Assassin’s Creed: Unity is the first game in the series to be specifically made for a next-gen console. After debuting on the Xbox 360 and PS3 nearly seven years ago, the series has become an annual entity. Like any knowledgeable gamer knows, too much influx of any given product can diminish quality and often lead to hazardous results (Guitar Hero), but Ubisoft continually shelved out quality games that not only enhanced each game before it, but connected them together in a story that spanned over five years. Unity failed to live up to those same aspects as the games before it, and although it looks stunning, questionable gameplay choices and broken mechanics have left the future in doubt for the franchise.
What Is It?
Unity still follows the same basic theme of past games, where the Templars are in search of a great power with the Assassins fighting to stop them. Players begin by watching Jacques de Molay being killed in France in the early 1300’s and being buried in a crypt with a mysterious sword and book. The Templars are searching for this crypt so they can find said items and control the power they possess. Instead of the animus-like past games, players enter historical times as a sort of virtual reality gaming system, and while playing the latest killing of Molay, the Assassins enter with the need to protect any knowledge seen from the Templars.
Insert Arno Dorian, the protagonist of Unity, who might be one of the most unlikeable characters in the entire series. It’s not his snarky attitude or brash behavior that annoyed me, or his cockney British accent. No, it is the fact that Arno might be the dumbest assassin to ever join the brotherhood. Throughout the campaign Arno finds himself in precarious situations and decides to light things on fire (oh no, the room is on fire, now I have to escape!), or listen to advice from a complete stranger (what’s this? I got captured?) that lead to usually bizarre outcomes. The way Ubisoft depicted Arno was a young man trying to figure things out on his own, which typically led to boneheaded moments of stupidity that any assassin would be ashamed of.
Why Should I Care?
To make things worse, every character in Unity speaks in a cockney British accent. This is just lazy in terms of development. At least in past games they tried to speak with Italian and Middle Eastern accents, albeit not authentic. But to give us an entire two hour introduction into the French Revolution and the life of a young French nobleman, only to hear everyone speak as they do really seemed off-putting from the start. There is an option for the characters to speak in French in the menu, but the fact the developers don’t state this to you during the game at all leads me to believe it was not the first choice in the voice acting department. Even notable French characters in history, such as Francois Germaine, Maximilian Robespierre and even Napoleon all have no hint of French dialect in their voice. I understand the need for Arno and the other main characters to perhaps not engage in fluent French for gamer’s sake, but to have some of the most important figures of the French Revolution to share in this fate is just lazy and somewhat mind boggling.
To its merit, the French Revolution looks amazing running on Ubisoft’s new engine made specifically for Unity. Each person on the street has their own individual motion, crowds and flags move consistently throughout the city and combat and wall-running has never looked better. Never has an Assassin’s Creed game looked this detailed before, and oftentimes just admiring the tiles on the rooftops or the smoke billowing out of chimneys left me in awe. Those of you who have the luxury of a much larger TV would no doubt enjoy the game more since Unity looks phenomenal on a higher resolution.
Herein lies the conundrum I had with the game. While it looked and moved flawlessly (keep in mind I started playing after the various patches that fixed various bugs), some unusual design choices ruined some of the fun of navigating the streets of France. For starters, Arno now has to unlock skills, whereas in previous titles once you became an assassin you had access to over a dozen ways to kill your enemies. Now players have to unlock assassin points, which can only be earned by completing story or co-op missions. These points unlock skills such as double assassinations, more health and special abilities that can be used in co-op. I understand the need to try something new in every game, but this addition seems like a step back. Assassins are supposed to be expert killers, and the lack of being able to even kill two enemies simultaneously until nearly half of the game is completed is a terrible idea. For what its worth, the addition of earning upgrade points for doing simple things such as disabling alarm bells and getting headshot kills is a nice touch, and upgrading equipped items with said points is a system I hope they use in later titles.
The story itself is your typical ordinary guy-turned-assassin with a love interest thrown in between, but the characters in Unity felt a lot less memorable to the past games, despite being set in an iconic historical period. There were some neat mentions of the past games and of Masyaf and Monteriggioni, but many of the instances that made Black Flag and Assassin’s Creed III so fun to play were the set pieces, which Unity lacked. Assassins Creed III had us running alongside soldiers in Bunker Hill and Black Flag had us boarding enemy ships on the rough seas. Unity lacked any of memorable moments. Many of the missions involved infiltrating a large area full of enemies and assassinating a specific target. The game tries to change things up by giving you alternate objectives and points of interest, but you can easily bypass them and not be penalized. What makes these missions so dull and repetitive is the fact that enemies in Unity have best line of sight I have ever seen. If you startle one guard to your location you will suddenly have ten on you, and despite turning corners and climbing buildings they can still spot you from across the map. It makes being stealthy incredibly hard to master.
This is where co-op comes in. A first for the series, the cooperative mode in Unity actually works quite well for the structure of the game. At certain points across the map you can access co-op or heist maps. Co-op maps require players to complete a set of objectives before they assassinate targets while heists usually require players to steal certain objects and escaping. What makes co-op fun is how Unity actually ties actual moments in the French Revolution to each map, so you aren’t just doing mindless tasks, you are doing things that impacted the struggle of the people. But herein lies the rub, the enemies in co-op are so spooked they will recognize you from the other side of the map, and many co-op events with other players turned into nothing but free-for-alls against dozens of enemies.
What Makes It Worth My Time And Money?
When all is said and done, Unity could have been a lot better but it’s obvious the task of pumping out an annual entry is starting to wear thin on the series. The addition of co-op is not enough to counteract the repetitive gameplay and lack of basic features. Visually, it might be worth a rental to check out the luscious locales and animations, but Unity stands alone as the only game I do not recommend in the lore of Assassin’s Creed history.