Assassins Creed: Unity, available now on the Xbox One, Playstation 4 and PC, takes place on the eve of the French Revolution and follows Arno Dorian, who is framed for the murder of a prominent noble and seeks the guidance of an ancient order of assassins, assisting them in their struggles against the world dominating Templar order while hunting down the man who framed him and rekindling his love affair with his childhood friend Elise, who is herself a member of the Templar order. The crux of the story focuses on how both sides are similar in many ways, the lengths they will go through to realize their ideals if one of their own gets in their way, and how pride and obsession can turn us into monsters, using the backdrop of the reign of Terror period in French history to mimic the concepts of the story. At the center is Arno and Elise, who forsake their alliances for the sake of revenge, and for each other. The story is rich and interesting, with plenty of twists and betrayals on both sides.
Gameplay is focused on three main areas; free running, swordplay and stealth. Free running is fun and helps you navigate the large game world efficiently, leaping between rooftops, diving through open windows and running through detailed interiors before leaping back onto the rooftops without missing a beat. Many buildings in the game are explorable, with most being used for missions at some point. However movement can feel somewhat stiff at times when trying to climb around a building, and while the game is designed to prevent Arno from jumping off into space, accidents can happen and there is no way to grab onto the wall and save yourself, unlike previous games.
Combat is fairly difficult and engaging; you parry attacks and strike with your own, opening up for some brutal finishing moves. You can switch between a single handed sword for fast attacks, a heavy weapon for guard crushing attacks and a long weapon with extended reach and parrying capabilities; each has their own strengths and weakness which help play into the co-op component of the game. You also have the advantage of ranged weapons like pistols and muskets, which can be fired quickly in combat, or you can take aim for the perfect headshot.
There are several different enemies types too, including heavy weapon enemies and pole arm enemies, not to mention those pesky snipers, so you have to adjust your strategy mid fight to deal with new threats. Each enemy has their own difficulty, which is dictated by both the mission and district your in, and will try to surround you and attack you from out of your line of sight. This difficulty is extremely engaging and has your head on a constant swivel, making you either focus on skills and gear designed for combat, or on staying out of a fight completely.
This brings us to stealth; hiding is divided between sneaking around, using cover and hiding in the massive crowds of Paris. The games trademark hidden blade lets you silently pick out and execute an enemy in the crowd and then slip away unseen. You can also hide in outhouses and hay-bales to avoid your pursuers. The phantom blade allows you to silently shoot darts at your enemies from afar, though replacement darts are hard to come by. Usually these are best used on the rooftops to take out snipers, before dropping down onto an unsuspecting guard. As a result there are multiple approaches to stealth, making it very robust and allows for you to develop your own play style.
There are plenty of different missions types in the game, including assassinations, item retrieval, murder mystery investigations and riddle challenges, which involve investigating the environment and looking for clues in database entries on the different historical landmarks of Paris. The investigations prove to be one of the more interesting aspects, as you collect clues to find the killer based on your own intuition and instincts. But the real stand out is the assassination missions, which provide you with different opportunities to cause a distraction or even poison your target without getting close. You’re pretty much left to your own devices which gives them something of a Hitman vibe and differentiates them from the regular missions. The problem with the main missions however is the side objectives to get 100% completion, which force you to go against your planned out strategy for the sake of killing a bunch of enemies with a headshot and risk blowing your cover.
The selling point of Unity is the co-op missions, which include large scale quests with multiple objectives and heist missions which net you a large amount of money if you can grab the goal without being seen. Fortunately you being seen won’t ruin the reward for your partners, so you don’t need to worry about letting them down. Just yourself. Your skills and equipment can be expensive or require work to acquire, making your choices about your gear carry more weight and help tailor your character to your own play style. As a result teams can include people of different strengths and strategies; a sniper who can share his vision with his allies, a heavy soldier who can heal everyone at once and a stealth based hunter who can disguise himself and nearby allies as the enemy.
The only issue with co-op is the lack of people with mics to co-operate with you, though this is an issue with players rather than the game. Seriously, I’m sure you’ll be forgiven for being sociable in a team based objective game. It’s not like a deathmatch where you just come across as annoying.
The world map is massive and feels crowded, providing plenty of opportunities to vanish into the crowd. The world feels like a downright warzone, with people beating each other up in the street, revolutionaries parading heads on spikes, lovers making out in the shadows of an alley and jabbering maniacs hiding in the vast underground sections; you’ll keep spotting new animations and things which help bring the environment to life. Some of the world is downright beautiful, like the interior of Paris’ many palaces, and if you get a chance go to the Notre Dame cathedral at sunset for a spectacular light effect. However an issue lies in the lack of French accents, replacing them with British accents instead. Having French accents would really help sell the setting, like it did for the second instalment in the series. On the other hand, the voice acting is on top form and the music helps emphasis the atmosphere and bring drama to moments that need it.
The big issue with the game is the lack of polish; At the time of writing the game will frequently crash and glitches that require you to restart the mission crop up at the worst moments. I’ve had reports of Arno falling through the floor for other people, though it has never happened to me throughout my entire playthroughs, so there are other bugs that I don’t know about; allegedly the Xbox One version is the most stable of the three. Glitches and the like are expected from a game of this size, but when they are this frequent and even game breaking then it’s something that you need to fix at launch; the reviews won’t take future patches into account, even with your 12PM embargo on reviews.
AC: Unity takes the Assassin’s Creed series back to its roots, with a focus on the Templar and Assassin conflict rather than on the Revolution itself. The free form assassinations are reminiscent of the first game, which were sorely missing from the series in my opinion. It’s not as fun as the pirate gameplay of 4, but new gameplay additions and the larger crowds emphasize the return to an urban setting. The ability to free run up or down with a button press makes navigation more complex, though it does require some getting used to. Maybe it’s the whole going back to the urban environment after the last two games were more about tree navigation and ship combat helps the game feel less stale than if it just kept to the urban environment, and shows that a yearly series can be done right so long as they keep mixing things up, though with all the bugs and glitches it feels like they should give these games a longer development cycle, otherwise we could very quickly have another Madden/FIFA/Call of Duty on our hands.
Overall, Assassin’s Creed Unity is downright beautiful and fun to play, with plenty of content that is open to your play style, helped out by a deep customization system that requires you to think about how you play. The story is engaging on its own, while the Co-op gameplay extends the life of this already massive game. The game is subject to multiple bugs and glitches; if it had only had a bit more time it could be a perfect game
+ Rich and engaging story
+ Plenty of missions and content
+ Spectacular and detailed environments
– Multiple glitches and bugs which can break the game at times
– Free running sometimes feels stiff and unresponsive