I’m a huge fan of the Assassin’s Creed series. Having played every game in the series, I was let down by AC3, not because the game didn’t play well but the story didn’t really interest me. Fast forward to Assassin’s Creed Unity, I expected Ubisoft to again build on the technical achievements of the previous titles. I can’t help but feel we have gone backwards.
I’m going to start with what I like about Assassin’s Creed Unity. Visually the game is stunning. The vast expanse that is Paris has been painstakingly recreated in all it’s glory and is the biggest city in the series to date with a 1:1 scale architecture. It really is something to marvel at. Added that a quarter of the buildings have a fully decorated interior, allowing you to free run through to escape your enemies adding an entirely new dimension to the gameplay and no loading times.
Since the conclusion of Ezio’s story, the series has introduced a new Assassin each and every time. And I’ve found it hard to find a likeable feature about the newer Assassins. Connor was boring. Edward, well, he wasn’t really an Assassin he was a pirate and Adéwalé didn’t really have much in the form of gameplay. Arno, I like Arno. He reminds me of Ezio. He’s a bit of a rascal, and when you meet him fully grown he’s stealing back an item he lost in gambling. He’s a fast talker and seems to get into trouble wherever he goes, but is forced to leave this attitude behind when he becomes an Assassin. This is perhaps reflected in the way he moves and how he executes his moves. His movements are slick and concise with a hint of brutality thrown into the mix.
I felt that Ubisoft are conscious this is the fifth main game in the series, as a majority of Arno’s training is skipped. Fast forward a few years and he is a fully fledged assassin. I was a little disappointed with this break in the narrative. I was looking forward to experiencing the change in Arno’s character during these years. Seeing him go from upper class to a brother of the assassins.
With the addition of the Co-op missions, Ubisoft has added the ability to customise Arno to your liking. You can now change the colours of your Assassin’s robes and armour, and by equipping new sets your overall appearance will be greatly altered. Though I’m not entirely sure a bright yellow Assassin is stealthy, but that doesn’t stop me from running around in a yellow cloak and hood. You can also upgrade your armour and weapons from their base stats to give you a bit of a boost to your protection or damage dealt. You can do this by spending Creed Points which you earn by completing missions or crowd events.
This brings me to the currency in general. It has become a little complicated and unnecessary. In addition to your standard currency of the realm, Francs, you also earn Creed Points which I mentioned above, Sync Points and Helix Credits. Your Francs will buy you weapons and armour and upgrades to your various buildings. Like in previous titles you get this by opening chests and the like (though you can no longer pickpocket, more on this later). You then have Sync Points. You can earn these through climbing and use the synchronisation points or complete co-op missions and they’re used to unlock new abilities for Arno, such as double assassination, poison bombs etc. Lastly, you have Helix Credits, which you can buy with real life money. The dreaded microtransactions are here. You can then exchange these for weapons and armour. Although Ubisoft has opted to include microtransactions, I can’t say I’ve felt the need to actually buy any of these Helix Credits, as everything can be unlocked with ease by just playing the game.
The game plays like an Assassin’s Creed game. More so than the last two entries in the series. The open rooftops of Paris are a throwback to Renaissance Italy. The addition of the ability to free run down buildings is an excellent step forward for the series. My only gripe is that the who free running system again feels a little wooden. A little unfinished. I found on multiple occasions Arno would jump in the wrong direction, or cling to a surface for dear life despite me trying to drop to the streets below.
The controls, in general, have been reworked. I’m not going to lie, I really do not like the changes that have been made. The close quarter combat has been reworked, with counter kills being removed from the system. Fighting now feels more like a chore, unless you upgrade your weapons to deal more damage. You have to unlock abilities with Sync points before you can use them. For example, Arno apparently does not know how to double assassinate or air assassinate before unlocking the feature. Gone are the double blades and manual assassinations. Arno now only has one hidden blade which is no longer mapped to any of the attack buttons. You cannot use them in a fight, and when assassinating your targets glow red to signal that you are able to perform the move. This I have to say really irked me.
Picking up bodies has also been removed. Why? I have no idea. No longer can you use bodies to set traps, or to help with your assassinations. Talk about going backwards.
Story-wise I felt that Unity was pretty well rounded. Ubisoft is still following the whole Abstergo route, where the game is, in fact, a game within a game. Using the Animus technology to flush out artefacts from the past in the guise of an interactive historical journey. The Paris sections are fun, and a nice break in gameplay where your avatar of Arno is jumping from server to server to avoid detection from Abstergo, giving you a glimpse at an Assassin’s Creed game in a more recent setting. Arno’s journey for vengeance is much like Ezio’s with the added twist of someone close to him being of an opposite mindset.
The setting of Paris mid-revolution is such a rich period in Europe’s history. It builds on the crusades of the first game and adds to the technological advancements that were introduced with Renaissance Italy. It is a pity that this is only used as a backdrop for the story. Mainly focusing on Arno I felt that Unity could have done better tying it into the time period and showing us what it could have been like for an assassin back then.
Overall Assassin’s Creed Unity is a good enough game. I was fortunate enough not to encounter any of the game breaking bugs which were circulating the internet just after release. I am disappointed that Ubisoft has decided to remove some of the key features which were introduced in AC2, such as double hidden blades and moving bodies. The addition of the free running system to move freely down buildings is a fantastic idea, but at the moment it still feels like it needs more refinement to work flawlessly. The whole system feels like it has been given an upgrade at the cost of fluidity. For the sake of moving forward, many of the features that I loved have been removed with no clear reason as to why.
For fans of the series, it’s an entry into the franchise that you’ll want to play. Arno is a great character and feels more rounded than Connor ever did. If you’re new to the series then I would approach it with an open mind and forgive its faults. I hope Ubisoft can pull the series back and make it great again. Follow the lead of AC3, which was technically a great game, it just lacked in story.