In 2007, Assassin’s Creed exploded onto the PS3 and Xbox 360 consoles promising open ended stealth assassinations with a compelling historical narrative. The game initially didn’t fully deliver on all promises made, therefore leaving gamers bitterly disappointed about an experience they had been looking forward to since snippets of the game were first unveiled to the public. Forward seven years and Assassin’s Creed Unity is the next chapter in the long running Assassin’s Creed story arc, released this week on the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. Running up to its launch, Unity has promised new black box style assassination missions and a bustling recreation of an iconic Paris. Will Unity finally deliver on some promises made nearly a decade ago, or will it simply disappoint like so many other Assassin’s Creed games before it?
Assassin’s Creed Unity opens up in Versailles 1776 before the French Revolution. You join Arno Dorian at a young age, exploring and playing hide and seek with his childhood friend Elise. His life quickly spirals out of his control due to the mysterious death of his father and his step father at the hands of an unknown organisation. The fact that Arno seeks redemption and not revenge is what compelled me to play through an unusually dark story and endure what was at first a mundane plot. After his imprisonment, Arno’s pathway to the assassin’s order is no retread of games past, but a journey forged out of his love for Elise and his desired redemption of grave mistakes made. Additionally, Elise is a memorable character and truly one of the best Assassin’s Creed supporting characters I have witnessed. Whit, flamboyance and a love interest are all brought to the narrative and her chemistry with Arno compares to partnerships like Joel and Ellie from The Last of Us. The first half of the game does feel bland and unremarkable, mainly due to the absence of Elise. However, the second half is full of plot-twists which take the well-crafted narrative to new heights and ultimately helps create a story which is thankfully simple, but iconic in its own right.
First off, I would like to address the fact that Assassin’s Creed Unity pushes the PS4 and Xbox One to their technical limits. From the bustling metropolis of Paris filled with stunningly detailed high-rises as far as the eye can see, to crowds accommodating 10,000 angry revolutionists which feel alive and truly unpredictable – Assassin’s Creed Unity is a visual masterpiece which beautifully realises a revolutionary eighteenth century Paris. Furthermore, the detailed structures which make up this sprawling recreation of Paris tower over the landscape, making for excellent traversal. You can tell that Unity is pushing the consoles to their limits due to the constant texture pop ins and bugs here and there. The frame-rates did drop from 30 frames per second to an unplayable rate on many occasions during my playthrough and it’s a shame that the main story didn’t intersect with the French revolution on many occasions. However, the vast improvements certainly make Assassin’s Creed Unity feel in some ways like a return to the well-received roots of Assassin’s Creed 2, which many still argue to be the pinnacle of the series.
Assassin’s Creed games have always pushed platforms to the limits where graphics are concerned. However, in recent years mission design has become a real hindrance to the series. Most of your time in Assassin’s Creed 3 and 4 was spent tailing targets for hours on end for no meaningful purpose, clearly showing a lack of creativity at Ubisoft. I am happy to report that 2014 is the year tailing missions have been scrapped and replaced with open ended assassinations instead. These assassinations are varied and can be tackled from a number of exciting ways. Head on towards the enemy, around the side through a window, or of course from a network of underground tunnels – all tactics are possible and go a long way to making you feel like a true master assassin. The enhanced difficulty adds to the thrill of a great assassination, with players having to treat A.I. with caution instead of simply mad rushing through the open world environment like you tend to do in a Call of Duty game. One guard can be dealt with ease and simplicity. However, three guards will raise the difficulty level a fairly significant amount. My only criticism is that the mission design feels formulaic and repetitive in the first half of the game, while the engaging plot twists help save the story from becoming too bland for its own good, which in a serendipitous way adds even more mission variety to the gameplay.
Arno Dorian is a complex character, unlike any other assassins we have experienced before. Unlike Connor from Assassin’s Creed 3, he is motivated by redemption, as opposed to revenge, and has many new character traits which previous assassins did not wield. Arno can be flamboyant, humorous and troublesome one minute, and suddenly serious and purpose-driven the next. Arno feels like a culmination of everything wonderful and charming about Ezio and Conner. At times throughout my playthrough, Arno controlled terribly. This is a recurring issue with the franchise though, but does cumulatively add up to make for a frustrating gameplay experience when other issues such as bugs and frame-rate dipping are also taken into account. These issues really pulled me out of the experience and made me second guess myself whether to attempt specific tactics at the detriment of my own frustration. A positive redeeming bit though is that Arno can now be fully customized. Players can change every part of him, from the colour of his garments to the skills and abilities that he possesses – the game is tailored to the way you play and the choices you make along the way. This is an Assassin’s Creed title that lets you shape the complex narrative and doesn’t just take you along for an empty ride.
Back in 2007, the premise of the Assassin’s Creed story arc involves finding pieces of Eden that are scattered around the globe, and ultimately saving the world in the process. This was a clichéd story objective that felt wasted on many gamers who loved the historical time periods. The introduction of time travels in Unity is a vast improvement on the old modern day missions which originally feels limited in scope and frustrating in comparison. These new time travelling sequences will have you climbing the Eiffel Tower in one instance and descending nineteenth century underground stations the next. Ubisoft’s streamlining of the modern day backstory, which has festered the series since day one, is a bold move and one which allows gamers to continue to have fun exploring Paris while not being entirely removed from the experience. If you were expecting Unity to push the Abstergo plot forward in any significant way, you will be disappointed. Co-operative play was a heavily promoted feature running up to the launch of Assassin’s Creed Unity and is set to replace the traditional P v P multiplayer first introduced in Brotherhood. Up to four players can play cooperatively at the same time. The most entertaining mode is the Heist missions where stealth is a key aspect. Unlocking skills which further develop Arno in my own game was great to see and was what compelled me to come back time and time again to play co-operatively. Sadly, without a well organised team, these Co-operative missions will prove a challenge and become sidelined. The traditional unique multiplayer doesn’t make a return this year.
Assassin’s Creed games have always been known for the wealth of varied, sometimes monotonous, side content which is continually forced on us year after year. 2014 is no different, but considering that Assassin’s Creed is an annual release now, Ubisoft has gone to great effort to revamp the mundane and repetitive side quests, replacing them with contents which heavily tie in with the main campaign. Over your twenty hour journey across revolutionary Paris, many Chests, Paris stories and Sync points are out there for Arno to discover. One side mission in particular that stands out above the rest is the Cafe Theatre, which rewards players with in-game currency for completing missions linked to its renovation. The Cafe Theatre missions create a sense of player impact on the world and let players feel like they are having an actual bearing on the revolution in Paris. Fancy a greater challenge? The Nostradamus Enigma would offer a challenge for any puzzle solver brave enough to tackle it.
Assassin’s Creed Unity is two steps forward for the long running series and unfortunately one giant leap of faith back. Although many persistent problems like the tailing missions and the modern day story arc have been overhauled to the point of greatness, Unity creates many new issues which in-turn pull you out of the incredible revolutionary experience. These issues range from a flawed cover mechanic, frequent bugs to a story which alludes the French Revolution theme. The story starts off being bland and limited in scope, but soon improves once Elise comes into the picture. The excellent voice performance also helps provide a better sense of realism for the game. Additionally, the introduction of cooperative multiplayer, although ambitious due to the blending of story and online gameplay, ultimately falls flat due to its intense difficulty and pure anarchy. When playing Unity, in some ways the experience feels like a return to form for the series. Although fun, certain aspects of it fall short of expectations. Assassin’s Creed Unity is a game which sets out to revolutionise the series, but in the end revolutionizes very little at all.