Assassin’s Creed: Unity – Review

I wanted to like Assassin’s Creed Unity, I really did. It had a lot going for it; next gen visuals, co-op in an assassin sandbox and a lot of positive press leading up to its release. I was always a little skeptical about Unity after they announced that the series would return to a city based sandbox, removing the ships entirely. This felt like a scaling back in terms of the scope the series had become accustomed to, which has become a symptom of high fidelity graphics in this new generation of consoles.

I managed to get Unity on launch day in the US, rather than waiting on the EU release date as I wanted to get as much of the game done before the 18th, when all hell breaks loose on my bank account when most of this year’s major titles are released on the same day! Before I even started playing though, there were a lot of negative reports coming out about the games performance along with some very “interesting” bugs. I decided to ignore them as I wanted to go into the game with a fresh pair of eyes, unspoiled by the usual internet hatred. Unfortunately, everything I read later on, proved to be things that I experienced. Arno falling through the floor? Check. Game crashing for no reason? Check. Unable to join co-op sessions? Check plus. And the performance issues were readily apparent the first time I walked through a crowd.

I guess women WERE too hard to animate….

None of these are things that can’t be fixed in this day and age without a patch. And I am a firm believer that a game should not be solely judged by its issues. If the story holds up, if the gameplay is fun, then how can we refuse to give a game the credit it deserves? Does Assassin’s Creed: Unity have enough to overcome its technical hurdles and come out the other side as a good game? Almost. It almost manages to make you forget that you are playing a somewhat broken game.

Let’s start at the beginning. The story is your basic revenge plot. Main characters father is killed, he is taken in by a father figure who is also murdered and becomes an assassin. That’s pretty much it in a nutshell. Everything else is basically window dressing and launching pads to get you to the points where revenge is exacted. While it isn’t sophisticated, it is entertaining. The characters are brought to life with some very impressive graphics. The new engine is definitely a sight to behold. It needs work, but things can only get better from here, and I am excited to see what comes from it. The voice acting is mostly effective. Elise, the love interest for this game, can’t really seem to decide where her accent is meant to be from. It alternates between England, Australia and America at various points in the conversation, sometimes at various points during a sentence.

And while we’re on the subject of the voice acting, I am still honestly baffled at the idea that every character in 18th century Paris has a British accent. Ubisoft have, as they do with a lot of things that go wrong in AC, explained this away with the idea that the Animus is “anglophying” the characters as the people playing in the Animus would want to hear the voices in English. This immediately becomes invalidated by the fact that Assassin’s Creed 2, Brotherhood and Revelations exist where-in the main character and everyone around him are all from Italy and have thick Italian accents. No-one complained then, and I don’t think they would now. But, a small silver lining is that they didn’t give them all American accents, which would have been wholly unforgivable.

There are some gameplay additions that come as a warm welcome this time around. The combat in Unity feels so much meatier and more visceral than previous instalments. The first and most noticeable thing is that the system of nailing a counter and immediately following it up with an assassination is a thing of the past. Now when you land a counter, you have a very brief window to hit your opponent. This becomes essential later on in the game, as enemies become more self-aware and a lot faster. They roll out of the way, parry most attacks and really want to kill you. Another welcome (and at times frustrating) addition is that enemies don’t just attack one at a time anymore. In previous instalments, you could be facing up to 8 enemies, but only one would attack you at any given time. In Unity, it’s a free for all. This gives every fight you get into a sense of urgency and makes you think about starting fights with large groups.

Stealth is also a new addition to the game. The game has adapted a basic cover system that allows Arno to sneak through areas without getting into combat. While a welcome addition to a game rapidly running out of ideas, this can be very hit and miss. Snapping to and from cover works at best 50 percent of the time, and I have been caught because of this more times than I care to count. Still, when it works, it means that you can get through certain areas without alerting any guards, and no unnecessary combat needs to take place. This becomes useful during the larger “Assassination” missions. These missions are new to the franchise and have a very Hitman-esque feel to them with things like “Assassination Opportunities” and “Infiltration Opportunities” added to the missions to allow you to approach the assassination of your target from multiple angles. This gives these missions (of which there is at least 1 per sequence) a good amount of replay ability, something that the previous games generally didn’t have.

The biggest new feature of the game is the addition of co-op to the open world. There are set missions that can be done in co-op (or alone if you can’t get online, or have no friends who want to play) and they are gun, if not a bit repetitive as you complete more of them. Still, these are fun with friends (I tried the 4 player missions and the 2 player ones with some friends) and like the assassination missions, can be approached from different angles. This is also necessary if you want to procure all the loot from these missions, like new clothes granting increased bonuses. I do wish that the co-op hadn’t come at the expense of the always excellent multiplayer that has been a staple of the Assassin’s Creed franchise since Brotherhood. I feel like they could have left it in, even if it was the same as last year’s instalment, purely for the fun aspect, and to keep people from inevitably trading the game in once they are done with it.

Unfortunately, once the main story is completed (which took me 6 – 8 hours at most), the remaining items on your to-do list are either boring (collectibles, chests) or repetitive (helix rifts, Paris stories, social clubs). These feel like padding to make the game last longer and I really feel like they put very little thought into it. In saying that, I still find myself going around collecting the chests, collectibles and such. But I’m a trophy hunter so there’s a method to my obvious madness.

All in all, Assassin’s Creed Unity is a mixed bag. An entertaining story, marred by some average voice acting and technical hiccups. Bland side quests and collectibles and the aforementioned technical missteps drag this game down more than they needed to. I suppose it should be no surprise as this is a consequence of a yearly release cycle. But with Call of Duty putting out a surprisingly amazing game this year in Advanced Warfare, I feel like I’m in some kind of weird twilight zone at the moment.

Gary Behan