ASSASSIN’S CREED: UNITY
Developer: Ubisoft Montreal
Platform: Xbox One
Availability: Xbox One, PS4, Windows
It’s a hot summer day in Paris, France. Its 1789, in the heat of the French Revolution, and Arno Dorian gingerly slips through the amassing crowds. The people are angry, hungry, and burning effigies. Guards canvas the area making sure that the protest doesn’t get out of hand. With his target in sight, Arno passes behind unaware guards, silently slipping the Assassin blade into their neck or back, leaving them wobbling, dying, before passing onto the next. His target is within sight, gesturing towards the throng of people, arms wide. Arno has the means and the tools for his escape at the ready. The roar of the crowd hides the immediate shock towards the dead guards. The distance nears, he vaults up the platform, and pounces on his victim, penetrating the beating heart with his hidden blade. The whole world shudders, colours dilute, and we see the history that lead us to this moment as our victim dies.
This is the setting of Assassin’s Creed: Unity, Ubisoft’s eighth major installment in the series. Like its many predecessors, Unity shares the common formula: target, Kill, Escape, Repeat.
Unity is the first Assassins Creed title to usher in the new console generation, and with it came better visuals, larger crowds, heavily detailed buildings, and new navigational game play mechanics. Most notably: controlled descent.
Before we ‘dive’ off into the game play, let’s break the story down a bit. We start Assassin’s Creed Unity as a game tester at Abstergo, using a new gaming device called a Helix. So now we’re playing a game within a game. Through this device we get to experience different genetic memories. The Assassin Brotherhood, always fearful that Abstergo is a bunch of Templars – that they’re using this new device to data mine the past for clues – hijacks the memory sequence, and implores the player to join them as an initiate. What follows is a story about love and heart-break, betrayal and time travel.
The featured Assassin this time around is Arno Dorian, and we join his memory already in progress, as a child, and he’s waiting for his father to conclude some meetings. As we wait patiently, innocently, a tricky young girl named Elise De La Serre happens upon us, and coerces us to steal away among the palace corridors, causing all the mischief only two kids can. When we return to our seat, we find the corridor filled with people, and our father, who was an Assassin, dead on the ground, murdered. The story skips ahead 13 years, and we’ve been adopted by Elise’s father, who is a Grand Master of the Templars. Arno has grown very fond of Elise. In the next mission, Elise’s father is found dead at a party, and we are mistaken to be the killer, and imprisoned in the Bastille. Escaping the Bastille with another Assassin, we get invited to be a part of the Brotherhood.
From here, the story moves at a quick pace, it takes place during the French Revolution and the mass revolts against the King of France, King Louis XVI, all somehow orchestrated by the Templars.
At key points during the story, the memories will breakdown, and the hackers in the real world will check in, trying to repair the glitches. These points have us traveling through time to certain parts of Paris’ history, especially the occupation by Nazi Germany during World War II. These parts are done very well, and mix up the game a bit, and even have the player scaling the Eiffel Tower and fighting off World War II fighter planes.
The city of Paris itself is Unity’s best feature. It looks just gorgeous, behaves as you would hope, and there are a ton of people just strolling around, going about their lives. Because of the Revolution, certain parts of the city have different patrolling guard types, depending on their allegiance, and there’s areas walled up. Some of the key buildings will also have a mass of crowds around it, not so much rioting, but expressing themselves. They’ll have effigies burning, and they’ll be screaming, pressing up against the guards watching the gates. The only issue is this situation never changes unless something triggers it, like a sword fight perchance, or a smoke bomb. Then everyone scatters. It’s quite fun to watch.
The larger buildings are designed with immaculate attention to detail, and even on street level, a lot of the buildings have open doors or windows that allow you to enter, or run through when chasing someone.
With the updated engine, some of the game play has changed, with a few additions, but mostly omissions. Biggest addition would be to the navigation, and the controlled decent. No longer will our Assassin just vault off a building in the wrong direction just because the direction we wanted to go didn’t suit. Our Assassin is very agile, and can scale almost any building, or incline, with ease, and scale it down just as easy. With the same controls. It’s all very fluid, with realistic animations. We can also jump through windows or slide under desks or fences. The down side to this is its not perfect. When running, it is very easy to get caught up on objects like desks and chairs. And then you just look like a fool, squatting in a chair, with the other civilians just looking at you.
Choosing a different weapon has changed a bit, and gone are the non-lethal fist fights. At all times you’re equipped with either the hidden blade or a weapon of some kind. Stealth take-downs from behind are the only way to take someone out without killing them. Also gone is the ability to move bodies and dump them in hay carts.
The big selling point with Unity was the inclusion of its co-op elements. Many missions and side stories are relegated to this mode, and unfortunately I didn’t get to spend a lot of time testing it. The one mission I did successfully join had me start across the city from my co-op companion, and then the whole game subsequently froze. I didn’t bother trying the multiplayer again.
When the game was originally released it suffered tremendously from bugs, glitches, online issues, and complaints towards its companion mobile app. To the extent that Ubisoft pulled its season pass, refunded players, and gave away the Dead Kings DLC for free. They also practically neutered the mobile app, and just ended up unlocked everything in-game instead of having the player continues to suffer.
Unity turned out to be a big learning lesson for Ubisoft. In what the player’s want and that maybe annual release aren’t the best plan without rigorous testing in place before. They released the next Assassin’s Creed, Syndicate, a year later (as the title was already well into its development), and have since taken a break to refocus. Maybe to re-energize, maybe because they realized there were big problems with their current model, or maybe it was to give a window for their movie. Who’s to say?
In the achievement section, they are all very rudimentary: complete the chapters in the story, perform a specific number of take downs, collect collectibles, and there’s an unfortunate amount of co-op related achievements. I might have to try and load the multiplayer back up again.
Patron of the arts (Watch a play in the Caf) – 10G