Assassin’s Creed Unity, the first true next gen game in the franchise, is here and it’s causing quite a stir. Ubisoft have gone all out with Unity, the biggest game world in the series, with tons of customisation and (finally) co-op play being just a few of the new features and improvements Ubisoft have made.
The game itself is absolutely stunning. Ubisoft has really outdone itself here. The game world is full of life and detail. It’s a game stopping moment when you first get into Paris. The streets are bustling with people – and I mean a lot of people. Hundreds of NPCs will protest at the gates of a large estate, the markets are so busy you’ll have to zig-zag around crowds. These large groups really add to the atmosphere, giving the impression of a city waiting to implode. The details extend to the city itself too, and buildings and their surroundings are beautifully rendered. Unity also opens up these buildings for Arno to explore. From single room dwellings to hug, expansive interiors like The Bastille and Notre Dame cathedral. These intricately detailed larger buildings are a puzzle in themselves, with a multitude of entrances, guards and secrets to discover.
Lighting is another area where Unity excels and the day and night cycle creates some truly amazing scenes. Lanterns and torches bounce light realistically at night, and the early morning haze of daylight breaking through clouds is amazingly atmospheric.
The Assassin’s Creed games have always come under fire in the past for their convoluted storylines and time jumping narratives. Unity attempts to set that straight with next to no future story, barring the initial intro. The cast of characters has been kept reasonably short with maybe ten characters featuring in the main story. Out of that small cast only two, Arno and Elise, have any real depth, and even then you’re not going to be that invested in their story. Considering Unity is set during one of the most bloody and dramatic revolutions in history it’s strange to see the story focus on the bland and uninspired Assassin’s council. Napoleon and Marquis De Sade are some of the more extravagant and interesting characters you’ll meet – but you spend little time with them. A pity, as De Sade was rather charming, in a vile way. What the story does do right, however, is the set up for your missions. We’re now given almost full control of how and where to eliminate our target, giving the player a great deal of freedom and choice.
Unity takes the focus back to the franchise’s roots with a much bigger emphasis on stealth and assassinations. While the open combat has been improved, the real way to play Unity is silently and from the shadows. We finally have a crouch button in Assassin’s Creed! A crouch button – you know, like every other stealth game out there. This button alone adds a whole new layer of strategy and pace. It just feels better to be sneaking around restricted areas than casually wandering through them. The game feels very much like the earlier titles, where your focus is on a single assassination target. A normal assassination mission would start with Arno surveying his surroundings, highlighting potential distractions and side missions, then leaving it to you to decide how and where to take out your target.
Customisation has worked its way into the game too. Everything from your weapon set to your clothing can be changed. My preferred loadout featured a stealthy hood along with a musketeer’s waist coat and a huge great sword strapped to my back. The clothing options allow you to really play the game your way. If you want to spend thousands on some heavily armoured gear so you can just wade in to any situation sword swinging then you can, or you can strip down to a lightweight jacket which will boost your stealth rating. The weapon sets are nothing new, but it’s good to have things like the spear and rifle as your primary weapons. Each of these weapon classes has its own strengths and weaknesses. The one handed swords are quick to attack and block, while the heavy weapons like the axe and broadsword take an age to swing but deal huge amounts of damage. The enemies you’ll encounter are much tougher than in previous games requiring a much more tactical approach to fighting a group. Now kill streaks have been removed the need to dodge and parry becomes your best tools.
All the customisation and loadout options will really come into play when you take your assassins online. Throughout the map you will find Heist and Co-op missions that can be undertaken by up to four assassins. These missions offer up some great rewards, but they promise to be quiet the challenge, even for four players. Some will task the group with stealing valuables from a mansion filled with guards, or assassinating a high profile target. Like the single player missions, these are stuffed with tactical options and are designed to be completed in multiple ways.
While all these new features are welcome, the series still has some major faults that have yet to be addressed. Free-running has been refined but you’ll still find yourself fighting to get in to a window or jumping in the wrong direction. The interiors in Unity also suffer from a similar problem with the click-to-stick cover button causing more issues than it solves. Time and time again Arno will bumble and stumble to get in and out of cover. It’s better to just pretend the cover button doesn’t exist. Frame rate issues are also a big problem, and whilst I’ve not experienced anything game-breaking, its very noticeable when moving from the rooftops to street level.
If you’re a fan of the Assassin’s Creed franchise you’ve probably already picked this up and are darting across the beautiful Paris rooftops. If you’re new to the series, or looking for a way back in, then this could be the one for you. The re-focus on stealth rather than being a pirate may put some people off, in which case, last year’s Blackflag and this year’s Rogue (reviewed here) will have to do.
Unity is far from perfect, and Ubisoft needs to address some of the bigger problems plaguing the Creed world, but it’s a step in the right direction. A truly beautiful and inviting setting, along with some of the best assassination missions this side of Agent 47, should keep both fans of the series and newcomers busy for weeks.