Once again it is time to plug into an altogether dodgy machine that plays out the memories of long dead ancestors (or something like that), and step into the shoes of an assassin. Whilst previous gen console owners are busy wrapping up the North American saga in Assassin’s Creed Rogue, gamers on the new generation of machines get to enjoy what is perhaps the beginning of a new saga which happens to start out with Paris and the French Revolution. My historical knowledge may not be up to much, but wasn’t there cake involved somewhere?
Followers of the series will know by now how things work. There is a machine that basically sends the player back in time to control an ancestor. There are two secret organizations, the Templars and the Assassins, who really don’t get on. And there is a whole lot of climbing, jumping, hiding and sticking guards with pointy objects. I may have simplified things a bit much, but that is the gist of every Assassin’s Creed game.
Unity does away with the big boats and sea-based stuff in favor of a massive, sprawling city that is positively overflowing with life. Paris really is a sight to behold, its massive size giving the player an inkling of the sheer quantity of content to be found in Unity. Standing on the rooftops, there are tightly packed buildings as far as the eye can see, occasionally broken up by an epic, authentically recreated land mark that just begs the player to stop and drink it in. And then go and try to climb it, as is the assassin’s way. Paris is big, beautiful, detailed and an absolute joy to look at.
But it is not just the impressive buildings and land marks that make Paris a wonderful assassin’s playground. Standing on the rooftops, admiring other rooftops is all well and good, but look down to the street and you will notice that the entire city is humming with activity, as the general population go about their daily business. Once things start kicking off in the city, watching as hundreds of NPCs gather in the streets is yet another thing to marvel at from the rooftops. Quickly climbing down and getting in amongst these citizens, whether they be revolting or not, brings the entire city to life. Ubisoft really have done an amazing job of setting the scene for this latest installment of the Assassin’s Creed series.
Things get a little more vague when it comes to the hero and the story in general. This time around we are given control of Arno Dorian, a largely likeable chap who manages buckets more charisma than AC3’s Connor, even if he doesn’t quite reach the sophistication of Ezio Auditore ad Firenze or the sheer coolness of Edward Kenway. As a young boy, his father is murdered and he goes to live with a Templar, falling in love with his daughter. Then, all grown up and leaping around rooftops, his adopted father is killed, something he could have prevented, he is accused of the murder, and he discovers his real dad was a member of the Assassin’s brotherhood. All part of an average day for an Assassin’s Creed game.
Against the backdrop of Paris in the midst of a revolution, something which our hero actually plays little part in, Arno sets off to find his place in this world of assassins and Templars, with all manner of twists and deceptions along the way. Once it gets going, the story moves along at a fair old pace and will see the player not only come face to face with a few well known characters from the time period, but also jumping around time a bit along the way.
The largely unwelcome sections of the game where the player is unplugged from the ancestral memory machine, sections that have always broken the flow of the “assassining”, are not too bad in Unity and are kept to a minimum. Instead, the player will have to deal with glitches in the machine that result in the occasional linear time traveling level. All in all, they are quite good fun and, although breaking the immersion of revolutionary Paris, offer a handy dose of variety.
With the beginning of a new saga, and the first AC game made solely for the more powerful new gen machines, improvements would understandably be expected in Unity. Beyond the stunning city of Paris, and I cannot undersell how stunning it is, improvements to the rest of the game are few and far between. There are tweaks here and there, such as descending down buildings being a lot quicker and safer, and the ability to crouch making stealth a touch easier, but most of the gameplay remains largely the same and will be familiar to players of the previous games. Arno runs smoothly across rooftops, scaling walls and making improbable leaps with every other breath, and they are all incredibly impressive until Arno gets stuck on a chair, refuses to walk through a doorway or springs backwards from a wall to fall to his death (something that admittedly happens less often now). It is all very impressive, until it isn’t, just like the previous games.
The combat is also impressive, and more difficult now that the developers have removed counter kills and have allowed all of your enemies to attack at once, making combat much more chaotic and skilled. Indeed, with groups of enemies larger than two, escape is often the best option, at least in the early game.
Sticking with the impressive side of Unity, it is quite unnerving to see how much there is to do in Paris. Besides the story missions, which boast some incredibly open assassination quests where the player is free to choose how they approach the upcoming murder, there are collectibles and treasure chests to find, side missions that range from a simple killing job to solving murders, and even a social club to build up which can provide a constant stream of income. And that is not even considering the newly added co-op missions for up to four players, which are notably fun if you can gather players who are willing to actually work together. All things considered, there is more content here than you can shake a baguette at, and players will find themselves never at a loss for something to do.
That is, of course, if you can put up with Unity’s problems. Frame rate issues abound, especially in heavily populated areas, unfortunately breaking any immersion in the games’ beautiful city, and glitches can be found around every corner. Most of the glitches are just cosmetic and more humorous than game breaking, but the regularity of these glitches is more than a little disappointing. Patches are undoubtedly on the way to fix most of the problems, but as the new generation of Assassin’s Creed games, it doesn’t make for an inspiring start.
Assassin’s Creed Unity is easily the most beautiful Assassin’s Creed game thus far. It is also the most packed, both with population and content. However, strip that away and the core game is almost unchanged, with just a few adjustments here and there, and unfortunately buggy at the moment. For Assassin’s Creed fans, it really is a no-brainer despite the bugs and glitches, many of which will hopefully be repaired in time. Assassin’s Creed Unity is a good game, but it is just not the revolution, or evolution, that fans were perhaps expecting.