Assassin’s Creed Unity Review

Assassin’s Creed returns, this time thrusting you into the shoes of Arno Dorian as he runs, jumps and climbs his way around Paris on the eve of the French Revolution.

Assassin’s Creed has become a massive franchise, and one of the shining diamonds in Ubisoft’s crown, and this is their 2014 outing for the title. Barely 12 months after the massively successful and lauded Assissin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, Ubisoft have worked hard to make Assassin’s Creed a yearly title (even more impressive when you consider that they have launched Unity alongside the current gen Assassin’s Creed Rogue). As such, the gameplay remains pretty much the same.  Playing as Arno, you slowly work your way into the Assassin’s in their fight against the Templars, exploring an impressively detailed, next gen Paris and assassinating those that get in the way.

Arno Dorian is your typical Assassin’s Creed protagonist. Starting off unaware of his family ties to the Assassin’s, Arno is the brash and cocky youth, getting into scrapes and climbing buildings in order to attract the attention of some young dame in what has become almost the standard stereotype for an Assassin’s Creed game. These are traits that have been mirrored in previous Assassin’s Creed games, and I can see why they do it, so that we as an audience experience Arno’s introduction and initiation into the Assassin’s as you get to grips with the controls and new mechanics of the game, but it is starting to feel a little stale. Arrogant young man who learns control and restraint as the story progresses? Check. Secret family ties to the Assassin’s and/or Templars? Check. Some form of vengeance, that ultimately ties into the main campaign? Check. Once the story get’s going, the other improvements Ubisoft have implemented in the game do enough to draw you in, but for returning players, it does feel like you are jumping through the hoops at certain points, following the “How to write an Assassin’s Creed story” check list paved by the many previous iterations of the title.

One of the positive changes implemented in Unity is that they have completely overhauled the controls for both climbing, or Parkour, and fighting. Ubisoft have introduced “Parkour up” and “Parkour down” buttons, which do exactly what you would expect, and changed the animations of Arno in comparison to previous games. Parkour was already one of my favourite aspects about Assassin’s Creed, but climbing has never looked so smooth or fluid or true to life here, with Arno swinging and climbing and spinning up and over buildings, and then controlling his descent on the way down. Yes there are still times where this frustrates, with Arno missing an intended ledge or foothold, or completely taking the wrong route up a building because of a misaligned climb.  This is never more apparent than when trying to take a shortcut through a building, including fully decorated interiors, another new feature introduced in Unity, and instead of swinging in through the window you run smack bang into the window ledge, or jump up and over the window completely. In a game all about stealth and making quick getaways when caught, there is nothing more annoying than in the heat of a pursuit being scuppered by a window ledge.

The fighting controls are probably an even bigger change, and one for the better. Don’t get me wrong, I loved the sword fights and fighting mechanics in the previous games, but in Unity they have changed the controls and in doing so made upped the difficulty, which, here, is a good thing.  In Black Flag, fights never offered me much of a challenge – yes they were enjoyable, and yes they were at times difficult, but I never really felt that I had to run away – I was always confident enough that I could fight my way out using the tools and skills at my disposal, and of the few guards who would surround me and then take turns to attack one at a time, it was easy enough to spot the guy who was about to swing his sword at me next.  In Unity, this has changed – I actually felt challenged, that these guards actually present a danger and not a button pressing exercise.  Gone is the counter button, which offered up a bit of breathing room in the previous titles, replaced with a dodge and parry button that are both dependent on timing – when the health bar above your attacker flashes yellow, parry or dodge.  You can still follow up with an attack, but it makes you feel like you are more in control and not just simply bashing buttons.  The camera seems to zoom in on fights too, which makes the fighting seem tighter, and thus more threatening as it is not always possible to see who is coming in for a swing next.

Another new feature introduced in AC:Unity is the ability to complete certain missions co-operatively, working together to complete the given objective. Upto 4 players can team up over PSN, working together to achieve the desired result on a drop in drop out system, but currently this has been hindered by bugs that relate to adding friends to your in game list.  Luckily, none of my friends have had Unity for me to add them so this has been a bug that has left me unscathed, but I do plan on testing out this feature in the future the minute one of them does as I can see how this would work well as you both plot and plan your next move.

As stated earlier, the story line does tick the usual Assassin’s Creed boxes, offering intrigue and deception based around actual figures and events in history, this time based around the French Revolution, something that I know very little about.  As such, the game does a great job of offering up a wealth of information about the characters and settings that you encounter, available for you to dip in and out of as you wish. I always start with the best of intentions, reading every snippet that pops up via notification on the screen, but as you progress through the story they start to happen so frequently that this does begin to feel like a chore and I end up reading only the ones I am bothered about or to deepen my understanding of the story or to gather some insight into who it is I have just popped with my hidden blade.

Collectibles also return, spread out around the map and revealed by climbing atop the highest buildings and synchronising these points to reveal the map. Chests  return,  revealed as more of the map is. Running round and collecting all the items is still a fun and, at times, overwhelming experience, but I would still roam the streets opening as many as possible to upgrade Arno or my base before venturing out on a mission. Ubisoft have tried to tie a lot of ribbons into the bow that is Unity, and chests and the upgrade system are linked to Uplay, a feature I have enjoyed using as it tracks and rewards my actions over various Ubisoft games, and the companion app, Nomad. This has become quite a tradition with Triple A titles, (Nomad currently rests between both the Destiny and GTA V companion apps on my phone), and Unity is no different, gathering a collection of Assassin’s and sending them off on missions to unlock further content in the main game.

Working alongside these two apps, Ubisoft have also created Initiates, a new feature that is designed to track your progress over subsequent Assassin’s Creed games both past, present and future, levelling up an avatar and unlocking in game content as you go. These different aspects all tie in together, but in doing so Ubisoft have let the genie out the bottle and have tied in microtransactions within the game in the form of Helix points.  Want to unlock that nice shiny sword? Maybe a skill that you think might help you along your way?  You could spend £3.99 on some Helix points to help you unlock them quicker if you so choose (in fact £3.99 is the cheapest package, as the pricing goes all the way up to £79.99 should you want the full whack).  Or, you could just play the game and unlock them as you progress naturally, just like the old days – I know, so old fashioned right?  This just smacks me as a quick cash in, and cheapens what is clearly a high end title, turning it into something more like a cash cow, and the quicker microtransactions go the way of the dinosaur is a day that can’t come quickly enough.

All in all AC: Unity is an enjoyable experience, but at times it is bogged down by too many external influences – the app and the microtransactions and Uplay and Initiates might work to suck some people in or turn some away. Equally as jarring the game has been plagued by some well publicised bugs that are slowly being patched over the coming days and weeks, however nestled amongst all these distractions is a game that does play well and is enjoyable and recognisable as Assassin’s Creed. The main elements are as fun as they have ever been, and the developers have clearly worked hard on rejuvenating the controls for the next generation of consoles. Returning players will feel both comfortable and challenged, with Assassin’s Creed Unity introducing some new things that work (and some that don’t). Whatever the issues are, I’ll still play this one until the bitter end and will see you in line next year for Assassin’s Creed 6 (or whatever that title happens to be).

REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Sony Playstation 4 code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to editor@bonusstage.co.uk.

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