Unity, It’s an odd title for a game that seems to have divided so many of us already. If you hadn’t seen the hype before its release, you’ve no doubt heard about its ‘faults’ since its recent release, but yeah, more on that side of things later. Unity is the latest game in the Assassin’s Creed franchise, a franchise that kicked off more than 8 years ago. Now however, the years have taken their toll on the franchise and Unity aims to rejuvenate the series while still moving forward. But does it fix everything? I’ll be honest. No not quite, but that’s not such an awful thing.
At first play Unity felt completely different to any other Creed game I’ve played (and I have played them all.) The first real ‘next–gen’ Assassin’s Creed title and we’re given a brand new character in a new setting, yeah. But as well as that the control system has been given what some say is a much needed overhaul as well as the 3 Assassin’s Creed pillars (Navigation, Combat, and Stealth) being completely rebuilt from the ground up this time around.
For navigation, it’s now possible to free run up and down on any side of any building using the new control system, which makes everything just so much more efficient. In Unity, We don’t have to use a haystack in order to reach the ground anymore.
The combat system has also been completely re-invented. This is jarringly different at first and I’ll admit, I got my ass kicked the first couple of times I tried to defend myself, but only a short while later and I was a vicious bully with a sword. They’ve done away with the old “block then counter-attack the daylights out of them” routine from previous games and instead we now have attack, parry and dodge diluted through multiple enemies who won’t be as obliging to wait till your done with their mate before they come at you. The combat is now fresh and very fun.
First of all, they’ve added ‘Stealth Mode’, which is triggered at the touch of a button. In this mode, all your actions make less noise and you’re less likely to be detected. Secondly, they’ve added a ‘Cover’ system to directly connect you to the environment. This however isn’t perfect though as (so far) you can’t swap from one ‘cover’ to another and it can sometimes feel a bit clunky having to detach and move to new cover hoping to god you’re not seen. Thirdly, stealth within the crowd has been redone too. Now that there are real crowds with thousands of NPCs to hide among, if the player tries to hide, they can do so simply by entering the crowd.
In essence Unity is a kind of soft reboot for the franchise. And while it’s got plenty of new additions, it’s still very familiar too in some respects. To put it lightly, Unity is the ‘Sonic Generations’ of the AC franchise. It’s bold, it’s different and trying new things, but still keeping the best bits of what built the franchise with it and respecting its past without penalizing you if you weren’t there for its beginnings.
In terms of story the main narrative seems to have been scaled back a little. People complained when we had too much depth and interpretive story in AC 3, yet rejoiced at AC: Black Flag’s more refined approach. So WE did this. With Unity, you play as Arno Dorian. The son of a murdered Assassin, Arno (21) is adopted at a young age by nobleman Francois De La Serre. When Arno is framed for De La Serre’s murder, he learns of his true heritage, joins the Assassins, and fights to save Paris from manky Templars.
Arno’s 15-hour story arc is one that can only be experienced alone. Arno is independent and smart with much of his charm seemingly (possibly even literally) inherited from our old pal Ezio Auditore. The guilt of his (perceived) fault in the death of De La Serre is what drives him on his quest initially. The Assassins order is a means to an end for him, at least at the beginning anyway, again much like a young Ezio Auditore. Unity seems to lean heavily on Assassin’s Creed II in places, and that’s totally fine… because everyone knows Creed 2 was one of the greatest games ever made. So yeah you can understand, and maybe even agree with Ubisoft for thinking “Well they loved it in II, let’s use it again here no?” So expect to see some familiar features from prior AC titles but again, polished up and refined for AC: Unity. A perfect example would be the district renovations and business acquisitions Unity’s story offers. Buy a business, do it up… profit?
Unity also features the least amount of modern day story play of any Creed title so far, that’s not to say there’s no present day narrative though. As the game begins, you the player are playing an ‘Abstergo Industries’ made game before its hacked by Assassins looking to recruit you and your skills to use against the Templars in their ongoing feud. This story carries on directly from Black Flag but again if you haven’t played you won’t feel left out, this narrative also leads into some seriously badass time-hopping within the animus that I won’t go into detail on for spoilers sake.
Gathering severed heads for Madame Tussaude, catacombs-dwelling cults, and that freaky Marquis de Sade guy. This is a sample of some of the side activities Unity has to offer. Some might argue they’re not the most compelling of missions. Let’s be honest though, their side missions for a reason, most of you don’t even bother playing the side missions anyway, but if you do there’s plenty here.
I’m how many paragraphs into this review and I haven’t stopped to talk about how gorgeous Unity is? It’s that kind of ‘stop you in your tracks, pick up your tongue, slow motion whoa’ level graphics and astounding realism that gives Unity perhaps its biggest win in my opinion. A lot if not all of this is down to Ubisoft’s new Anvil engine. Paris is huge and constantly bustling with activities. Massive crowds, interior spaces, underground networks. Paris has been built to be more life-like than any previous Assassin’s Creed city so far with 1:1 scale buildings. There are moments where I find myself just gawking at how beautiful these graphics are.
The downside to this though is that some of us are paying for this level of astonishment in the form of glitches and frame rate issues. The PS4 version of Unity had some significant frame rate issues early on, but after the 900MB day-one patch and the PS4 2.02 firmware, for me it seems to run smoothly enough. There are still moments where Arno vaults up and sticks to a corner or misses his mark here and there, annoying yeah, but I haven’t encountered anything that outright angered me or rendered the game unplayable. The PS4 is definitely earning its reputation with Unity though. Last night I scaled Notre Dame and took in a panoramic view of Paris in full revolution mode and I heard something I’d never heard before. I heard my PS4 trying. That’s right, this isn’t some PS3 ported game it can run sitting back, it really felt like my PS4 was just woken up and surprised by just how much work Unity had handed it.
Customization has been thrown into new levels and depths as well with Unity. Everything is upgradable. Your outfit and all its parts can be upgraded with XP points and customised for armour or stealth or yeah, just plain style. Weapons and skills are also fully upgradable. Money buys weapons, XP points upgrade your skills and if you’re not bothered with any of that you can actually use real world money to buy ‘Hack Points’ and upgrade yourself that way. A bit of a dick move in my opinion buy hey, “to each their own” I guess.
Now, the bottom line, the only thing every game review in my opinion should boil down to…
“Is this worth my money?”
In my opinion, yes. Assassin’s Creed: Unity makes a bold go at realigning the franchise into a new direction and marks its first steps into Next-Gen territory. It might not hit the nail on the head here 100%, it’s got its issues like any game, but it’s still a damn fine game with astoundingly beautiful visuals and decent story that kept me entertained. New controls and new options all work to deliver a fresh feel to a familiar franchise. It is possible not all of these changes stick too so if anything, Unity could serve as a blueprint for Ubisoft’s future in Next-Gen. Despite the criticism though, it does do everything Ubisoft told us it would. It just might not revolutionize gaming in the sense you thought it would though. I’m not asking anyone to lower their standards; I’m just thinking we should manage our expectations.
Vive la Revolution! 8/10