It’s the first Creed title to come solely to the new generation and as far as visuals go, Assassin’s Creed Unity definitely looks the part. The franchise has always tried to created immersive, virtual locales for players to explore, but Unity takes it to an entirely different level with its recreation of Paris.
The explorable world is incredibly pretty, and Unity shows it proudly. Really utilizing the graphical horsepower of the new consoles, the face value visuals aren’t even the most impressive thing about the world that Ubisoft have crafted for this game. Upon closer examination players are able to appreciate sheer scale to which Unity’s 18th century Paris is realized. It’s an open world sandbox created at 1:1 scale with the city at the time.
Immediately noticeable in its presentation is how many citizens the game is able to render in a single scene. It’s not a few groups of idlers and the occasional passing group of pedestrians, but hundreds of people pushing their way through the narrow corridors that map the streets to gather in protest. Buildings aren’t just blocks to climb over, but many are open and explorable, and really lend a lot to creating the feel of a realistic virtual world rather than a static environment.
As the city crumbles due to the ongoing revolution, staggering attention to detail is noticeable as the streets are set alight, fighting breaking out in the streets amidst the waving flags. Textures are sharp, the draw distance is far, and lighting is done to spectacular effect. Even without utilising the map it’s easy to get a sense of direction while in the twisting maze of streets, and locations quickly become familiar after a few hours of exploring. Paris feels almost alive, thriving as its virtual inhabitants go about their daily lives. It’s quite possibly the closest that Ubisoft have ever come to creating a convincing, realistic city in the franchise; a true step forward for Assassin’s Creed.
Such beauty though, seems to be just a façade that covers up the simple fact that at its core, Unity is one of the most bland, repetitive, unoriginal entries in the franchise. It’s the same activities, the same missions, and the same few ‘random’ occurrences that happen around town. A poor young man might be getting hassled by a group of bullies. Quell this conflict, but moments later in another part of the district you’ll come across the exact same.
Storyline missions don’t offer much variety either, mostly consisting of follow-and-kill quests that end up more tedious than fun. If anything, Assassin’s Creed Unity feels loyal to the franchise. Whilst last year’s Black Flag felt like a refreshing step forward, Unity thrusts us right back to familiar ground, too familiar. As far as activities go, there just isn’t much new to the table here.
Even this entry’s most touted co-operative missions become little more than a pick from the same rotation of missions, packed with a tighter wall of adversaries to require teammates. Co-op doesn’t really work right now either with connection errors springing up multiple times during the course of a single mission. Unity attempts to provide multiple avenues to which one may complete objectives, though this may provide some semblance of variance it soon becomes clear that it’s just the same mission at a different place; simply take your pick of how you might gain access. Fight your way in, stealthily manoeuvre past the guards, or utilise the public to assist in your attempt. The outcome is still the same and in the end, so is the experience. Despite its spectacular Parisian setting, it feels like just another pretty backdrop to serve up more of the same rehashed and redone activities.
There’s not much expansion on the overall narrative of the Creed franchise either. Always present is its sci-fi present-day thriller storyline, pushed forwards through exploration of the past, though the modern side is oddly trivialised in this entry. Instead we are focused on protagonist Arno Dorian, and his narrative through the French Revolution in Paris. It’s a pity, then, that his story is just unremarkable and feels wasted amidst such an epic backdrop.
Arno feels overtly familiar; a handsome young man with a penchant for mischief who suffers a personal tragedy, only to be sent down the path to becoming an assassin in order to avenge the deaths of his father(s). A little too familiar to a certain renaissance assassin of the. Not that it’s a bad thing, Arno isn’t unlikeable in that regard, nor is his story completely boring. The narrative simply adds to the stifling familiarity and sense of ‘been here, done that’ which permeates the entirety of Unity’s single player experience.
The use of the Animus has always been to drive the modern storyline forward, but with such an absence of it in this game, there are occasions where I simply wondered why I was following Arno around as much as I did, and why it was important in the first place. If anything, the French Revolution setting of Unity feels slightly misleading, readying the potential to play as an assassin manipulating from the shadows and leading the people into glorious battle, yet being relegated to an insignificant and rather disappointing task of revenge while the big boys play in the background.
None of this is helped by the fact that everyone of note is voiced in English accents, while the rest of the populace speaks French. Doesn’t seem like just one either, but almost seems like all the accents of the British Isles made it in. It’s a weird choice, breaking both the immersion that the visuals and design department worked so hard to provide. Not like Ubisoft haven’t attempted accented English in the past, and it’s worked there. So why change?
More disappointing is that Ubisoft have discovered the new age of companion apps, and have ushered in their ‘Initiates’ web game to serve as an extension and companion to Assassin’s Creed Unity. Paris is littered with chests that force a link to the app, and the game is packed with encouragement to give it a go. It’s intrusive and irritating, and just ruins the immersion that the game world strives so hard to achieve. It even offers exclusive items just for playing, as well as highly unnecessary micro-transactions. An undoubtedly lazy effort that could have used much more thought and refinement to make it better implemented without the player feeling so cheated and marginalized should they wish to ignore ‘Initiates’.
The parkour in Unity feels sticky. Sticky in the sense that Arno feels the need to grab a hold of everything he can, and has a hard time letting go. Open rooftops? No problem but give Arno a dining room full of tables and it’s a challenge he likely won’t overcome without trouble. Unintuitive, with overtly complicated controls that make everything more difficult that it should be. Want to go up something? Then it’s one combination. Down? Another. It’s another press of a button just to clamber into an open window. Add high, normal, and low profile actions to the mix, plus the standard stealth; factor it all together and it all just becomes a bit much. The whole thing would have just been much better to have it all relegated to a single ‘parkour’ button without all the fuss.
Pathing is also hit and miss. While leaping from rooftop to rooftop, it’s not uncommon that Arno will simply leap off to the wrong side, or simply to his death and never grab onto the ledge you had planned for him. Similarly, he often grabs on to a ledge and will refuse to let go, leading you to wrestle with the control stick in an effort to find a direction in which he will climb. Even scaling a wall, there will be instances where Arno takes quite possibly the least recommended path up, preferring ledges and window sills over the conveniently placed ladder right next to him.
Though it might not be the biggest issue when simply exploring Paris at a leisurely pace but when things get heated the wonky controls really become problematic, as it makes the game instantly harder and much more irritating to play. Prepare for a lot of restarts not because your plan failed, but simply because Arno simply jumped to the wrong place at the wrong time.
The numerous bugs and framerate issues that plague the game don’t help. At all. Unity must be one of, if not the most unprepared and poorly optimised releases this year. On PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One it struggles to hold 30 frames per second, even in relatively calm scenes. It’s a major problem when the core mechanic of the game is about fluid parkour and seamless flow throughout the world.
The redone combat system doesn’t take too many leaps and bounds forward either, feeling almost like a clunky rehash of the style found in Rocksteady’s Arkham series. The animations are fluid and well done for the most part and are varied between the significant choices of weapons available to Arno. It just doesn’t feel smooth. Combat seems to come packaged with a little input lag, leading to slow counters and delayed rolls. There’s none of the visceral feel of combat that other games in the franchise have accomplished to be found here, and though the combat model is an improvement over the one button counter kills of Assassin’s Creed III Unity just doesn’t achieve the same cinematic feel.
None of this is helped at all with a wonky camera that doesn’t seem to want to focus on Arno at times, or only keeps half of your adversaries in view before getting stuck behind scenery after some frantic movement. The issue has plagued many of the titles in the past, and it’s disappointing to see that no more effort has gone into resolving it here. Most of the time the game’s systems just feel unrefined and rudimentary. The intention is there, and perhaps the final vision might have been great. It just needed another few months in development. With more time to refine the new ideas introduced in the game and with better optimisation, these could have been great.
Without all the technical problems and issues with optimisation, Assassin’s Creed Unity could be a reasonably acceptable entry into the franchise, and in today’s age Ubisoft could remedy this with a hefty load of patches in the months to come. Even so it’s just too hard to recommend Unity as something worth your time, especially when faced such quality competing titles.
Since Black Flag felt like such a step forward in the right direction, it was almost expected that Unity would push the franchise to even greater heights. Sadly this latest attempt just feels like a squandered opportunity. Its attempts at refinement and innovation just fall flat, and perhaps most disappointing is how wasted the game’s spectacular setting is.
Unity is the familiar Assassin’s Creed, featuring all of the franchise’s trademark styles and mechanics, but unfortunately all of their shortcomings too. A small step forward was taken here, but also just a few too many steps back.
Assassin’s Creed Unity was developed by Ubisoft Montreal for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC. The publisher provided a copy of the game for PS4 to Save/Continue for review purposes.