Release Date: November 11, 2014Platform: PS4 (reviewed), Xbox One, PCDeveloper: Ubisoft MontrealPublisher: UbisoftGenre: Action-adventure
Editor’s Note: This review does not discuss the co-op aspect of the game, as we did not feel we spent enough time with the feature to review it. Our impressions on that element of the game will be added to this review later in the week.
So here we have it, Assassin’s Creed Unity, the first game in Ubisoft’s time-jumping world of assassins and Templars made specifically for next-gen consoles. If I had to compare it to other games in the series, then Assassin’s Creed Unity is like a crossbreed between 2007’s original Assassin’s Creed and Assassin’s Creed Revelations.
The latter makes sense, as Unity was helmed by Alexandre Amancio, who also served as the creative director on Revelations. Besides an expansive reimagining of historical Paris and a promising new hero named Arno Dorian, the other big selling point is the addition of cooperative multiplayer for the first time in an Assassin’s Creed game. Do Unity’s ambitions define a new golden age for the series? Or does the execution leave the game cowering at the guillotine?
The city of Paris as it appears in Unity is incredibly dense and compact, with a cluttered and gorgeously redesigned 3D map to help you take in all the sights. It’s a nice change of pace to be in one location again after the sprawling Black Flag, but Paris has just as many secrets hidden away to keep you scrounging through its corners for a long time to come.
The main thing you’re likely to notice about Unity is the emphasis on building interiors. So many of the buildings on the map have multiple floors that can be accessed via doors or open windows, whether you want a quick shortcut through a building instead of going over, or you need somewhere to hide from the boys in blue. Even though these innards all start to look identical after a while, it’s still an incredibly determined attempt by Ubisoft to explore a more open and realistic kind of setting.
But while the increased focus on interior space works great in theory, the execution leaves something to be desired. This is due to Unity sporting some of the clumsiest maneuverability since, well, the original Assassin’s Creed. It was a constant struggle to get Arno to move where I wanted him to, and leaping into open windows proved to be the biggest hassle of them all. There are also countless objects that Arno is simply unable to climb, from small tables to walls of hedges. The sense of seamless freeform running is dashed at every turn, as it won’t be long before you’re confronted with one of these frustrating stumbling blocks or another. The one saving grace about the controls though is a new ability to quickly descend down structures in freeform: an extremely smart design choice, as hay bales and other soft landing points seem few and far in between.
Indeed the game is a very slow and methodical entry in the Assassin’s Creed series, with a renewed focus on stealth and vetting your marks before moving in for the kill. This is meant to be a throwback to the first Assassin’s Creed, and for the most part, it works. Right before each assassination, you’ll have some time to complete a few side objectives that will open up additional avenues when it’s time to make the big kill. I also felt like I had a much stronger sense of who my target was compared to past games in the series. However, also like the first Assassin’s Creed, this starts to become a bit formulaic before long.
The reworked combat system feels slightly more heavy-handed in Unity, with a clear focus on the swordplay, but it’s nothing that veterans of the series won’t quickly get accustomed to. The main story also feels decidedly short for an Assassin’s Creed game, with twelve sequences that average only two to three memories in each.
Other Assassin’s Creed staples return here in Unity, but in a much more streamlined and simplified form. You’ll have a home base to renovate, new skills to acquire, and several ranks to ascend. But all of these aspects take a backseat to the new mechanics. In addition to Arno’s storyline, you can kill some time in Paris with a variety of side quests and activities. While most of these feel like typical Assassin’s Creed fare, from finding collectables to solving Nostradamus riddles, one of the best surprises is the handful of murder mysteries that you can investigate. These instances have Arno traveling to various crime scenes and searching for clues in the environment. As you read through all of the compiled evidence, you’ll then have a chance to accuse a suspect and lock them away. Once again, it’s a very slow-paced feature to the game, but at least it feels somewhat refreshing.
The story of Unity is pretty decent and engaging as well, which begins with your typical “son finds out his father was an assassin” foundation before moving on to some truly rich and exciting moments against the backdrop of the French Revolution. It also helps that Arno is a likeable and charming hero with some real depth to him, as compared to say Edward Kenway or the dreadful Connor from Assassin’s Creed III.
The use of the Animus and Helix are also incorporated in an interesting way, and Ubisoft makes sure to always keep them secondary to your main adventure. They do, however, lead to an interesting side mission every now and then, which involves entering rifts to different time periods. While these moments are certainly nothing to write home about from a gameplay perspective, they do offer up some pretty nice changes of scenery to romp through.
The actual performance of the game, unfortunately, is a much different story. Simply put, Assassin’s Creed Unity is a glitch fest at the moment. I’m hardly what you would call a spec junkie when it comes to video games, but Unity’s framerate barely sputters along, and it constantly drops when there’s too much excitement on the screen.
The citizens of Paris will randomly glitch on closed doors, and guards will miraculously rise from the dead after you clearly assassinate them. On more than one occasion, Arno would get stuck on a structure after a jump, forcing a restart of the latest checkpoint. The list goes on and on, and I only pray that Ubisoft’s day one patch addresses most of these problems, or else they are going to have a much bigger problem on their hands. I strongly suggest waiting a few weeks for the kinks to get ironed out before hopping on the next flight to Paris.
Is Assassin’s Creed Unity another decent entry to the long running Ubisoft series? Absolutely. Is it the promised next-gen savior that totally redefines the direction of the genre? Not in the slightest. I would probably rank Unity on my personal list somewhere in between its two biggest influences, Assassin’s Creed Revelations and the first Assassin’s Creed.
The game takes some well-intentioned risks, like the use of interiors and the murder mystery side quests, and for the most part these pay off as a fun and refreshing part of the experience. But that same experience is also marred by drunken controls and a shockingly underwhelming performance. If Assassin’s Creed fatigue hasn’t sunk in already, then this dense trek through Paris won’t be doing any favors for pushing that revolutionary cause in the opposite direction.