A country is about to explode, with King Louis XVI financing wars and unashamedly displaying his own opulence with large estates and awe-inspiring statues. Meanwhile, all the starving peasantry want is food.
It’s France, 1789, and this time around Ubisoft transports us to a time when people power will shake up a country’s social and political landscape. Assassin’s Creed Unity perfectly showcases a visually faultless Paris, where mass numbers of AI pack the streets with riots, singing, and the burning of effigies.
Despite Unity being a feast for the eyes, it has its own problems. Several features have been added and removed – some more risky than others – making the success of last year’s Black Flag an even tougher act to follow.
Here, Arno Dorian is the main protagonist. His growth into the Assassin Order, from a cheeky young son of an Assassin agent to a sensible adult, is something very reminiscent of Ezio from an earlier time. This isn’t by any means a bad thing, and gives the player the sense of sending the franchise back to its roots.
However, several things hold Unity’s story back from being the most cohesive and engaging plot of the franchise. Firstly, all of the characters in the French Revolution-set game have British accents – come on! Despite the voice-acting being very good, Unity loses a lot of authenticity here and it goes some way to drag the overall experience down a couple of notches.
Arno meets Elise – the game’s love interest – who, through her own social upbringings, is thrown into a web of conspiracy. The story becomes heavily clichéd and is definitely a back-step from what I expected.
It’s good a thing there are some new features and a ton of side quests to break up these lulls in gameplay. As usual, the map is littered with chests, cockades (the badge of the French Revolution), and other collectibles. On top of adding Murder Mysteries (which are thoroughly enjoyable) and short Paris Stories missions into the game, Ubisoft have implemented a ‘climb down’ mechanic. Arno is able to descend buildings with a lot more speed, fluidity and elegance than in previous Assassin’s Creed games; indeed, it makes me question why Ubisoft haven’t added it sooner.
However, this comes at the expense of the low profile ‘fast-walk’. Every previous AC game would see the player touching the shoulders of passers-by whilst trying to maintain inconspicuous – not here. In Unity, Arno can’t catch up to targets by walking, which results in him clipping through people and breaking into a run to maintain a close distance. This is a sorely missed mechanic and, much like Paris’ rooftop running, doesn’t flow like it used to.
Several other changes have given Assassin’s Creed Unity more of an RPG-type feel. Customisation options include altering the colour of Arno’s uniform and stat boosts for certain pieces of armour. Skill trees covering melee, ranged, stealth and health abilities have also been added so players can adapt Arno to their play style. Some abilities are more expensive than others, and the high-tier ones, such as the ever-helpful double assassination, are a huge asset.
And you’ll need these abilities, too. The enemies in AC Unity have (finally) been given a difficulty boost. This makes melee combat much more challenging than constant counter-kills, as guards are more unpredictable than ever before and are given a one-to-five star skill ranking. They are a combination of axe-wielders and sword duelists, take more hits, and have no shame in throwing firecrackers in the midst of battle, using their sidearms, or interrupting executions.
With everything going on, Assassin’s Creed Unity performs to a satisfactory standard. There were frequent problems with the game in the opening five hours: glitches, significant frame-rate drops and even a game crash – with the latter occurring in the first 30 minutes. Couple this with excessively long loading times and Unity becomes a tedious and unimpressive game.
But, there’s also the co-operative multiplayer. For the two hours-or-so spent playing with friends, it was a train-wreck. The single player may have stabilised eventually, but the multiplayer remained absolute crap; there were glitches, frame-rate issues and bugs aplenty. The co-op is a great concept and quite fun. A few missions were completed, but I hadn’t encountered a worse online portion of a game, in terms of performance, since the rebooted Tomb Raider on the Xbox 360.
Add little-to-no progress on the modern day struggle between the Templars and the Assassins and you’ve got a pretty disappointing end to a game with a huge amount of potential. With Desmond out of the picture, Black Flag took a risk and made a new main character: you. In Unity, the present-day story was screaming out for new plot points, but apparently fell on deaf ears.
For all of the negatives, Ubisoft’s delivery on creating a Paris in the midst of the French Revolution is nothing short of spectacular. As always, the graphics are high quality, the sounds on street level are great and the talkative crowds inside enterable buildings cap off a really immersive experience. Furthermore, there’s a great soundtrack to boot.
After Black Flag, AC Unity feels a lot like a stepping-stone to the next groundbreaking game in the franchise. That wouldn’t be so much of an issue if simple technical issues, new gameplay choices and a muddled plot between the modern day Assassins and Templars didn’t plague the game of enjoyment; the game has not been polished well.
This is, unfortunately, one of the more disappointing entries in the Assassin’s Creed franchise in terms of expectations. Bringing half a game to the table, even if it’s a good half, just isn’t acceptable.
This Assassin's Creed falls flat on its face.