Assassin's Creed Unity
Platforms: Playstation 4, Xbox One, PC
Developer: Ubisoft Montreal
Walking through Paris on a stormy day in Assassin’s Creed Unity, I turn to notice the epic Notre Dame Cathedral painstakingly modelled and placed for me to climb and explore. In this moment, I’m reminded of why I play Assassin’s Creed; I love history. It is still a game, though, and as for the gameplay itself, there have been features added, features lost, and an all-around overhaul of much of the system. With so much to cover, let’s get straight into it!
Mysterious murders just seem to follow protagonist Arno Dorian around. His Assassin father was murdered when he was a child and the Templar who raised him is then murdered soon after he reaches adulthood. He decides to investigate his Assassin roots to get revenge, all the while pining for Elise, the daughter of the Templar who took him in. It sounds strange but that’s secret societies for you. This mostly takes place in Paris during the French Revolution, a point in history rife with violence, uncertainty, and influential figures.
The first thing to know about Unity is that it is absolutely gorgeous. This is not to say that previous AC games weren’t beautiful but complete switch to the current generation is immediately apparent. The breathtaking panoramic views when synchronising the map are now backed up by minute details at street level.
As part of this detail, not only is the architecture perfect, the city is positively brimming with activity. It’s rare to find a spot on the ground where there aren’t people going about their business (or protesting as part of the upheaval). This all adds to the feeling of anonymity that an assassin should have.
Mission structures have been drastically altered, offering more options for hopeful assassins to decide how they want to play. You can create multiple kinds of distractions using the large crowds or find hidden access points to buildings. Using a trial and error can establish which plan will actually work best in each situation but the challenge is there. If you feel you want to walk brazenly into an assassination and try to take on every guard, you can do so.
For those who choose to rush in, it might not go as well as it has in the past. Combat has been changed to move away from the counter-kill dependency of the past. No longer can you grab the attention of 20 guards and expect to get away clean, particularly in the more difficult sections of the city where the guards are better trained. It’s best to parry your opponent’s moves quickly and go on the offensive, all while keeping an eye on any of his buddies in case they ready their guns. Unity rewards stealth above all else because now that’s the only way to get a hassle free kill.
Now, because stealth has become so much more important, it makes sense that Ubisoft has finally given us a crouch and quiet walk feature. This is really handy indoors as you duck behind furniture before taking out guards. The crouch is a little bit fiddly at times, sadly, so it could use a little more work before being the assassin’s best friend.
The parkour aspect has received attention too, with the introduction of free running down a building. Honestly, despite spending time trapped atop tall buildings like a kitten stuck in a tree in previous games, I didn’t think this was a priority. Now I’m surprised by how much I use it. Arno’s movements are more than just about getting around now as well. Sometimes he’ll add a special turn or hold while climbing and jumping, making the parkour seem that much more authentic.
Although I’m not into the co-op play, I can see why others enjoy it. I’m the sort of person who plays games to limit contact with other people and thankfully, there’s no real need to play the co-op missions if you don’t want to. The best rewards out of these missions are some pieces of gear and laughing at the failure of others.
So there’s plenty to love about Unity. On the other hands, there are some major hiccups that warrant discussion.
The first of these is the fact that Unity shipped with an enormous amount of bugs, the most horrific of which affect PC gamers. I play on PS4 but even the consoles are not immune. The bugs I experienced include, but are not limited to: frame rate issues, NPCs randomly spawning onscreen, getting stuck in strange spots, and oddly jumpy camera angles. Many of the game-breaking bugs have now been patched but, really, Ubisoft should have tested it more thoroughly before release. Some bugs are to be expected in such a complex game but this was over the line. Audiences don’t tend to appreciate paying full price to beta test a game.
It would be pointless to give the game a low score just because of this. These problems are fixable and there’s no point in saying, “I’ll never play it,” when patches exist. A huge aspect of scoring for me is how much fun I have playing a game and Unity is fun. The problems are reflected in my score but a kneejerk reaction is unnecessary when I know there is a good game at the core of it.
Essentially, I think some of these problems could have been avoided by cutting down on the side content. There are four types of chests in Unity: ordinary ones anyone can open; red ones that require you to build up a lockpicking skill; blue ones that require you play the companion app on a smartphone; and gold ones linked to your Assassin’s Creed Initiate profile. This is insane. I abhor map clutter and would usually collect everything in a game but this time I just filtered the icons I viewed, sometimes picking up a nearby chest here and there. I didn’t buy a console game to play an app on a small screen and I can’t think of anyone who would be happy with that.
Then there are just those confusing things that it seems no one gave any hard thought to in development. For the first time, you can duck into a lot of buildings as you run throughout the city. This is a lot of fun but it doesn’t really make sense that you jump into someone’s house while they are there and no one really kicks up a fuss. It also doesn’t make sense to have shopkeepers stand out on the street when you are able to walk into buildings. These shops sell a huge amount of armour, weaponry, and consumables – where are they supposed to keep it all?
This staggering amount of gear available for purchase and customisation means that your Arno can play to different strengths and look quite unique. This is excellent, for the most part. I like to focus on stealth but still have a reasonable amount of health should I engage in combat and I can now purchase armour specifically for that. What I don’t need is the ability to dye Arno’s clothes with a huge palette of colours or change every piece of his armour individually. I grew out of playing dress-up many years ago. I only want that level of customisation in a pure role-playing game, not an action-adventure title. It just distracts from the stabbing!
The final upsetting thing for me was that although the setting screamed France, the voice acting did not. I don’t care that the Animus (the technology used to view the memories of ancestors) is supposed to be translating the words for you, as explained by Ubisoft. Having a variety of English accents just made the whole thing confusing. I ended up switching the language to French with English subtitles and enjoyed it far more.
I do want to point out that much of this didn’t affect how much I enjoyed the game too much. It simply reflects the fact that Unity needed more development time. Ubisoft may have set their sights too high by aiming to release a new Assassin’s Creed title every year (which obviously ended up being two along with Assassin’s Creed Rogue).
Is Unity worth playing? I say yes. It’s easy to go on and on about the bugs but that doesn’t change the fact that the game itself is enjoyable. Ubisoft are tripping over themselves to apologise and must realise by now that they have made a mistake by releasing too early. If they haven’t, it could spell more trouble down the line. After all, it’s not the end of the world if a game is delayed as long as the finished product is good.
- Stunning visuals
- More options for free running
- Multiple ways to carry out assassination missions
- Bugs indicate game needed more development/testing time
- Story wasn’t as intertwined with the setting as hoped
- Too many tie-in products and ill-thought out ideas