Assassin’s Creed Unity Review – Everything Old is New Again
Fall 2014 seems to be all about the Assassin’s Creed franchise. Not only has Ubisoft released two full games on different platforms but also an IOs game, a companion app as well as a 2.5D action game.
While the franchise had come to be known for its annual release schedule, Ubisoft seems to have gone overboard with the formula this year.
Has this overactive release schedule finally caught up with the franchise and adversely affected Unity’s performance? Let’s find out.
Though its release comes a year after the last iteration in the franchise, Assassin’s Creed Unity is actually four years in the making, and it shows.
Assassin’s Creed Unity seems to be a genuine effort by the developers to go back to the roots of the franchise by refining the core elements of the early games and making the game approachable for brand new adopters in terms of gameplay and narrative.
And while the story delivers similar beats, it does provide enough elements to make it different, including how the narrative, environments, missions and side objectives seem darker and edgier than the Assassin’s Creed games of the past.
Similarly, Unity’s gameplay also seems to parallel the Crusades and Italian renaissance era of Assassin’s Creed games.
Whereas Assassin’s Creed III introduced exploring the wildlife, Assassin’s Creed IV introduced free exploration of the Caribbean seas, Assassin’s Creed Unity seems to be a return to series’ roots by focusing on single city exploration.
How does the game fare by returning to land-based exploration and leaving the adventurous high seas of Black Flag?
The answer to that question depends on whether the player prefers the original Assassin’s Creed formula or the one introduced at the last leg of the previous generation.
Gameplay of Unity is less of an update to last two numbered Assassin’s Creed entries and more of an evolution of where the series left off in Assassin’s Creed Revelations.
With its focus on urban traversal, the game aims to refine the two most important aspects of the franchise; traversal and combat.
The obvious one is the addition of a button to engage auto dissent, which allows the character to quickly and elegantly climb down environments rather than clumsily dropping down several feet onto a group of enemies.
Enemy status/alerts are now also visible around Arno instead of only being on top of the enemies which is similar in practice to enemy-movement detector in Metal Gear Solid 4 and Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker.
This allows players to focus on their character and movement instead of looking at the pursuing enemies.
The addition of a stealth button is also a massive improvement over the auto stealth that was the norm in all previous Assassin’s Creed games.
Ability to crouch into a stealth mode at any moment allows much more freedom to manage pacing and offensive strategies.
Another aspect that enhances players’ ability to strategize stealthy approach is the addition of ghostly shadow or silhouette, which appears at the place where players break enemies’ line of sight indicating that enemies will investigate the player’s last known position.
This mechanic is similar to the system present in Ubisoft’s own Splinter Cell Conviction or the recent WB game; Shadow of Mordor.
However, the new cover mechanics seem to be a whole generation behind where the player’s character is essentially stuck to cover and does not have the ability to corner around objects.
It is a shame that Unity also lacks recent additions to Assassin’s Creed games like distracting enemies by whistling or making sounds and does not allow players to pick up and dispose fallen enemies.
On the other hand, the game offers major changes in the way combat has been handled in the Assassin’s Creed franchise.
Adding heft to movement and weapon play as well as requiring precise timing for dodging and parrying enemy attacks makes combat in Assassin’s Creed Unity more deliberate and less automatic.
Where in the games like Revelations and Black Flag, dealing with 6-8 enemies at a time used to be a piece of cake, in Unity players might now have difficultly fighting more than three enemies at once.
This really brings in the element of tension and focus into situations requiring combat, which used to be sorely missing in the previous iterations of Assassin’s Creed games.
Assassin’s Creed Unity also features a skill tree aspect allowing players utilize experience gained from completing missions to choose upgrades in melee, ranged combat, stealth and health.
All of this comes together with how the series’ core element; the assassination missions are handled in Unity.
Unlike the linear approach to eliminating the targets, the assassination missions in Unity work like assignments from the Hitman series where the opportunities and tools to accomplish a mission are more open ended than what was the norm in the previous games in the Assassin’s Creed series.
This sandbox approach to assassinations encourages players to explore the environment, observe the NPCs and experiment with their tactics and really enriches the experience of eventually silencing the target.
In addition to the revamped series’ staple missions, Unity offers players the chance to engage in seamless drop-in, drop-out two and four player co-op missions.
Players not only get a unique view watching group of partners do parkour in the distance, but are also awarded exclusive treasures and equipment for completion of co-op missions.
Additionally, Unity offers much greater variety in the types of equipment, skills, outfits, weapons and even treasure chests that are at player’s disposal.
There are also much greater customization options, which include individual parts of outfits, including wrist bands, armor, hoods, etc. And affect different attributes.
However, it is in this space of offering variety where Unity bares the ugly head of marketing micro transactions, DLCs, UPlay and companion app integration.
While none of the above is essentially required for progression, the constant reminder of E-store, UPlay, DLCs and companion app is nauseating as it permeates to exclusive treasure chests, weapons and equipment to tabs in the main menu window.
Assassin’s Creed Unity also seems to have longer loading times than Black Flag, which is exasperated by replacing the ability to see and control the protagonist on the loading screen to staring at a black screen with a loading bar.
The game not only offers new animations for parkour and combat, but also features excellent facial animations that go a long way in conveying the emotions of each character on the screen.
From the cut of their coat to the scars on their face, the characters in Assassin’s Creed Unity feature unprecedented amount of detail. Although the hair design could still use some work.
While all that is true, the real star of its visuals is the depiction of the city of Paris.
Unity’s exclusivity to next-generation hardware makes complete sense when the players get to experience the scale and diversity present in this virtual presentation of 18th century Paris.
The city of Paris presented in Unity is not only massive in scale but from the architecture to the NPCs, the city is filled to the brim with details that completely distinguish one district from another.
These dense crowds really make the city seem organic and lived in rather than the trope of uncannily empty cities features in most open world games.
Moreover, Unity features unprecedented level of indoor exploration for an Assassin’s Creed game.
Not only are the players able to explore large amounts of buildings but the game also features breathtakingly gorgeous internal architectures.
A fact that is abundantly evident when the player steps inside Sainte-Chapelle for the first time.
However, this greatness does come at the cost of uneven frame rate, But these dips are seldom ever noticeable enough to adversely affect the gameplay experience for most players.
Assassin’s Creed Unity also excels in its Sound Design.
The developers seem to have put a lot of care in the soundtrack as the original score really gives off a decidedly antique French feel as the players explore the exquisite architectures.
Unity also features immaculate voice acting for the main cast; however, it is odd to notice that almost none of the native French main characters feature a French accent.
Another minor gripe about the sound design is that sometimes NPCs in story-related missions keep uttering the same line repeatedly until a check point is reached; this really breaks the immersion level and gets fairly annoying.
Whether it is in replaying story sequences to attain 100% synchronization or spending time tackling side missions, gathering collectables, playing co-op multiplayer or just exploring and enjoying the beautifully crafted city of Paris, Assassin’s Creed Unity offers dozens of hours’ worth of gameplay experience.
However, players’ ability to enjoy this experience hinges on whether they are looking for a traditional Assassin’s Creed experience or something new akin to Black Flag.
If you fall in the latter camp then Assassin’s Creed Unity is not for you.
However, gamers looking at an experience that streamlines the core gameplay of Assassin’s Creed 1 and 2 will surely have a great time playing through the game.
Perhaps if Ubisoft had decided to focus on one game instead of releasing two full games, a 2.5D side game, companion app and DLCs, Unity might have been a masterpiece that could be enjoyed by everyone instead of a great game that is hampered by some technical and design-related shortcomings.
Unity features improvements in traversal, combat as well as equipment, clothing and weapon variety that really streamlines the core gameplay and offers a lot more space for players to strategize.
However, this is undermined by some missing elements from previous games like ability to distract enemies and pick up enemy bodies. Whereby reducing the ability to strategize and ultimately hinting at a crucial problem of having a long development time.
Spectacularly realized city of Paris contains beautiful internal and external architecture as well as lively and dense crowd of hundreds and thousands of NPCs.
As with all open world games, the game environment is prone to occasional visual glitching and clipping issues.
From voice acting to musical score, Unity features a truly great sound design. Minor annoyance when an NPC starts to continuously repeat his dialogues in a mission.
The inventive introductions, clean menu screens, 3D map and greatly refined enemy display system really complement and enhance the already great art and sound design.
On the other hand, while completely optional for completion of the campaign, Unity’s constant focus on UPlay, E-store, DLC and companion app really distracts from the game immersion, content satisfaction and basically brings a bad after-taste to an otherwise great game experience.
The 15-20 hour-long main campaign is further sweetened by inclusion of co-op missions as well as some excellent side missions and the series staple of different collectibles.
With its improvements in traversal, combat and mission structure Assassin’s Creed Unity refines the formula from Revelations just like Assassin’s Creed II did for the first game in the franchise.
However, this might not be enough for those looking for an experience similar to the games set in the colonial America, which this game does not offer.
That said Assassin’s Creed Unity is a perfect game for those pining for the series to return to its roots.