Assassin’s Creed Unity is, by definition, more of the same. That can be a good thing if you love the series, or if you don’t love the series, then it’s a bad thing.
Assassin’s Creed Unity is a game with big ambitions that does its best at providing fanservice to their loyal throngs of fans who come out every year to purchase the latest installation in the series. Assassin’s Creed Unity had a lot of hype surrounding it being the first “truly next gen” game in the series with tons of improvements and more classic AC gameplay. It’s somewhere within this spectrum of a fanservice, new generation tech demo, open world-intensive game that Assassin’s Creed Unity lays, sometimes for good, other times not. Unity is a game that strives to be the ultimate Assassin’s Creed title by pumping up what’s happening onscreen and playing a lot more like games earlier in the series.
Part of playing the Assassin’s Creed games is to be able to look past some of the problems that happen within said games. The free-running and climbing mechanics are awesome when they work properly and when they don’t work properly they can be entirely frustrating or stupid. If you’ve played this series before you know how it feels to jump off a roof and instead of jumping to a logical place, you jump to your death for no good reason. Ubisoft set out to remedy this by changing up the controls a bit. R2 is still your catch-all “parkour” button, but now you hold X to go up and O to go down.
It works most of the time, but it really depends on what you are climbing and if it is going to be friendly or not. If you’ve played Assassin’s Creed games of the past the gesture of this “free-walk down” was a kind one, but if you’ve played these games you understand that it wasn’t always the controls messing up as much as the game’s architecture being finicky.
The melee combat in these games has long been kind of, well, easy. You hit block when an attack is coming in, then hit attack and you’ll slash at an enemy, sometimes you’ll just straight up kill them. So when a group of enemies is coming at you, alternating between those buttons will ensure kills. In the last few games there was a reliance upon ranged weaponry, so they decided to add in a human shield mechanic where you grab the nearest enemy and let them take the bullet. For some reason to appease the fans who complained about Assassin’s Creed games being too easy, they completely removed the human shield mechanic, meaning that you will be fighting eight guards, blocking and dodging in between attacks, then you get shot and there is nothing you can do about it.
There are a lot of classic AC skills “missing” early on in the game. Some you learn through progressing the story, others you can unlock and equip by… completing the story and acquiring points that you can only acquire by completing the story. Oh. Okay.
Blocking now requires you to use precision-timing to get the opportunity to launch an immediate attack and blocking at the wrong time will open you up to successive attacks from enemies. While yes, it did feel “harder” and I found myself dying to guards in an Assassin’s Creed game all of a sudden, it felt more like being handicapped for no good reason than the game being more difficult. I guess this opened things up for more stealth-based gameplay?
Stealth has a renewed focus in Assassin’s Creed Unity, with the L2 button now making you crouch down while you walk and when standing behind cover you can hit X to enter or exit cover. This opens up a new world of hiding spots outside of bales of hay or conveniently-placed closets, which is cool. Line-of-sight is now more important as well, with guards looking to your last-seen spot and you seeing a ghost in that position. That means that guards will head to that ghost to investigate and that you should be in another place.
The stealth does have its downsides, though. At times I found my character stuck in the stealth crouch and having to just tap L2 a few times to snap him out of it, or to just run to get out of it. Then there is the fact that you can’t switch between covers and that getting out of cover might take a few button presses for it to actually happen. It’s kind of a work-in-progress right now.
The big, huge takeaway from Assassin’s Creed Unity is that it is ~*next generation*~, meaning that they jam-packed as much stuff onto your screen as possible. It was very clear that one of the main focuses of Assassin’s Creed Unity was to make it feel more like a living, breathing city than any of the previous games. Having 1,000 NPCs on the screen at a time is indeed pretty cool, as is the ability to go into more buildings than ever before. It is all, of course, seamless in its transition, meaning that you can just run right through a building while on the run and then turn a corner and find yourself in a crowd of 1,000 NPCs rioting and burning things.
I would be remiss the leave out that while it is indeed very cool, it doesn’t really add a ton to the game outside of atmosphere. I wasn’t playing Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag and thinking to myself, “man, these crowds are weak.” The indoor attractions were a bit “same-y” and probably meant to be more as something you’d just run by, but I appreciated the details throughout. The same could be said for the NPCs. I appreciated that it was hard to find a “twin” NPC in a giant crowd, but it was clear that those NPCs were a lot lower in quality than the main story characters were by a long, long gap.
This, of course, leads to the burning question; how bad were the glitches? I woke up today to see a ton of complaints online about framerate drops, characters glitching, game freezes and everything else. I played Assassin’s Creed Unity on PlayStation 4 via disc and found the occasional framerate drop, usually in the weirdest, least-populated places, but only the occasional glitch or two with NPCs. Your mileage may vary on this, though. The fan on my PS4 was going pretty crazy at times, usually, like I said, in weird places, like cut scenes or in menus.
The game looked nice, but 900p and 30fps at this juncture was noticeable in comparison to Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, which was full 1080p and 60fps on PS4. Especially with the combat being more precision-based now I missed that 60fps. There were definitely times when the game would be chugging into the 20fps territory and even the single frames, but like I said, it was in weird places, most of the time there were minimal framerate dips in the giant crowds, which was interesting.
A part of me, while I enjoyed the big crowds, would have been perfectly fine with a better framerate and resolution without 1,000 characters on my screen at a time. That is just me, though. Save the big crowds for the cutscenes if this generation can’t handle it at full resolution and framerate?
When it comes to Assassin’s Creed games I have both loved them and hated them over the years. Ezio was the last truly memorable leading man in the series and the last few games have not featured the huge, sprawling European rooftops to traverse that we all enjoyed during Ezio’s time at the wheel. Ubisoft set out to recapture the glory of Ezio by returning to the game’s roots of European urban sprawl and a charismatic European dandy of a leading man in Arno Dorian. As much as I loved Ezio and the settings that he called his home, this very much felt like a step back in the series.
Assassin’s Creed III was just kind of awful, I can’t even pretend to candy coat that. There were no real roofs to run around in, there were shoe-horned-in ship battles that added nothing to the game and Connor was a flat, static character with zero personality. While I’m not sure that Edward Kenway of Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag was the most memorable guy, it finally felt like Assassin’s Creed was moving in a new, more interesting direction for once. The ship stuff felt fresh and gave a breakup from the monotony of running rooftop-to-rooftop and the side quests of harpooning whales and naval battles made the land-based parts of the game stand out more and feel more unique.
If I loved Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag and hated Assassin’s Creed III, I’d have to say that Unity stands somewhere in between the two. Like I said earlier, it felt like Assassin’s Creed Unity was a lot of fan service. Fans had been yearning to get back to the sprawling cities and to have a charismatic leading man, so that is exactly what they gave us, but it still feels like a step backwards.
The story itself was fine, if not forgettable. It was an Assassin’s Creed game, which meant Templars vs. Assassins on a historical backdrop using a few historical figures as seasoning. This one was less intrusive on the actual history, meaning that Arno didn’t start the French Revolution and he didn’t really get that involved in it or care about it. He was just playing out Assassins vs. Templars in another tale of bloody revenge in a long line of bloody revenge tales in the series. He was just another prisoner at the Bastille when it fell, not the guy who made the Bastille fall. Some will groan about that, but I’m okay with that, because Connor doing Paul Revere’s historic ride was seriously stupid.
Arno is, as I’ve mentioned, fine. He was definitely more in line with Ezio’s mold than some of the other characters in the series and his story was technically fine. There really weren’t a lot of side characters that stood out in the game, considering in Black Flag there were characters like Adewale and Mary that helped ground Kenway and make him a relatable human, Arno just has a weird thing with his somewhat-adopted-sister and that’s it. There is of course betrayal and double-crossing, but it fell flat considering there were no actual bonds between any of the characters.
The addition of stealth comes with a little bit more freedom to handle assassination missions, which is a cool feature. There are certain things you can do to setup your assassinations and make them easier, allowing you to do some planning. Sometimes it works, other times it doesn’t work.
In one mission you free some workers from Templar agents and they offer assistance to you in your assassination, then you find the security plans showing where your target will be walking by and you can choose where to hide and where you’ll pounce from. It felt like a really cool idea at first. I hid in a place that was to be lightly guarded, right along my target’s route. First time around I shot a guard with one of my projectile blades to get him out of the way, only to alert every dude in the area and thusly, I died. It respawned me so I hid in cover, waiting to just pounce on my target, only for a message to pop up saying that my target was down, to finish him.
It turned out those workers just did the job for me, I just had to walk over and stab him in the gut while he was down and the whole mission was over. That’s kind of the Assassin’s Creed Unity experience in a nutshell; there is certain intent and then there is what actually happens and sometimes it is complicated and doesn’t work, other times it falls flat on its face and you just have to walk over and stab it in the gut.
There was a whole lot less of the whole Abstergo modern-day Templars vs. Assassins stuff, although there were “server glitches” that required you to jump through portals and then do some platforming through stuff like WWII Paris to get back to the game, but the modern-day stuff was a whole lot less obtrusive and at some point we are all just wondering when they just gracefully drop that stuff completely.
Ubisoft really wants you to know that there are a lot of different ways to interact with your Assassin’s Creed Unity game now, including Co-Op online missions, which are fun, sure, but felt kind of weird in the Assassin’s Creed lore. This has always been a single-player franchise and doing away with the competitive multiplayer for Co-Op is kind of a weird decision. I do appreciate that the Co-Op missions have some stories and that heists are kind of cool, but it all felt like a distraction from roaming around the single player to grab all of the damned chests.
They are also pushing a lot of other things like a companion app and a web-based game interface thing. There was a companion app for the previous game but you didn’t really need to use it, but to unlock certain gear in Assassin’s Creed Unity you are forced to delve into these rather meaningless activities. They also want more money. That means that you can upgrade to the “premium” version of the app for more features, it also means that you can pump real money into the game to buy gear and weapons, which seems weird considering that Assassin’s Creed Unity is a full retail game. Microtransactions, really, Ubisoft?
I will say, though, that the ability to customize your character feels nice and like something that should have been in the series already. Gear has attributes like adding health, improving stealth, letting you carry more ammo and weapons have reach, damage, speed and block attributes. You can upgrade your weapons using one form of currency, which of course, there are four, which is weird. I like choosing between different types of weapons, although the game didn’t really seem setup for anything beyond using a sword.
I say that because I was using polearms and heavy weapons throughout, but whenever there was a cutscene for a fight Arno would be fighting with a sword, then when back to the action he’s back to using the weapon I chose for him. Whatever.
Assassin’s Creed Unity is a game with ambition, which is admirable, but it is also a game in a series that has seemingly exhausted itself a long time ago. The core mechanics are still fun, but the incessant tinkering to improve it has just created some new issues along the way, not really making the game that much more fun. The game is beautiful at times, but still feels like it could use some optimization to run a bit better and be a smoother experience from start-to-finish.
I appreciate what they were trying to do with this game by providing fanservice, but I honestly miss Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag a whole lot more than I thought that I would and would gladly trade in my keys to this huge city for a chance to explore like in Black Flag again. If you love the Assassin’s Creed series you’ll be able to overlook most of the flaws and deal with the jankiness and have fun, if the series frustrates you then this is just more-of-the-same and don’t bother.