries?
Well, the answer is yes and no. Lets take the free running for example. The rooftops of Paris seem to lend themselves to a more dynamic environment for sprinting and running over. The new animations work very well, making Arno more fluid than any other Assassins before him. The real problems arise when you’re on the horizontal plane. When running through the streets, or tight alleyways or even aiming for an open window, you get a sense of repulsion from the environment. You would rather not do this as the super sticky Arno will climb on pretty much anything other than the thing you’re aiming for. Open windows are the worst culprit – you can spend a good couple of minutes jumping from one side of the window frame to another before the game realises you actually want to go through the damn thing. That aside generally the Parkour feels refreshed and fluid, thanks in part to the fact that you can press X in mid run to scale shear walls or make bigger jumps.
Assassinations have also been given a bit of an overhaul and hark back to Assassin’s Creed 2 and the series’ roots if anything. When you’re tasked with assassinating a target, you have to plan your attack, size up your target and then execute your assassination in anyway you see fit. Using the immense crowds as cover, utilising the rafters of a cathedral, creating a distraction – there are lots of options for you to consider. If you mess up and get spotted by guards, the tactics quickly change and new options become available, including the ‘Last Known Position’, a mechanic that we have seen in Splinter Cell games. Here, a shadow is cast of your last position making guards inspect that area, leaving you enough time to sneak around them and take them out with very little fuss. The Assassinations are great, just few and far between.
As for the bugs, well during my playthrough, I didn’t experience any of the horrific face disappearing glitches that many early adopters had found – perhaps the patches Ubisoft have released since have done their job. However, I still found the jumping to be a bit floaty. There are no real sense of gravity making some parts of the game feel like a demo rather than a finished product.
So here we have a new Assassin’s Creed with a new engine, on a new console, only to be left with overly familiar gameplay. The likes of Black Flag could be forgiven as Ubisoft introduced the open waters and the joys of piloting your very own pirate ship. Returning to dry land seems like a step backward, despite all the new tech involved. The game is filled with the same old follow missions, steal missions, and a bazillion collectables all of which get stale rather quickly. The assassinations help maintain your interest, while the free running (despite its many bugs) is entertaining. The game world is wonderful, and your jaw will just keep on dropping every time you see a crowd of hundreds of people. The landmarks Ubisoft have squeezed in are beautiful especially the Eiffel Tower, all of which require thought when climbing.
Despite all the shortcomings, Unity is a fun game to play and there is nothing fundamentally wrong with it. It’s just, you know, a bit “Meh”. For me, I just can’t help feel this is a missed opportunity. This is now the seventh major Assassin’s Creed game and nothing really has changed since the first. The pinnicle of the series was Black Flag, but now Ubisoft seems to be going backwards, which can’t be good. Perhaps now it’s time to really revolutionize the Assassin’s Creed brand before it’s too late. Viva la révolution as they say in France.
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