Ubisoft releases its next intalment in its yearly Assassin’s Creed series with the arrival of Assassin’s Creed Unity which is available exclusively to the Xbox One, PS4 and PC to become a true “next gen” experience. With Black Flag raising the bar for the franchise, how well does Unity stack up and is it worthy of your time and money. Take a look at our Assassin’s Creed Unity review for the full picture.
Assassin’s Creed Unity Review:
Today we’re taking a look at Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed Unity which marks the series 7th game in its main story arc and comes exclusively to Xbox One, PS4 and PC as a true next generation title. The game tells a love story filled with revenge and betrayal with new protagonist and likeable character Arno Dorian set against a backdrop of the French Revolution in the late 1700s in Paris. The game’s setting and tone are clear from offset as Arno’s life is turned upside-down with the death of his assassin father. The story pits the Assassin brotherhood versus the Templar faith once again, except there’s touches of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet as the two childhood friends Elise and Arno go their separate ways and into opposing factions moving into adulthood. Aside from presenting some excellent cinematic moments and warming scenes between the two characters, there’s enough grit, shady actions and bloodshed to keep players hooked from start to the rather expected and cliché conclusion. Admittedly, the story is rather simple looking at its basic premise of revenge for motivation, however with an underlying restless nation and between chapters, plenty to see and do in this open world action game, any shortcomings with the story are easily forgotten.
In essence, the core gameplay mechanics of the series remain, being faithful to previous games offering much familiarity for series vets. Arno can run through the city at pace, scale all manner of structures, stealth his way through a variety of missions and whip out the rapiers and cutlasses in brutal combat when the brown stuff hits the fan. It’s all here, although some tweaks have been made most notably to the combat which still relies heavily on its counter-attack reflex actions but ups the anti by introducing a more clear cut enemy difficulty. The areas of Paris are graded into difficulty, and so are its enemies, who for the first time pose a real threat when outnumbered. There’s more unblockable attacks now, and frustratingly, one-hit kills from the more skilled opponents which forces players to think carefully about getting into scrapes and going pure stealth.
What’s neat is a return to the series roots in terms of mission structure whereby when notable targets are to be assassinated, players are given an open area to infiltrate and take out the target using whatever style they choose. There’s a handy overview of the location at the mission start which often provides clues of interactions which allows for distractions, secret entrances and other helpful elements to complete the mission. It’s the fact there’s plenty of ways to accomplish the hit which makes these moments some of the best gameplay experiences of the entire game.
Aside from structured and the well planned story sequence set pieces, players are free to roam Paris at leisure taking in the sights and accomplishing the usual array of tangible extras which all help boost the stats of the player character and his equipment. Collectibles, riddles, and even murder mystery events to solve means there’s much to do here and plenty of distractions for the lone player. Unity is simply big on content, and with Paris offering a fantastic playground means there’s always something to strive for even way beyond the end credits.
It’s not all plain sailing and there are oddities and moments of annoyance which rear their ugly heads. The main issue stems from the controls of Arno who when precise movements are required handles like a tank which can often result in costly mistakes being made, especially for those playing pure stealth. The context sensitive actions are also problematic and inconsistent which lead to frustration especially when moving in and out of cover or there’s more than one in close proximity to another such as bodies near a locked door preventing the door being lock-picked due to a prompt to loot the body getting in the way – and this time players can’t pick up and move bodies unfortunately. The free running which becomes a mainstay of travel when not using the fast option, whilst mostly smooth does auto lock onto some unusual paths which are also causes of frustration when trying to escape. However, the new drop mechanics are very welcome and means climbing down from structures is far more intuitive than before.
In terms of presentation, Unity features a mixture of quality where some of the interiors are highly impressive with an amazing attention to detail fitting of the period whereas areas in the open are less detailed with low resolution textures and a mish-mash of detail. It’s obvious a lot of time and effort was spent in recreating the major landmarks of Paris and its soul during the day and nights during the 1700s and in this regard it succeeds, but lesser structures offer repeated models of varying quality. There’s some excellent character renditions and animations during the game’s cut-scenes which use refined in-engine assets, but the biggest star and the game’s ultimate downfall are the masses of NPC characters which litter the streets. Whilst nothing new for the series, the crowd element has been ramped up to 11 and as a result there are moments of abundance to the point of potentially being too much especially as interactions with the populace are non-existent aside from barging them out the way. It’s hard to imagine so many people wandering the streets or gathering en-mass to form giant mobs, but it’s all here in full effect and does a grand job of recreating the atmosphere of an angry nation in a populated city. However, the showcase of rendering so many animated characters for visual effect means the game’s frame rate takes a dive and in many places even when the NPCs are lower in number the game seems to struggle to almost unplayable levels at times. This is a huge shame where style takes precedence over gameplay clarity making gameplay unsettled rather than silky smooth. It’s obvious the consoles struggle with so much going on and rather than scale back the assets, Ubisoft has cranked it up to max regardless almost as if to say ‘look what we can do’.
Audio is of an expected high quality with its quintessential English tones and splattering of French for effect from the NPCs and main characters which are obviously for the benefit of the English audience even if it doesn’t fit perfectly historically. Lead character Arno is presented well as the growing assassin with a faultless performance throughout and when coupled with an enigmatic classical modern score and carousel of sound effects makes for an excellent audio palette that compliments the visual elements with an unrivalled expertise.
Gamers will find there’s enough content on offer to last many hours and beyond for the single player and whilst the experience very much relies on being online connected to get the full benefits, there’s great value for money overall. However, the game’s four player co-op online play is a big deal here (replacing the versus multiplayer) which makes all the customization options fit into place as players spend points on upgrades to use in either the solo or online modes. Specific co-op missions are on offer which can be played solo but are designed to be tackled with others. There’s a seamless integration into the co-op game and the option to create social clubs for ease of play and extras making this a welcome and fun addition to the series.
Assassin’s Creed Unity is an impressive offering that refines much of its past into a game which is likeable, fun and equally engaging with its new hero and less focus on real world elements. There’s some shifting of planes which are rather odd in the overall scheme and frankly could have been omitted without impact, but these serve as reminders of a series grounded in an alternate reality which ties everything together. The core gameplay elements of stealth are well done here despite some issues with controls, and the combat is much more tactical and unforgiving than ever before which is a good thing for purists but might annoy casual players. These things can be overcome with practice and a bit of patience, however, the biggest let down and white elephant in the room is the game’s performance which is frankly not good enough and very noticeable. The day one patch improves things a little as does resetting the console to clear the cache, but not in the way to make the play smooth as it should be for a AAA game. Aside from any niggles though, the overall look and feel of the game is fantastic, and when viewing the package as a whole from its cool open mission structure, customization, dramatic story, and co-op online modes it has to be recommended as a solid purchase for fans and non fans alike. However, with all its technical brilliance substance and style which certainly work well in tandem here, the performance hit isn’t good and negatively affects how the game plays.
Score 8/10 – Review by Robert Cram