Assassin’s Creed goes back to it’s roots, with a sprawling city and multiple choices to pull off complicated, urban assassinations.
Assassin’s Creed has come a long way since the original game, from the crusade period holy land to adventures on the high seas in the golden age of pirates. The series has changed and evolved from parkour flavored assassinations in Venice to fighting the war of independence of the coast of the new world, and Unity takes the series to yet another frontier in revolutionary France while taking the game play back to tightly focused assassinations. The new setting pushes the limits of the parkour elements with tight city planning and a vast urban sprawl as well as injecting some wonderfully colorful visuals and grand architecture.
The games world is huge, revolutionary Paris has been rendered with variable scaling tech to give a strong sense of scope to the game, with large landmarks such as the well advertised Notre Dame Cathedral being to scale with the characters, providing huge, climbable set pieces interspersed among a city that feels well lived in and huge. Each building feels more than large enough for the characters within the game to live in as well as providing large, open rooftops to traverse and plenty of scenery to parkour your way through as you explore the rich and heavily populated city. Large crowds congregate outside of each landmark and the city streets are flooded with civilians, making the city have a very believable sense of scale. Height and vantage points provide an excellent way to traverse the world as well as taking advantage of the new eagle visions sonar-esque redesign, meaning each different approach to a situation provides real, tactical feedback and possibilities tailored to your play style. Utilizing the new stealth mechanics, moving through the front door of the building on the bottom level feels just as much of an option as sneaking through and open window above or ascending from the underground sewer networks which run beneath the whole of Paris.
Being among the series of games which spearheaded the next-gen releases, Unity looks absolutely stunning in this environment, high resolution textures as well as complicated architecture are well aligned with bright, vibrant color befitting the Parisian setting. With beautiful character design and buildings decorated with colorful settings and accents show off the technological improvements from previous titles, with the deep blues and greens of Black Flag’s natural tropics being replaced by man maid structures, each colored with baroque splendor and clothing brightly colored and varied to display the status of each individual. Along with these graphical improvements, the games animations run amazingly smooth, with the slight tweaks to controls, moving around the city jumping across rooftops looks more fluid than ever, with very few instances of awkward “hit a wall” moments. But while the game looks great, graphical issues such as artifacting and glitches, as well as poor framerate issues on the PC (other than the questionable capping of FPS) often mar the game’s otherwise stellar graphics. To match these graphical improvement, audio throughout the game feels lived in, with conversation flowing between civilians and each texture giving great audio feedback. I was again hindered in this aspect as I encountered some audio issues such as an echoed effect in open spaces and some audio feeding into places where there was no source for that sound.
Taking the player off the open seas and open world, the game play tightens up in these close quarters situations, with many main missions taking place within buildings or in enclosed spaces such as the catacombs. With a tweaking of the in-game stealth system, such as the very welcome low profile mode, the game feels more aligned with earlier installments in the series such as the original or any of Ezio’s stories, with a focus on planning out intricate maneuvers and preparing before going in for the final strike. This is a welcome sight after the more outlandish rushes of enemy frontlines in AC 3 or the bombastic naval battles of Black Flag, certainly bringing the “Assassin” back to Assassin’s Creed. New multiple path assassinations take up the majority of the main plot, with each one being well set out so that the players individual style is taken into more consideration, with riling up the angry mobs of Paris helping a more aggressive play style or finding a key to a window favoring a stealthier approach. The new low profile “crouch” provides an excellent way to continue stealth outside of the series’ mainstay of hiding spots. The addition of taking cover behind walls and scenery gives a stealthy option much more depth and while occasionally buggy, is a welcome addition considering the more cluttered setting.
It’s a shame though that these multiple choice branches don’t show up more in missions outside of the main story, with side quests often just being a simple tail or a brawl, especially disappointing in the Co-op missions where while the idea is to have multiple members fulfilling different roles, often hindered by very linear mission structure.
These co-op missions provide the most differentiation over the previous titles, with each being designed for your small group of assassins to each play a role within the mission. They provide a nice alternative to making the game simply a full co-op experience or the multiplayer mode which has occurred in previous titles. With a group of organised friends these missions are fun and a great break from the open world diddling about which accompanies this style of game but with public players or even the “club” system implemented in the game can be quite frustrating, with very little ways to communicate with your group, I quite often found it to be more of a competitive situation than co-operative, with each player rushing through to be the first to an objective to hoard up XP from kills and the objective itself. Unfortunately these mission often end up being a fairly linear affair, with a single objective and no multiple braches which feature in the games single player story assassinations.
Bringing back the setting up of an assassination and robust approaches to each situation is the shining point of the game’s story aspect. The main character Arno’s personal reasons for joining and becoming an assassin feel much less deep and impactful as previous protagonists, while Ezio was driven by revenge and taking up his father’s mantle, Arno feels a bit like he just got caught up in the moment, with the struggle between Assassins and Templars taking a backseat to the chaos surrounding the French revolution and Arno’s tragic love story with a Juliet-esque “lover of rival faction”. I found myself not particularly caring about who I was stalking/slaying and rather more engaged by the process itself. Of course the meta story of this all being set within a near-future dystopia is still present but again takes a back seat as the set up is that you are actually playing this animus project game, produced by the Templars. While the side quests are well produced, with each being a story of it’s own, the game often has certain situations you have to go through before giving you access to these missions, sometimes making hunting to unlock side quests as time consuming as the side quests themselves.
The games various surfaces and character feel well realized, providing great feedback for player actions and above par voice acting for each of the characters both integral to the story and about the city, the city sounds alive.
Next-gen is on display, beautiful color and fluid animations make the game look better than great, though minor graphical glitches and frame rate issues occasionally detriment the situations.
The story serves well to progress the game through it’s stunning set pieces, the main characters feel recycled from romantic/vengeance tropes and lack the devil may care charm of Black Flag’s Edward or the crowd favorite Ezio.
Slight tweaks to a well established formula breathe a breath of fresh air into the series, with stealth being up played and choices playing the foreground throughout the various missions, Unity provides a great game play experience for the Assassin’s Creed saga.
Following the high seas/high adrenaline action of Black Flag, Assassin’s Creed: Unity takes us back to the heart of the title, with a huge open world and game play improvements to take advantage of that world, Unity focuses more on the premise of the title while still managing to push the boundaries of both technology (admittedly occasionally pushing too far) and design to bring a living world in which to dash about using intuitive movements and multiple approaches to exact the game’s titular assassinations, providing yet another excellent title to the already well defined series.