Brought a Knife to a Gunfight
Assassin’s Creed Unity marks the series’ true ‘next-gen’ debut as the game is only available on the newest consoles (and PC). With Black Flag performing so well on all formats last year, you’d think that Ubisoft were set to hit the ground running with their latest title that sees the series make the jump to Revolutionary Paris.
The modern day part of the story plays a back seat this time, which is a shame after the interesting Abstergo mole activities of Black Flag. In 18th century Paris, you play as Arno, one of many Parisians without the faintest trace of a French accent (everyone’s moved from Yorkshire and Gloucester apparently), who is suddenly thrust into the life of an Assassin with very little explanation at all. To be fair, Ubisoft is probably sick of setting up new Assassins by now.
It’s Assassins Vs Templars again amidst France’s largest upheaval, The Revolution. There’s not much pull in the story if I’m honest and The Revolution seems to be mere window dressing. It’s all the usual conspiracy, back-stabbing, power-crazed politicians and so on. All you ever really need to know is you’re running over from A-B to stab people up.
Thankfully, the larger missions have more depth to them than before; mainly by the way you can trigger additional factors to make life easier. These are usually in the form of distractions, such as stealing a key to free prisoners, poisoning a drink, bribing a maid to open a window, or saving a trader’s fireworks cart. These are optional tasks though and you can just head straight to your target if you’d like, although this makes the hit much harder. Checkpoints are very inconsistent, sometimes they’ll remember if you ticked off a task, others will send you right back to the start.
Assassin’s Creed Unity is a tough game. As a series regular, I’d say this is probably the hardest game yet. Edward Conway wasn’t quite the accomplished swordsman Ezio was, but Arno is a complete boob. In combat he can’t link finishing moves, so forget about getting a combo going. The counter-indicators have changed slightly and with many of them being off-screen thanks to the shitty camera, you’re going to get skewered a lot and it doesn’t take much to put you down. Controls for quickfire pistol or smoke grenade attacks are horribly unresponsive too and don’t even get me started on the least effective stun grenade in gaming.
The stealth side of the game seems to have suffered too. Despite the new crouch button (I know, how long has that taken!) making it easier to approach an enemy quietly, Arno faces multiple factors that make him one of the worst assassin’s of the long standing Brotherhood.
There’s no whistle option, so you can’t attract guards over to your hay cart or around a corner. You can poke your face out and hope they’re interested enough to come and investigate, or try one of the cherry bomb firecrackers to peak their interest. Generally though, they’ll only come over if they see you hang around somewhere too long. Or maybe if the eyes in the back of their heads flick open.
With this being the most modern Assassins game, most enemies carry guns. Ground-level goons have pistols and snipers patrol most rooftops. They rarely miss either, making getting into a fight a hugely unbalanced experience and even retreating is a difficult task as the run button doesn’t want to engage until it’s far too late. Arno is clearly the idiot that brought a wrist-mounted blade to a gun fight.
But surely the free running mechanics are solid? Oh dear, Ubisoft. What have you done? The fact that running and climbing share a button has always been an odd design decision and it really messes up Arno’s ability to function as an Assassin in Paris. The city is just so full of clutter, making it difficult to run anywhere without Arno clambering onto a crate, table, lamp post and so on. The controls are so unresponsive to get back down too, I don’t know why it seems so difficult to just get off a table, or pop through a window but it is. The new button specifically for climbing down buildings in a freestyle manner does occasionally work well and the spinning animations as Arno gracefully descends from a tall church in a few seconds is wonderful to behold, but these are rare moments of fun as far as climbing goes.
Arno’s hit detection on climbable surfaces is a real mess with multiple re-presses required to trigger jumps. The fluidity of past games is gone and climbing around Paris is a chore. So much so, that I generally found it quicker to travel on street level, despite the huge numbers of people choking the streets, which brings me to another point for Ubisoft, just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.
The huge numbers of people on screen at once is impressive from a technical standpoint, but the narrow streets are just too full, making running through a nightmare. The number of collectibles is the worst offender though and just making your way to them is painful. Ubisoft has gone mental this year with apps and websites, even locking multiple chests until you sign up online, this is all the more annoying seeing as none of them were working correctly at the time of writing. I even had to reboot the console when a pop-up website link wouldn’t go away and stopped me accessing the map. The number of extra missions and collectibles will have Platinum Trophy hunters despairing at the coming months as the cluttered icons on the map make Watch Dogs seem anaemic in comparison.
Side mission quality varies and there’s generally way too many of them to focus on any fully. The riddle puzzles are too complicated for anyone without an in-depth knowledge of the period’s history and Paris’s architecture (niche enough?). Rift puzzles shift the scenery enough to make them interesting for a while as you race through to collect data clusters against the clock – but climbing still blows nevertheless.
Murder mysteries see you searching for clues via Eagle Vision and interviewing characters for evidence before you accuse suspects. It’s a thin experience though and the narratives just aren’t interesting enough to make it a worthwhile effort. Other assassination mission pop up as you go and are good for extra cash, but the sore check-pointing on tougher missions is very off-putting. A glaring omission is the lack of an engaging mode like the naval scenes of Black Flag, Paris offers nothing in comparison.
Co-op missions are built into the main map, but at this stage, I found them to be a completely broken experience. Trying to connect to other players saw me wondering around Paris waiting for other players to no avail. While waiting you’re able to carry on picking up collectibles, but fast travel is locked and the only way to go back to offline missions is to reset the game as there’s no option to back out. Piss. Poor.
Let’s talk about something the game does well though. Paris is pretty damn gorgeous. Not in the Shangri-La sense, no -it’s a bit of a shit-hole. But the detail is excellent – muddy streets, battered buildings, barricades of furniture, burning effigies and canals with a suspiciously yellow hue to them. We imagine it’d smell quite a lot too. The intense level of graphical detail is incredible. The worn stone buildings with chipped and battered surfaces and roughly cut slate roof tiles have a believable texture to them that Ubisoft’s artists are finally able to achieve with the latest technology.
The stonework on unspoiled buildings is beautifully enhanced on Paris’ sunnier days and there are frequent moments as you climb up the various palace buildings that you’d swear they couldn’t possibly look any better.
Character models vary a little. The main cast in cutscenes are full of beautiful layers of detail. That said, there are too many incidents like faces clipping into their flamboyant collars, NPC peasants walking right through people in the scene or NPC canned-dialogue shouting over the main conversation.
As I’ve already discussed in detail though, this is just a taste of much of the sloppy work to be found in Assassins Creed Unity. With core concepts like combat, stealth and climbing all suffering heavily, plus oddly lengthy load times, you have to wonder what the hell has gone wrong during development. More patches are most certainly incoming that could fix the unresponsive climbing and combat controls, but there’s no fixing the generic tasks that plague the over-stuffed map. Fingers crossed co-op can be salvaged though. At least the main story missions have been fleshed out with additional objectives that have a clear impact on the mission itself. For now though, it may be worth checking out Assassin’s Creed Rogue instead.
- Additional mission choices
- Excellent graphical detail
- Crouch button at last!
- Climbing is horrendous
- Co-op fails to connect players
- Too many guns against Arno
- Quantity over quality