Assassin's Creed: Unity arrives as Ubisoft's first true venture onto the next-generation systems and with it comes a new level of expectation, especially with Assassin's Creed: Rogue releasing at the same time. In many ways it's pleasing to see Ubisoft flex their muscles in this way. Assassin's Creed has been a stand-out franchise for them and with each past iteration (with the exception of Revelations) they have been able to push the boundaries of what gamers can expect both in terms of quality and output. But that notion only applies if the quality can be maintained. People raised questions when Brotherhood came so soon after Assassin's Creed II, but it had more than enough quality to justify its existence. Unity's release in tandem with Rogue is causing more questions to be asked and there are signs that it cannot answer the call as effectively as Brotherhood did in the past.
For this game we are again given a new historical setting and a new protagonist called Arno Dorian. He's a rather rebellious young soul who enjoys living life on the edge in the streets of France. However, when he is accused of murder, he has a fortuitous encounter with an assassin who then becomes his mentor. From there, he sets out to find the real killer and uncovers changes within the Templar order.
It's a decent premise and Arno makes for an adequate protagonist if nothing else, but there is very little about his journey that makes it stand out. And when you add in the present time story arc, it could easily be considered one of the weakest stories to grace the main series Assassin's Creed games. That's not to say it's terrible, it's just very average compared to what we have come to expect from this franchise.
Often the drive to continue through an Assassin's Creed game is two-fold from a story perspective and that was one of the game's strengths. There was often intrigue in the historical events that made you want to push forward and there was also an incentive in the real world that made you want to push forward. When they combined, it was even better and there were moments that were pure genius. In Unity, the story falls short on both fronts.
In truth, the present time story arc has been degenerating in quality since Assassin's Creed: Revelations and while there was a slight resurgence with Black Flag, it's disappointing to see that Assassin's Creed: Unity continues that trend. Hopefully someone within Ubisoft will be able to wrestle control and provide a clear vision for the franchise moving forward, because at the moment it seems like too many people are involved and it's creating a lack of consistency.
Despite the weak story, Assassin's Creed: Unity brings Paris to life in a way that has never been seen before. Special praise needs to be reserved for the artists and developers who worked to create this bustling city in all its glory and the atmosphere is immense. Everything feels so much more real this time around, whether it's the sheer volume of people roaming the streets and taking part in protests or how they behave.
From the amount of detail displayed in this area it's clear that crowds were a real focus for Unity and they will play a big part in your role as an assassin. You can literally get lost in the crowd now because there are hundreds of people and it creates new dynamics and play styles as a result. Standard buildings are also now much more integral to gameplay, with many of them featuring open windows and multiple floors "“ perfect for cutting down time and planning escapes.
This plays in nicely to the revamped assassination missions too, where Arno will use his keen senses to look for opportunities. Now you will be told about the number of guards between you and the target, hidden passages will be alluded to and it helps to make for some more unique assassination attempts. It doesn't always come through all that well, but at least it does try to add a bit more depth to this aspect of the game.
Many other elements feel refined or have been removed and this of course has its pros and cons. For example, combat seems even more simplified in some ways, but more difficult in others. The shift in focus seems to lean towards making it harder to stand and fight, which makes sense given the nature of the game. Other elements, such as movement through crowds, have been removed to cut down on the annoyance of falling over, while skills from multiplayer have crept into the single player "“ disguise being the most obvious.
Climbing is another aspect of the game that feels refined. You are now able to descend much more quickly without having to rely on huge hay stacks and it makes the experience more fluid. However, due to the introduction of more cramped spaces due to homes being more open, you will often find Arno getting stuck trying to jump on chairs and tables and then refusing to get off them quickly. It can be rather comical, but equally annoying if you're trying to chase someone. Either way, this is probably the best the climbing has been so it's only a minor gripe.
It all helps to create a solid gameplay experience, but aside from the scale of the city and the introduction of better interactions with crowds, there are very few ideas that have been introduced to keep the game fresh. Elements such as the ability to change your equipment are nice, but they aren't exactly ground breaking and outside of the standard mission-based activities, you are left with opening chests, solving riddles and finding collectables. Compared to previous games, it feels quite bland.
Perhaps this is due to the big push towards the co-op aspect of the game, but single player is still a huge part of the experience and the co-op isn't good enough or strong enough to detract away from this, especially as it's treated as an aside.
Co-op missions are now more integrated than in the previous two games, where they were glorified multiplayer maps. They are still optional, but at least they now take place in the same location as the main game. It can be fun to partake in joint assassination attempts and it will be interesting to see how this gets developed further in the future. However, it's a shame that the competitive multiplayer has been ditched to make way for this.
Visually, the game is very impressive. Paris looks gorgeous and there is so much ambience. No two places look the same either and that's quite a feat given the sheer size of the playable area. Unfortunately the same can't be said for other aspects of the game. The soundtrack is pretty throwaway, with the only notable points being where tracks from previous games were reused. The same also applies to the voice acting. You will sometimes hear people talking in French, but aside from saying names, all of the main characters and even peons on the street sound as English as can be, with no hint of a French accent. It ruins the illusion a bit to hear someone with a cockney accent shouting at you. At one point, the merchant in the secret Assassin's guild said "greetings citizen", it just seems lazy.
Assassin's Creed: Unity is a game that feels both underwhelming and overwhelming at the same time. The sheer scale and detail of Paris, from the monuments, streets and people is a marvel, with crowd dynamics playing out in such a natural way. It makes playing as Arno more enjoyable and with improved climbing, everything is more fluid. Co-op also adds a bit more depth than previous games by not feeling like an afterthought in the multiplayer. However, the story is a real disappointment and other areas of presentation just aren't up to scratch. It's also difficult to ignore that much of the gameplay experience seems to be about refinement, as opposed to any real sense of progression. The next instalment will have a lot to prove.
|Paris looks fantastic.|
|Crowds are stunning when they're in full motion.|
|Assassination missions have a bit more substance.|
|Arno doesn't step out of the shadows.|
|Aside from the visuals, presentation seems a bit lazy.|
|Real world story is beyond bland.|