“ASSASSIN’S CREED UNITY isn’t the best in the franchise. It’s certainly an ambitious title – as all AC games tend to be – but it falls through with a middling plot and limp-wristed narrative. Glitches, bugs, and framerate issues plague an otherwise fairly good looking game. “
Assassin’s Creed Unity
Platform(s): PC, PS4, Xbox One
Release Date: November 11th, 2014
Developer: Ubisoft Montreal
Somehow Ubisoft has seen fit to unleash not one, but two, new Assassin’s Creed games this year. Current-gen adopters will have a chance to check out that new engine tech with Assassin’s Creed Unity. Set in Paris during the revolution, UNITY strives for a more personal story rather than the bubbling politics of turn of the century France. However, for better or worse, it remains as true an Assassin’s Creed as ever.
What do you in Unity? Why, the same things you have done in all the games to this point – spasmodically vaulting over roofs, shoving through crowds of NPCs, and thrusting sharp objects into people. You’ll climb the highest towers and press B to sync your map. Then you’ll jump into a stack of hay from a ball-shriveling height. Since docking the ship from Black Flag, you’ll spend your time dashing from roof to roof. Periodically you’ll scream at your controller. You’ll open a million chests.
The mechanics haven’t changed much. Holding Right Trigger puts Arno into a kind of high profile mode in which he’ll auto-climb according to the direction you press with the L stick. When enemies surround you, you’re automatically placed into a combat mode. Tap out combos and parries with well-timed button presses to stay alive and defeat the opposition. The stealth gets a slight boost with a last location mechanic presenting a ghost to draw out soldiers if they get briefly catch you skulking about. Pretty routine, yeah? If you’ve played an AC in the past, then you’re more than equipped to handle Unity.
Though, surprisingly, Unity‘s difficulty has been bumped up a few notches. Or at least it seems to me. Maybe it’s because the combat feels slower or maybe the button inputs have been a bit laggy. It could just be me sucking, too. But the soldiers are dangerous with blade and gun. Stealth or running are usually your best options.
Ubisoft has also made one very important tweak to the parkour controls. The addition of dedicated buttons for moving up and down is a blessing. This means that if you want to climb or leap up to a higher point just hold RT and A. However, should you want to quickly move towards the ground, hold B with the trigger and you’ll drop to ledges and pathways that won’t kill you. This is an incredibly welcome addition. Accidental death leaps are mitigated somewhat by using the down parkour mechanics. Mostly.
When it works, you feel like a master assassin. When it doesn’t, it brings you to a frustrating nightmarish world of controlling smashing fury. You’ll still find that many times that whatever process which govern movement gets tripped up as Arno either stumbles into walls or simply refuses to budge – usually while getting shot.
Mission structure doesn’t deviate much from what you’ve done in past games. It feels a bit more lenient at times which is a relief when Arno freaks out. Tailing, lifting marks, and assassinating are the bulk of quests. This go around, the devs attempted to open up the major assassination missions a bit with side objectives that can ease your task.
Completing these – along with the bonus objectives – grant more EXP and unlock new gear. There’s also a number of side objectives when you want to get away from the story a bit. The detective missions in particular were mostly fun. I’d love to see more of these in future games but more involved. There’s a tons of collectibles littered about. You know the score.
A welcome addition has been the co-op multiplayer. Up to 4 players take control of their version of Arno – complete with levels and customized gear – into one mission. These are separate from the main campaign but reward fresh EXP, money, and more importantly fancier duds. It’s not exactly groundbreaking but the missions serve a nice distraction and can be quite engaging. The removal of the competitive can and mouse MP from other Creeds may disappoint fans, but I’m sure they’ll warm up to the co-op. It’s done pretty well.
The framing device around Unity places you into a now public version of the Animus – that weird DNA sequencing device – called Helix. I guess Abstergo has perfected the project that they were working on in Black Flag and has gone retail with it. Helix is basically an entertainment gadget that you use to experience your genetic past. Since Desmond sacrificed himself in AC III, the story team has more or less broken the wall between the real and game worlds. I believe Black Flag even mentioned Ubisoft as an in-game developer.
At any rate, when you first boot up Helix you’re presented a screen with a number of genetic gaming experiences. However, it’s one big tease as upon completing the first “unlocked” sequence – a medieval Templar mission – you’re immediately contacted by a mysterious hacker group. It’s the Assassin’s and they want to recruit you – some bumfuck gamer – into their war. Somehow, you’re playing the game is helping them find the next space Jesus who will thwart the Templars. Cheese aside, my initial response to the presentation of multiple and hopefully playable sequences was one of joy. I thought Ubisoft somehow Shyamalaned us by just showing off the Arno portions and saved a big surprise for the rest.
Nope. It was just set up for why the and how the Assassins are contacting you. Though, this set up is perfect for DLC. At least the presentation was a bit refreshing but I’m personally getting tired of the whole deal about what’s happening in the “present time.”
The real story takes place during the trials and turmoil of the French Revolution. You star as Arno – scion to an high-ranking Assassin – who gets adopted when his father is slayed. However, his new father is a Templar. When he’s taken out by a mysterious entity, Arno is blamed for the death. We go into much more story spoilers but you probably already know how it goes. Arno is drafted into the Assassins and he uses his new friends to avenge both his real and adopted dads. Along the way you meet prominent French figures… and even kill a few of them.
You never feel connected to the larger events happening around Arno. The whole revolution vibe appears in flavor text and newspaper pick-ups but isn’t prominently featured in the actual story. It’s used more as colorful dressing to make it seem that that more is at stake. The feel of the city and her boiling populace is visible through Ubisoft’s wonderful environmental designers and artists but that’s it – all looks but no substance.
While Unity‘s story isn’t confusing, the overall narrative direction for the series has become very unclear. Arno is a bland character – nothing like the aloof but determined Ezio or even Edward’s devil-may-care attitude – set onto a remarkable backdrop. Even the characters who surround him seem more interesting. Arno and his adventure isn’t particularly intriguing against the frame of the revolution. It would have been interesting to see how the Templars and Assassins shaped Paris during this tumultuous era. Instead, we’re given a personal revenge story that falls flat. I will say the acting is pretty great all around and you can sort of believe some the ridiculousness of what’s going on.
There’s a secondary thread about Templars breaking apart and forming competing factions featuring Arno’s on-off girlfriend that I find more interesting. I hear Assassin’s Creed Rogue finally takes players on the Templar path, and that has me more excited than another Assassin themed romp. Especially when you’re never really clear about why they’re doing what they’re doing. You kill Templars and their lackeys because they oppose Assassins, somehow.
At least we’re told they’re badguys. Both sides aren’t very redeeming under microscope. I’ve long forgotten the reason that initiated the secret war between the Assassins and Templar orders. Something something powerful ancient artifacts forgotten by alien/gods, something something control over humanity, something something stab that guy or whatever. This is a series with plotstipation in need of an enema – one to wash out all the shit that weighs it down. I’d even be fine if they just completely dumped everything about aliens and the animus entirely and just focus on telling compelling historical slash-fic.
Oh, and you might be wondering about these images featuring a WWII era Paris. There are brief moments when the Helix console glitches out as the Abstergo agents attempt to trace your signal. Basically, your Assassin hacker friends throw you into buggy areas that you must race through to avoid detection. These are pretty cool moments that last too short and come too few. I really liked the idea of this system that hunted you relentlessly and forced you into bizarre mixed time frames. Maybe we’ll see more of this in the future.
Assassin’s Creed Unity, at times, looks absolutely stunning. But when pushed beyond what it’s capable, the visuals turn to quite sickly. I’ve not played the PC or PS4 versions but on the Xbox One it takes a massive hit to both framerate and resolution. Those enormous crowds are certainly impressive yet put in action and Unity dips into sub 20 FPS. It’s blurry mess and can look just awful.
None of it impacts the game that much. It’s just disheartening for what is a supposedly AAA game and highly praised studio with hundreds of coders, artists, script writers, and testers to release something that just isn’t on par – or better than what has been released. We’ve been promised so many great visuals from lots of devs and nothing has really had that much of impact so far.
Cutscenes, however, are rendered nicely and presented without much hitching. And the voice work along with most audio is solid. But, the real star is Paris – as the big cities such as Rome were in past games. Everything from the famous buildings, like the Louvre and Cathédrale Notre Dame, to the darkes alleys and even the sewers are expertly crafted to be as realistic as possible. You still feel compelled to climb to the highest point and take it all in. It won’t replace and actual trip to France, anytime, but the vistas are as close as you’ll get. If Assassin’s Creed does one thing incredibly well, it’s bring their worlds to life. This is Ubisoft at its best.
Assassin’s Creed as a franchise is a ship without a sail. I cannot divine what Ubisoft has in store for the series. There’s plenty to mine from history, after all. But the narrative has gotten so convoluted, and the gameplay has become stale. The novelty of parkour action combined stealth combat has worn dull. Perhaps the series needs to take a rest for a bit.
After all this, I still applaud Ubisoft. Assassin’s Creed Unity and indeed most off the series have been ambitious, massive projects. The research and writing remain some of the best out there and the technical coding required to create these games is nearly unmatched. But their ambition fails when you have yearly releases. And releases that feel old the moment you put in the disc. There are no more surprises – gameplay or plot. You get tired of playing what boils down to the same game over and over. How many times can will players put up with it is the real question. While I still mostly like them I’m quickly tiring of the yearly schedule. Fans will still love a lot of what Unity has to offer but I’m unsure how much even the most diehard can endure.
ASSASSIN’S CREED UNITY is available for Xbox One, PS4, and PC.