Assassin’s Creed Unity Review
Ubisoft’s longstanding Assassin’s Creed franchise arrives on next-gen consoles with breathtaking graphics, an all-new co-op campaign, deep customization, and improved parkour and combat gameplay mechanics. The sights of Assassin’s Creed Unity are truly something to behold, with realistic facial animation, great-looking character models, and a painstakingly recreated 1789 Paris, packed to the brim with NPC crowds numbering in the thousands. Parkour has been refined to allow for easier scaling of buildings, with dedicated controls for ascending and descending rooftops and smoother animation than ever before. There’s even robust customization and four-player cooperative online gameplay. Unfortunately, a dissapointing story and an uninspired protagonist keep Ubisoft’s first next-gen Creed outing from being a complete success.
Players take control of a young man named Arno during the French Revolution in 1789. Born to a wealthy family, the charming rogue is on a quest for revenge (like most of the series’ protagonists), and quickly finds himself joining the Assassin brotherhood and donning the trademark hood and hidden blades. While Arno himself is humorous and likable, as is his childhood friend Elise, their story is largely uninteresting and forgettable. There’s just not much reason to care about Arno’s plight, and his one-note tale of revenge ends in an unsatisfying manner. I also found it pretty strange that a game taking place in Paris features characters that speak in an English accent, but I suppose it’s better than unconvincing French accents.
While Ubisoft has heavily touted Assassin’s Creed Unity’s ability to render huge crowds in excess of 5,000 NPC’s, it actually becomes pretty frustrating in a fast paced action game such as this. Sure, it looks amazing at first glance, but when you’re trying to escape a squadron of armed guards during a high-speed chase, trying to navigate the massive crowds can be quite aggravating. Still, the citizens certainly make the game world feel alive, and at least they provide plenty of opportunities to blend in and escape your foes. Side note: the crowds all speak with a French accent, as opposed to the main characters’ English accents. Perhaps they thought that thick French accents would make the dialogue hard to follow?
Thankfully, the tailing and eavesdropping missions are either completely gone or severely reduced, which most fans will surely appreciate. A lot of emphasis is placed on the actual assassinations, which are pretty outstanding in Unity. Recalling games like Hitman: Blood Money, the assassinations in this game need to be planned out, with locations and enemies laid out like a puzzle that you’ll have to crack. You could take out a guard in the crowd and steal a key from him, or find an alternate entrance through the sewers. Or, you could simply pull out your giant axe and start slicing and dicing. That last option never worked so well for me, though. There’s also a large amount of customization this time around, as you can change the color of your Assassin’s clothing, purchase new clothing and armor (each with its own bonuses for health, stealth etc.), and access a pretty large armament of weaponry, from rapiers and halberds to bastard swords and rifles.
The new weapons and armor can be purchased with in-game currency, which can be earned through renovating your Cafe Theatre and completing side missions. Some of these are simple escort missions, while others are far more interesting such as crime scene investigations. Alternatively, you could purchase everything in the game with real, hard-earned cash via the game’s microtransaction system, which the very inclusion of will likely tick some people off. After all, you just paid $60 for this thing right? Thankfully, no content is locked out, and everything can be unlocked with the in-game currency. I just don’t understand who would want to pay full price for the game and then pay even more to access everything right off the bat. I mean, isn’t that part of the fun of playing video games? Playing them and being rewarded with secret content?
To aid Arno in his missions, Ubisoft has crafted a new stealth system. The new system allows players to crouch-walk, as well as dive under cover similar to Gears of War or Uncharted. Unfortunately, the stealth sections run the gamut from dull to infuriating, with plenty of technical glitches such as guards seeing you from behind cover. I appreciated the addition of the new Phantom Blade, though, which allows Arno to shoot blades at enemies from afar, including berserker ammo, which has always been a series favorite of mine.
The updated traversal system, which feels and looks great a large percentage of the time, can’t quite handle what the game is trying to ask of it. The super-steep roofs and complex geometry of a lot of the buildings cause Arno to either glitch out or come to a complete stop, which can be quite annoying during chase missions or last-ditch escape attempts. While I love that many of the buildings in Unity have fully modeled interiors, climbing/jumping through windows is a bit of a nightmare. Arno will climb along the sides of the window, jump above it, drop below it… just about every possible movement aside from climbing through the thing. It almost never works right, and I ended up avoiding them for most of my playthrough, unless I was just exploring the city in between missions.
Assassin’s Creed Unity storms onto next-gen consoles with stellar visuals, a vast, living open world to explore, and improved combat and parkour systems, but some technical hiccups and annoying design choices (chests locked until you play the mobile companion app, microtransactions, etc.) bring the experience down a few notches. Fun ideas like the Rift sequences, which have Arno battling through alternate time periods, and the exciting cooperative experience are what I’d like to see more of in the inevitable sequel, and hopefully by then most of the game engine’s bugs will be squashed. Paris makes for an exceptionally interesting historical playground, and longtime Assassin’s Creed fans will likely have a blast in its open world, if you can overlook some of Unity’s flaws.