I received my copy of Assassin’s Creed Unity later than the rest of the reviewing world, it seems. I was actually happy about this – it meant that I played the entirety of the game after the Day One patch was released. So, is Ubisoft’s most ambitious Assassin’s Creed game worthwhile, or does it still smell like a French cliché?
Assassin’s Creed Unity takes place during the French revolution and follows Arno, a descendent of an assassin who is actually taken in by a Templar upon his father’s death. When his adoptive father is also killed, Arno seeks redemption and revenge while teaming up with his adoptive sister/lover to do so. It’s an extremely basic and mundane story with the lead character having the now typical level of Ubisoft-created personality, which is to say none. There are brief moments of charm between him and Elise, but the facial motion capture and voice performance of Elise leaves much wanting, making the flirtation feel even more awkward than the fact that they are adoptive siblings.
While Arno’s personality may be wanting, at least you can customize him to become your perfect assassin. I generally tend towards stealth approaches, preferring to sneak and stab everyone rather than melee or shoot my opponents. As a result, I opted for a hood, pants and bracers to promote this approach, boosting my health and stealth. However, getting these various customizable pieces can be tricky; there are four types of currency in the game leading to some initial confusion. While some equipment can be purchased with the equivalent of money, it can also be “hacked” with Helix points that are purchased with real world money, or earned with random uPlay achievements. Once purchased, these items can be upgraded using what is essentially experience – points that you accumulate through performing cool assassin things such as air assassinations or perfect parries in combat.
Beyond customizing his gear, you can also customize Arno’s skills using the fourth currency. These are only earned from completely plot missions, whether single player or co-op. While some skills only unlock as you progress through the plot, most you simply need to purchase with your points. Of course, this also amplifies your customization as not all assassins will be able to double assassinate, or throw money on the ground as a distraction. This means that players will need to prioritize their skills and even save up points for qualities that they really want for their version of Arno.
Unity boasts a whole bunch of new content for the Assassin’s Creed brand, particularly its co-op gameplay. For the first time, you can team up with other assassins and take on a larger mission. Unfortunately, when I played, co-op was mostly broken. Matchmaking took so long that eventually the game told me to just try it by myself, or when it did work the various mission objectives were broken or didn’t track properly. While it was fun to run around with other people, unfortunately every time it ended up being a broken experience. As a result, I generally played the co-op missions on my own. While this made them more difficult, at least I was able to complete them. However, you only get a portion of the rewards each time you complete the co-op missions, forcing you to replay them if you want all the gear or points.
Despite the co-op being promised as a seamless experience, it really isn’t. The missions jump around throughout time, sometimes taking place before or after the revolution was already underway. This can make following the central storyline rather confusing, and also obviously changes the flow of the game as co-op missions seem to exist in their own version of Paris. Add to this the ridiculously long load times for co-op, and it begins to feel like a chore.
In actual fact, the load times in general are absurdly long. I actually timed the loading period to fast travel, and it took between 30-40 seconds. Depending on how far I was going across the map, I actually found it faster to just run across the city. Mission loading times were similarly long – I often couldn’t even tell if the mission had registered as accepted because I would continue to run around the city for about a minute before being magically transported into the task at hand.
When the loaded, the missions were truly wonderful, though. Without automatic desychronization, players really can take their own approach for each activity. There are tons of alternatives – you can free prisoners to cause distractions, use poison instead of traditional assassination, or just tank your way through and kill all the guards with brute force. It is simply a delight to play however you might like, sneaking and climbing, using lock picking if you have it.
Other new mission types are surprisingly fantastic, too. I thoroughly enjoyed the murder mysteries, using eagle vision much like Batman-sense to find clues and piece together who the culprit was. It’s a nice change from the stabbing of Assassin’s Creed and forces some logical thought and reasoning skills instead of just the ability to kill all the things.
Unfortunately, while exploring Paris and engaging with these various missions, I still found far too many bugs. I was happily run across a rooftop, preparing to kill a sniper when the next thing I knew I’d fallen through the building and out of the world. The parkour would often glitch out, leading to bizarre animations. Additionally, when climbing the major landmarks in order to synchronize the map, I more often than not had horrific frame rate issues to the point where Arno appeared to be teleporting up the Notre Dam.
Despite promises that combat would be improved, I still found it to be rather flat. Slash at your enemies unless they flash, then counter and continue slashing. If the battle becomes too populated or difficult, use a smoke bomb to thin their ranks. Rinse and repeat. While there are new animations, it’s still far more satisfying to just sneak around and kill everyone rather than engage in open combat. However, a nice added touch is environmental blood splatter which was added in Unity – after assassinating a guard, not only do they end up bloody, but their surrounding areas also get some tell tale blood splatter.
The game feels desperate to tie you into the uPlay experience, locking some treasure behind extra gateways that can only be accessed if you make use of the companion app or Initiates experience. However, both of these are extremely buggy and rather unfulfilling. I played with the companion app while waiting for loading screens, which I suppose helped to fill the time but it was in no way entertaining or fun.
The time anomalies are interesting, although the best one was shown off in the trailer and including shooting down Nazi war planes. However, in the game, it ends up feeling like a waste of an experience – these are entirely linear missions that are purely a matter of running for your life in most instances.
At least the game is stunningly beautiful. From fantastic textures to breathtaking recreations of landmarks, Paris is absolutely gorgeous in the game. There are a ton of crowd models and personalities, adding character and flair to the experience and making the city feel alive. If nothing else, at least the game is a joy to behold.
Assuming Ubisoft can fix the numerous bugs, Assassin’s Creed Unity might become a much better, more entertaining game. Unfortunately, some issues are part of the core experience, including a lackluster storyline and an ending that feels like a let down. When it works, Unity shows glimmers of pure brilliance. Unfortunately, there is currently just too much wrong with the game, even after initial patches.
Last Updated: November 21, 2014