Assassin’s Creed Unity Review – Hindered By Past Brilliance
The seventh major installment in the critically acclaimed Assassin’s Creed franchise sees players fill the role of Arno Dorian as he attempts to unravel the true intention of the evil forces behind the French Revolution. Trading the freedom of the high seas in Assassin’s Creed: Black Flag, Assassin’s Creed: Unity presents an open world, 18th century Paris filled with mystery, murder, betrayal and the utter chaos that is – the French Revolution but was removing the life of pirating the right choice?
Arno Dorian takes the role of main protagonist, although it’s difficult to offer any insight on his background without spoiling the events of Assassin’s Creed: Rogue. As a native Frenchman unaware of his ties to The Brotherhood of Assassin’s, he embarks on a journey of redemption and discovery that would see him brush shoulders with every level of society Paris has to offer. The franchise’s approach to story telling has suffered criticism in the past for its rather bizarre combination of historical background and sci-fi influences, and it’s a problem that persists in Assassin’s Creed Unity. As a standalone experience the story is solid and thoroughly immersive. Murder, mystery, revelations, love, it’s all there and well presented, but it’s amidst a background of an explicitly confusing events that have occurred throughout the timeline. Thankfully Ubisoft seemed to take much of its past criticisms on board as is made obvious by the lack of modern-day segments in AC Unity but for anyone not well versed in the history of the franchise, I imagine they would struggle to get to grips with exactly what’s going on. That being said, those that have enjoyed each entry in the series will enjoy familiar levels of quality and dialogue throughout the main campaign.
Despite its confusing foundations the main story of Assassin’s Creed Unity does deliver thanks to the support of some of the most visually pleasing efforts I’ve seen in many years. The animations, dialogue, graphical quality and appearance of characters met throughout the story are nothing short of outstanding, and even more so when coupled with the world in which the story takes place. Paris is a bustling hub of activity surrounded by chaos and mystery as corners of the city descend into total anarchy. Exploring every corner exposes the player to every imaginable element of life in Paris, from quaint market streets to massive protests, burning buildings, and even the odd head atop a rather sharp stick. It may not boast the level of freedom enjoyed on Black Flag’s high seas but you will struggle to find a more detailed open world experience on any generation platform.
Since it was confirmed that Unity would not feature the ability to pillage and plunder under the Jolly Roger I found myself a little skeptical as to what Ubisoft could do to replace such a uniquely engaging element of the Assassin’s Creed franchise. With every passing mission I was just waiting for a feature to reveal itself that would offer the same level of excitement and customization, but sadly it did not arrive. That’s not to say Assassin’s Creed Unity doesn’t boast it’s own level of impressive additions, but it never quite reached the level of Black Flag.
The iconic and extensive opportunities to engage in content outside of the main story are as present as ever in Unity, boasting content rich side activities at every turn. The ability to renovate certain properties throughout Paris rewards players with a regular income of coin that’s delivered through the Cafe Theatre line of side missions. It’s slightly similar to the hideouts in Black Flag but more direct in its approach and with less customization opportunities. Another standout feature of AC Unity are the new Murder Mystery missions. These exciting missions provide a challenge outside of the games popular combat and parkour elements, instead relying on ones ability to solve story-driven crimes of passion, revenge and greed. During the Murder Mystery missions one must discover clues, take statements and ultimately decide on the guilty party with the promise of hefty rewards. I found each and every element of the Murder Mystery missions to be the perfect combination of immersion, excitement and intrigue. I expect many a player will ruin the experience with walkthroughs and guides but I for one would highly recommend enjoying these missions as they were intended. It’s a thoroughly worthwhile and rewarding experience.
Outside of the new elements of side activities in Assassin’s Creed: Unity, players can expect the regular wash of collectibles, hidden chests and interactions with the citizens of France. Personally I find the huge array of Chests, Artifacts, Initiate Chests, Nomad Points, Points of Interest and Cockade collectibles to be a little on the heavy side but for the achievement hunters and completion addicts among us, Unity’s Paris is an open playground of exploration and reward.
Another first for the franchise is the ability to customize the main protagonist via a huge variety of weapons and equipment, and several skill trees that unlock new assassination/stealth abilities, health & combat upgrades, and ranged abilities. Most of the skills available were seen in previous titles, such as the ability to perform double target assassination and aerial kills but a few unique abilities are thrown into the mix. It’s a little slow to start as the Skill Points required to upgrade are few and far between in the earlier levels but once I got into the swing of things, I quickly felt like an unstoppable machine of assassination perfection. Leaping from a rooftop to take out two static guards, seamlessly rolling into another silent kill from behind, taking out a distant enemy with the new Phantom Blade’s (basically the crossbow but much cooler!) and then disappearing into a crowd that I create through the allure of dropped coin. Outside of the impressive options the skills provide during combat, it was the variety of escaping and evading mechanics that truly benefited from the introduction of these new skills. Throughout the entire game I used hay-carts on maybe one or two occasions and other static options just as often. Instead of always searching out that obvious bench of two people, the painfully slow walking group of monks or that conveniently placed closet, I was given the power to create these opportunities myself. A far more fluid and dynamic system and one that I personally consider to be one of the games greatest assets.
The equipment and weapon customization option provides plenty of reason to complete side missions and collectibles as both require huge amounts of coin. I thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to gear out my assassin with equipment that benefited the style of play and approach I enjoyed, but I quickly found myself out of options. I had barely finished Sequence 5 (mid-way through the main story) and I had already unlocked some of the best items in the game, and those that remained cost almost 10x that of items just a little less potent. It’s obvious that these were placed to offer an “end-game” style reward for those that explore the Heists and other multiplayer content but otherwise it felt similar to the equipment system of an MMO. I had only just purchased a sword before completing a few missions and affording an upgrade, removing any opportunity to create a bond with a specific item. Ya know what I mean. That awesome sword or item that took your character to a new level of kickassery. Yeah, that’s the one.
Two elements of the Assassin’s Creed franchise that have seen improvements on every new release are the parkour and combat features. Have Ubisoft managed to stick to that tradition or has releasing two Assassin’s Creed titles on the same day resulted in lesser quality?
The upgraded parkour system that now features “Parkour Up” and “Parkour Down” elements was undoubtedly intended to reduce the level of frustration experienced in previous Assassin’s Creed titles but sadly it does fall short in some regards. It doesn’t help that Shadow of Mordor’s parkour was also very fluid and easily picked up, and greatly raised my personal expectations on such features. Where the previous Assassin’s Creed games delivered intuitive and responsive parkour elements right from the go, Assassin’s Creed Unity opted for a more rewarding experience with a slightly higher learning curve and skill requirement. This does make the initial experience somewhat frustrating but as my ability to navigate the environment improved, as did my enjoyment and feeling of accomplishment when successfully doing so. However, there is no amount of time that would provide ample experience to figure out why Arno would often just refuse to enter a window. No, go down. No, now up. Not left, damn you! I’ll use the stairs. Overall the new parkour options are a welcomed addition but a little more time in the shop wouldn’t have gone amiss.
The combat system has undergone similar changes, attempting to provide a more fluid approach to combat with better counter attacks and dodging mechanics, and it delivers. It differs from previous games with an obvious influence in the area of fencing so while the swashbuckling nature of Black Flag is MIA, it’s replacement is more than capable of bettering the experience. It only took a few encounters before I felt nigh unstoppable, and what a feeling it is. Much in the same way that the Batman games provide the player with a true feeling of super heroic powers, Assassin’s Creed Unity provides much of the same, giving players the tools to feel a true assassin within just a few encounters.
The new countering opportunities, dodging mechanics and skill trees combine to deliver an interactive, skill-rewarding combat system topped off with some plain nasty finishing moves. Driving your weapon of choice through your opponents face, slashing their throat from behind, or jumping off a wall and landing a solid blow to the cranium – each is satisfying and obviously rather deadly.
Arguably one of the most anticipated elements of this release was the introduction of proper Co-Op missions and, they are absolutely fantastic…when they work. Currently the system is plagued with problems. Many times I spend upwards of 15 minutes in a queue waiting for other players and on the odd occasion that I did manage to find a group quickly, my game often froze. Ubisoft are aware of the problems and have promised a fix but regardless, it’s a a notable problem for those picking it up at launch.
Ignoring the technical issues of Co-Op play, it’s one of the best additions to the franchise since its conception. Playing with random players poses a problem, as it usually does. More often than not you’ll forgo any attempts to communicate as you quickly find other players being little more than a giant homing beacon for enemy gunfire and attention – somewhat of a problem during missions that require stealth and precision. But as with many Co-Op games today, it’s playing alongside friends or like-minded players that brings out the true quality of Assassin’s Creed Unity.
When playing with friends and other players using voice communication, the entire nature of the game evolves. It becomes much more than simply completing the objective – it suddenly about completing the mission in such style that nobody could possibly criticize your brilliance. Sure, you can rush in and kill 10 guards, take the item and leave but who wants to do that? Communicating with other players, calling out targets, approaching objectives from multiple routes and assigning optional objectives to others offers a level of excitement I never thought possible in an Assassin’s Creed game. I only wish I had more opportunities to explore the Co-Op functions but at the moment, I simply cannot warrant a 20 minute queue with only the possibility of getting into a match.
Over the last few years and some fantastic releases I’ve come to respect Ubisoft greatly and I now expect a certain level of quality and polish with games brandishing the Ubisoft logo, as do many of us. Sadly however, Assassin’s Creed Unity struggles in the technical department. I can only base this on my experience on the PlayStation 4 version but others have reported problems on other platforms – problems we do not expect to see on a AAA release from such an experienced studio. Several times during my time exploring the rooftops of Paris I found myself falling to the depths of darkness as the world gave way and I fell helplessly into the void resulting in my untimely and entirely undeserved death – and that wasn’t even the worst of it. Although I’m not one to partake in the ridiculous demands and arguments surrounding FPS and next-generation consoles, the random drops in frame rate didn’t do the game any favors. It caused problems with the parkour, interaction with objects and most notably when attempting to pick locks. However, it is worth noting that Ubisoft are aware of these issues and have wasted little time informing the community of their intended course of action. A live blog has been set up to keep players up to date with all upcoming fixes.
Assassin’s Creed Unity was presented with an incredibly difficult challenge before it had even hit the shelves – one to top the quality and enjoyment of its predecessor, Assassin’s Creed: Black Flag. Personally, I did not find Unity to be on the same level as Black Flag and although I expect many players to come to a similar conclusion, it’s not to say that AC Unity isn’t a great game in its own right. A thoroughly enjoyable experience with new and exciting content at every turn hindered only slightly by minor technical hiccups but delivered in the best looking package we’ve had on current generation consoles. Assassin’s Creed: Unity is the best looking title I’ve played on the PlayStation 4 to date, and a bloody good one at that. Worth every penny.