Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed train has been chugging along for years now, bringing open-world stealth action to millions of gamers over several different main entries and spin-offs. Even though the series has been annualized, the developers have managed to keep things relatively fresh with focuses on different historical eras and accompanying mechanics. Last year’s Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag brought the first major gameplay shift as we went from the confined city streets to the open sea. This was a fantastic change of pace and showed that the devs were willing to take risks to keep things fresh, rather than sticking with the same old formula.
Which is what makes the sequel, Assassin’s Creed Unity, feel a bit stale as the first next-gen exclusive title is now back in the city with no open seas or other types of terrain in sight. This is very familiar territory for the series, so what is it that’s being brought to the table to spice things up?
Well, this time around the big new addition is co-op, as you and 3 other players have the ability to join up for specific co-op missions and work together to assassinate a target or steal a specific item and escape. It’s cool enough on paper, though there really isn’t anything about it that is noteworthy. There are certain moves that you can pull off with the help of an ally, but for the most part the game remains the same. As a result, the co-op ends up feeling like a secondary feature rather than a major new component that really moves the series forward. This is definitely a nice feature to have and is a nice little diversion every now and then, but it’s not enough to really be a selling point.
As is always the case, Unity adapts a famous historical era for you to dive into and explore, with this game focusing on the French Revolution in the 18th century. Once again the Assassins and the Templars are at odds, which leads to our hero Arno’s father being killed and results in him joining up with the Assassins for revenge. Although it’s all pretty predictable, Arno and the supporting cast are pretty well done and do enough to make you care about what is happening in the plot. There is definitely some similarities to Assassin’s Creed II, but considering that is the best game in the series you’ll find no complaints from me on that front. Big props need to be given to Arno’s romantic interest, Elise, who was very well-written and ends up being one of the best characters the series has seen in years.
Once you are thrust full-force into Paris you will notice that it is much more dense than previous entries in the series. There are many more people roaming the streets, with some of the crowds you witness tallying in the hundreds. The actual design of the world is gorgeous, as all of the various buildings and landmarks that you will come across all look great. The next-gen software is really being put to work here, as there is more happening on screen than ever before and the amount of detail and clarity is definitely a new high point. There are countless amounts of collectibles for you unlock, areas to explore, side quests to check out and many more things that can add up to a lot of hours outside of the main story.
There is of course a modern part of the story, as it is revealed that you are yet another new employee for Abstergo Entertainment that is being virtually sent back in time to gather information. This part of the story is even less prevalent and scattered than in previous entries in the series, and just feels more like the devs are shoehorning it in for continuity’s sake. It certainly doesn’t add anything to the story, and makes me wish that they would just ditch this whole aspect of the series altogether. The main attraction is what is going on in the past-era and not the modern one, as the past-era is getting 99% of the running time.
However, there are a few bits where you are actually dealing with ramifications of the technology of Abstergo, which result in you ending up in a few different eras where you must find the exit point before you’re desychronized. While these moments don’t really have much to do with the modern characters or era, the locations that they transport you to are great and have a sense of urgency to them that much of the main game lacks. I won’t spoil too much, but if you were ever wondering what it would be like to scale the Eiffel Tower this game will give you the opportunity to find that out for yourself.
Where Unity is really lagging behind is in its mechanics. The machinery of what this series has been running on for almost a decade now is really starting to creak, as many of the problems that have plagued the series’ past are getting more and more noticeable. While the game adds some new bells and whistles in an attempt to make obstacle maneuvers more swift, there are still many times when you will be committing jumps or climbs that you didn’t intend to. Sometimes this is forgivable, but when you’re in a situation where you need to get somewhere fast or are fleeing from enemies it can get extremely aggravating.
The actual battle mechanics are very similar to what has come before, as well, as you rhythmically take on a small group of enemies with parrying and attacking or all-out fleeing if you end up attracting a crowd. It still works well enough, but at this point in the series it gets really repetitive and doesn’t incorporate anything new to make it really fun. The stealth side of the gameplay is also untouched, as you stalk enemies from behind, below or above and then strike at the opportune moment for the kill. This aspect is much more forgivable as I still feel that this series really pulls off stealth gameplay and it’s still extremely satisfying to take down baddies from the shadows. I also liked how the game offers more than one method for taking down a specific targets, allowing you to assess the situation and choose which method suits your style of play the best.
On the plus side of the mechanics is the fact that Ubisoft has incorporated more RPG-like elements to the fray. As you progress through the game you will essentially be leveling up your character and unlocking new move sets, weapons and armor. This part of the game is surprisingly solid, as there are a lot of different things to be unlocked that allow you to really tailor your character to your liking. You can even customize the weapons and armor that you have purchased, which is great when your current powerful gear is a color you aren’t crazy about. This all gives you a lot of incentive to actually take on the more mundane tasks in the game that you would normally pass up entirely, because you know that you will be regularly getting points that can go towards building your character.
Unfortunately for gamers this time around, Ubisoft released Assassin’s Creed Unity with a host of bugs present that can potentially mess up your experience. While I began my playthrough after a few patches were already released, there were still some really annoying glitches that I encountered throughout the game. For example: there were more than a few situations where I was tailing an enemy I was about to take down, but when the opportunity arose for me to strike I could not attack or even draw my weapon no matter how many times I pressed the button. As you can imagine, this lead to many failed encounters in which I had to start over a few times due to the game’s own bugs. All of this is getting sorted out as we speak, but it still isn’t acceptable and it’s something you’re going to have to be wary of if you plan on purchasing the game anywhere around launch time.
Assassin’s Creed Unity brings the series into next-gen, but unfortunately stumbles along the way. Instead of introducing a big new gameplay mechanic we are instead placed back in a crowded city, which feels like a step backwards for the series. The game introduces a co-op mode to shake things up, but it doesn’t offer enough depth or originality to make me want to return to it regularly. These flaws are all unfortunately exacerbated by the fact that this game released in a bug-riddled state, making even the most routine actions occasionally broken. However, despite its many flaws the game does have an interesting cast and story, and when it’s not suffering from bugs it can be a heck of a lot of fun. This is an Assassin’s Creed game through and through, though this is the point where Ubisoft really needs to start brainstorming big new ideas to keep the series from becoming irrelevant.