Ubisoft are back with another addition to the Assassin’s Creed series; something that promises to be the most powerful, most open world, most cooperative Assassin’s Creed title yet. But has Unity raised the bar for all future open world projects? Does it indeed, unite!?
You play as Arno Dorian, a young boy born and raised in Versailles, who after a few troubled years eventually finds himself wandering the streets of a Paris that is on the verge of the French Revolution. Looking for redemption, Arno joins the Brotherhood of Assassins and sets out to rise above the unrest that is threatening to take over the city he frequents.
With an on-off love interest in the form of his old childhood friend Elise sitting nicely in the background, the inclusion of some wonderful missions that incorporate the works of some of the very best French history makers (Madame Tussaud and Napoleon Bonaparte to name just two), and a city that seemingly never sleeps thrust prominently into the forefront of everything Arno does, Unity brings about a story that twists and turns from one way to the other from the very first minute you load up the game. In fact, you’ll be consistently amazed at the way the modern day Animus simulation takes both you and Arno through an experience that could quite easily envelop you for months on end.
Unfortunately, it’s not all smooth sailing….at least not straight away.
For whilst the shocks in both the story and gameplay will hit you right from the very start, you’ll also be subjected to an Assassin’s Creed game that, whilst promising to take you back to the spirit of the very early AC titles, also hits you with problems that the first Ubisoft game in the series; the original Assassin’s Creed had in abundance.
That of boredom….and frustration.
It must be said I’ve been drawn to the Assassin’s Creed games since the very first one, and whilst the tales have got better with every iteration (except possibly Black Flag), the very first game was a bit of a bore-fest. So when I heard the devs of Unity were promising to go back to their roots, I was a little worried, with the first 8-10 hours of Unity allying those fears with gameplay that is more than a tad uncomfortable. Not only does the story unwind a little too slowly for my liking, but for some strange reason, numerous visual glitches, huge amounts of lag and strange audio muting are present throughout. I’m not one for 1080p this and 30fps that, and am normally quite happy to overlook the odd visual glitch or five but what we are given to start with is a bit embarrassing, that I’m sure many will not cope too well with. However, Assassin’s Creed Unity is without doubt a beautiful place, seemingly pushing the Xbox One for a shed load of power, and perhaps these small issues could be overlooked, but for something that Ubisoft have ploughed so much time, effort and love into, it’s a little strange that we see a start that is so cumbersome.
Thankfully though, once you’ve got the initial storytelling out of the way, things pick up in a big way and the vast majority of glitches seem to strangely disappear. Thank god because what comes next is quite simply immense.
If you’ve played any of the previous games in the series, what is set out in front of you with Unity will be fairly familiar, albeit now everything comes in a much bigger, more hardcore form. The missions on offer can be tackled as and when you wish to, with numerous distractions included for those times when you’d prefer to go it alone. Viewpoints have always been a high point (literally) and these are thankfully still in abundance, with some consisting of basic tower climbs whilst others require you to think about your route in advance. Synchronisation when you finally reach the top of these climbs has, as always, been superbly represented and I can’t think of a time when I’ll ever bore of scaling the heights in order to perch atop a tower looking down on the Revolution in full progress below.
Alongside the mammoth climbs, Paris is filled to the brim with loot chests (some of which need to be unlocked using your locksmith skill), hidden symbols, guard bells that will need sabotaging for when things get really heated, numerous collectible artifacts and hidden cockades floating around in hard to reach places. You’ll also be able to upgrade and customise your ‘base’; the ‘Cafe Theatre’ which houses a visual representation of the bits and bobs you’ve collected on your time clambering round the French capital. The inclusion of the Parisian metro system (or at least an early version of it), means you can sneak about under ground to your hearts content if you so wish.
Parkour is obviously still a huge huge part of everything you do in Assassin’s Creed Unity, just now, it’s that little bit better than before. Not only can you free run near enough anywhere, but climbing and indeed descending has been reworked to provide a smoother, much more fluid ascent and descent. It makes you feel much more like an ‘Assassin’ than even in the most recent of the series titles and comes in a treat whenever you need to get somewhere fast!
It’s also a great tool for exploring the vast amount of open buildings that are present in Unity and whilst the many closed doors at first may seem like an easy way for the developers to cram in a load of nice looking but ultimately unexciting buildings, if you are prepared to go about things the right way, then you’ll be glad to know that many of the seemingly closed units are indeed open for investigation…..you just need to search around a bit to find that one window or door that is open and inviting you in!
Rumours have it that the distinct factions which occupy the numerous and well defined streets of Paris can accommodate up to 10,000 living and breathing characters at any one time (and believe me, that’s a sight you really must see with your own eyes), but even once inside, the attention to detail is of the very highest quality, with tables laid ready for food and NPC’s going about their daily business near enough everywhere you look. Even when you find yourself crouching around a nobleman’s house in search of that last hidden chest, there is still plenty of life found indoors; both good and bad.
It wouldn’t be an Assassin’s Creed title if there wasn’t an outstanding fighting mechanic available and thankfully with Unity, this yet again turns out to be the case. Fights with guards, fights with random street urchins and the silent assassinations of anyone you don’t like the look of are well played out and seem to be a little faster and more fluid than anything we have seen before. Attacking, parrying and dodging all works well (at least once you get into the swing of things) and the options to purchase, customise and upgrade weapons, tools and indeed Arno himself work delightfully well with further options opening up to you as and when you reach certain missions. The customisation is super deep with skills and boosts available at the drop of a hat, and numerous weapons available depending on whether you prefer to go the silent, the melee or the ranged weapons route.
Of course, Unity has been built from the ground up and this time a very big emphasis is being placed on the inclusion of a cooperative mode; a mode that really gives you the chance to unite! Whether you just want to play the odd mission with a friend or three, or set up and control a full clan taking on others across the world, Unity delivers in absolute spades. Whilst you can’t go about your single player campaign with a clanmate, there are numerous co-op missions, and co-op heists scattered around Paris that are both enjoyable and immensely rewarding. Thanks to the huge scale of customisation and assassin skills on offer, you’ll find that co-op missions are best attempted when you have a well rounded group of assassins available, with certain skills allowing you to share your eagle-vision with others or kit each and every one of your team out in a certain disguise. It’s obviously much easier to participate in and coordinate your route of attack when with a friend who is micced up, but if you’re just looking for a stranger to join, then they seem to work well enough for even those who are mute. Of course, if you just want to team up with a mate to go on a wander experiencing the Parisian offerings on hand then you may do so.
Whilst Assassin’s Creed Unity is not without its early faults, for the most part they pale into insignificance when put alongside the sheer size, sheer scale and sheer joy that is received from taking in an 18th Century Paris, that is living and breathing to such a high extent. Look beyond the slightly annoying visual glitches coupled with a slow start and you’ll find that Ubisoft have created a world that is pretty darn magical, quite honestly pushing the boundaries to such an extent that we should perhaps expect the odd stutter in time.
And even with those issues, Unity is something you’ll still be playing not just a few weeks time, but if you wish to explore Paris fully, will see you still going through many months ahead. I for one am disappointed I can’t give it full marks due to the reasons already mentioned, but that doesn’t mean I won’t still be playing it constantly over the next few months. I just hope Ubisoft can find something in them which helps smooths things out a bit, because as soon as that happens, we could quite easily be looking at a GOTY contender.
Just bear with it, it’ll be worth it in the long run…won’t it?