Server crashes, multiple patches, frame-rate faults, post-release review embargo’s, French left-wing politicians angered, Ubisoft’s latest triple A release has not had the greatest start in life. Welcome to stock price plummeting world which is Assassin’s Creed: Unity.
When this game first released in the US on November 11th it was met with blindly negative comments from gamers thanks almost entirely to the unfinished feel to the, sometimes unplayable, buggy environment.
Ubisoft suffered badly as a result to the point where their stock price fell drastically, their servers buckled and their support forums were ablaze with arguments and insults from unhappy gamers. This was made considerably worse by the fact that Ubisoft deliberately put a review embargo on the game meaning that even the big guys couldn’t publish a review until 12 hours after the game had been released. Throw in all the drama we as gamers have had recently with the likes of Driveclub and it’s no surprise that the gaming community was unhappy.
But a week on and for the most part Ubisoft have done a fair job at picking up the pieces, fixing the problems and doing what they can to get this game playable. It’s for this reason that I’ve held off writing this review until I was able to play the game to close to it’s full potential and I’m glad I waited as my first impressions would have seen this game receiving nothing more than a barely mediocre score at best.
I should stress that at the time of writing this review the game is still not perfect, it still has bugs (especially the PC version), but following a patch late last week on the PS4 I experienced little to no bugs and so my view on this game is likely to be less tainted then some of those who reviewed the game at release.
So let’s leave the woe’s behind and focus on the franchise continuation that is Assassin’s Creed: Unity.
Set during the French Revolution you play Arno Dorian, the son of murdered assassin who is adopted by a Templar Grandmaster. Years after his father’s death Arno is unintentionally framed for the murder of his adopted paternal figure and imprisoned for the crime.
While in prison our hero meets a man claiming to have known his father well, an assassin who offers Arno the chance to redeem himself and join the brotherhood. With a thirst for vengeance and the need to discover the true reasons behind both his fathers death and his adopted fathers death, Arno begins a new life as a member of the ancient society which his bloodline has such deep connections with.
On Arno’s journey we meet a number of historically famous individuals, all re-imagined for the purposes of the Assassin’s Creed franchise, much like past games which have seen the likes of Leonardo Da Vinci and George Washington actively working with the assassin brotherhood. As game producer Antoine Vimal du Monteil said, “Assassin’s Creed Unity is a mainstream video game, not a history lesson”.
The story follows what has become the unofficial template for an Assassin’s Creed game, boy has bad experience, boy meets assassin, assassin trains boy to be assassin, boy now assassin goes after the Templars plaguing that particular time period.
Where this game differs is that you’re never really sure where Arno’s loyalties lie, he’s not an assassin at heart and his main quest is to redeem himself for not saving a man that turned out to be the head of the Templar order, he’s conflicted throughout. While this is an interesting twist that offers a new look at the franchise, the story falls into the same trap as everything post-Desmond, it adds little to the overall mythos. In fact it offers next to nothing in terms of the modern-day storyline, we don’t even get to leave the animus this time around.
Fans of the series that have been following the story may feel a little cheated by this, some may argue that this is because it’s not a full mainstream edition, it’s not Assassin’s Creed V but looking back at earlier games in the series, Brotherhood and Revelations boosted the pre-cursor story-line considerably.
Those arguments aside the conflicting nature of Arno’s story sets nicely against the similarly conflicting environment that was revolutionary Paris and while lacking true substance the story will still draw you in.
One of Unity’s biggest strengths is the welcomed return of the densely populated cityscape, something Assassin’s Creed III and IV replaced with large open areas with minimal character interaction. The Assassin’s Creed Paris is a beauty to behold, it’s huge, it’s teeming with life, there’s so much on offer here that the interactive map gets a little crowded fairly quickly. There is that real sense of danger lurking around every corner (or on every rooftop) that made Assassin’s Creed II such an amazing game.
While the setting takes inspiration from previous games in the series, the movement and fighting mechanics have had something of an overhaul.
Holding down the right trigger is no longer enough to guarantee the perfect parkour run from rooftop to rooftop, now we have a button for parkour up and a button for parkour down. Yes this may add an extra level of complexity the series didn’t need but once you’ve mastered it, oh it’s fun and incredibly useful.
Gone are the days when you’re smooth flow from building to building is ended by the character suddenly coming to the edge of a building with nowhere left to jump, the two possible outcomes of which were usually death or a sudden stop in an awkward position that left the player panning round the screen so the character could move again. Now however, with a minor button change you can have your assassin quickly and smoothly navigate up or down in one movement depending on the terrain. It can be a pain at first for series veterans who have the controls ingrained in their heads but very quickly you will see the advantages.
One of the more understated changes in the game is a new leveling system, with every assassination, finisher, escape and mission completed you earn assassin level points which in turn accumulate and level the player up. These points can also be spent on upgrading weapons and equipment. I’ll be honest, I’m yet to really see the point in the level system when playing offline, it doesn’t really do much at all. Most of the weapons and equipment are unlocked through mission successes and so your level doesn’t play a part there, it just seems redundant, more of another way of displaying the progress statistics that already exist.
There are certain gaming franchises that really don’t need multiplayer to be great games, this years Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor is a prime example, and up until now Assassin’s Creed has been on them. Many have criticized the AC multiplayer as quite slow and dull, a stealth based third person really isn’t going to have to same appeal as say Destiny but that’s all changed with Unity.
Competitive multiplayer is non-existent in the latest Assassin’s Creed, no wolf-pack this time folks, the focus here is cooperation.
The core mechanics for multiplayer have been designed from the ground up to incorporate full online cooperative game-play. You can create your own brotherhood, your own club and invite your friends to join. Club members can then work together on specific coop missions and work towards set objectives and earn assassin level points. Not in the mood for a coop mission? Well why not just invite a friend over to your open-world and go on a full blown rampage, the option is there and it’s what many of us fans have been craving for since Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood first introduced the concept of the online creed.
Assassin’s Creed: Unity has also fully embraced the now common concept of companion app integration and taken it to the next level. Like Black Flag’s companion app, Unity’s app allows the player to connect to their live game and use the interactive map as they would the in-game map. Also back from the previous game is the ability to send resources on missions, in Black Flag it was ship based missions, Unity returns to the AC standard of sending out brotherhood members.
This time around you don’t just earn cash from these missions though, you actually unlock special assassination missions and chests within the game for special content.
While I enjoy companion apps for games, the way they add that little bit extra, whether in detailed statistics or side missions, I don’t think many players will appreciate the way Ubisoft is essentially trying to force them to use the mobile app in order to pick up valued resources rather than having an in-game version of the missions as they have in previous games. Whether this becomes the norm moving forward is still unknown but hopefully not for the sake of those that prefer to keep their games and phones separate.
Graphically this game has few equals, Ubisoft have done a fantastic job of utilizing the power of the current generation of consoles and PC graphics cards. Paris is simply stunning and the animation of the characters, from cut-scenes to their in-play movement has been improved significantly compared to Black Flag.
On the audio side, it’s everything we’ve come to expect from Assassin’s Creed, a beautifully original ambient soundtrack mixed with some superb voice-over work. The lead character Arno is voiced by Dan Jeannotte, a name that probably isn’t familiar to most of you but he has been working with Ubisoft since Assassin’s Creed III, let’s just say Kevin Spacey wasn’t available for this one. The rest of the voice-over cast support the game very well, all providing talented performances which help drive the story, but this has been a constant in the series since day one.
Overall this game was released just a little too early, while another delay (yes this was delayed previously by two weeks) would likely have cost the publisher big, the respect for the franchise would have remained in tact and it has suffered as a result. That said Ubisoft have worked hard and, at the time of writing this review, continue to work hard to get this game up working perfectly. If you haven’t purchased this game yet, be patient and pick it up in a couple of weeks, it will be worth the wait.
Once the major bugs are completely fixed this game will be one of the highlights of the year and one of the highlights in the franchise as a whole. It’s story isn’t it’s biggest selling point but the integration of cooperative modes set among the glorious open-world environment make this a must for fans of the series. This is the closest that Ubisoft have come to recreating the genius that is Assassin’s Creed II, a better story would have pushed it over the top.