Last year Ubisoft shook up the Assassin’s Creed formula with a step back down the series timeline and a bit of pirate action in the Caribbean. AC4: Black Flag then got a new console make-over that made it look extra pretty and stirred up anticipation for the first true next gen Assassin’s Creed. Well, here it is. Assassin’s Creed Unity throws you into another iconic historical event: the French Revolution, for more Templar hunting and violent mayhem.
So, after a brief bit of Abstergo techno-babble, we’re off to the 18th Century Paris. First there’s a little flashback prologue with Arno as a young boy visiting the Palace of Versailles with his dad. As a showcase of what the next gen consoles can do it’s very impressive. The palace looks absolutely incredible and the level of detail in some of the settings and character models really is a step up. In the palace Arno meets his future love interest, Elise, but before it gets too cosy Arno’s father is publicly murdered. Fast-forward a few years and Arno is sneaking back into the palace to try to grab a romantic moment with Elise. Predictably enough it all goes wrong: Arno is framed for murder and sent to prison. While he’s locked up a fellow prisoner, Bellec, tells Arno his dead father was an assassin and begins to train him up ready to join the order. Arno escapes during the Storming of the Bastille, makes his way to the Assassin’s base near Notre Dame, takes the oath, and begins his assassin adventures which will take him through all the major events of the French Revolution.
To begin with Arno is very green and inexperienced and you’ll need to proceed with stealth and caution because even low level enemies can do him serious damage. It’s worth getting side-tracked because the main adventure has a pretty steep difficulty curve and you’ll need to upgrade Arno regularly to be able to progress. This isn’t a chore though, because the Paris map is satisfyingly huge and provides some very impressive locations. In the palaces and churches the lighting effects and level of detail provide a definite wow factor in the eye-candy stakes.
The developers have tried to give the player as much freedom within the game environment as possible. As a result there are a lot of options and upgrades that allow Arno to be modified to best suit your style of play. As far as the control system is concerned nothing has been radically altered. There are one or two minor changes but it still feels very intuitive. An extra button has been added to the free running system which allows you to select whether you are trying to go up or down. This might not seem like a big deal but the frustration of racing off along a route you didn’t want has been present since the first game and, though this doesn’t solve the problem completely, it certainly helps, and makes for some spectacular descents from the tallest landmarks.
The gameplay is a return to the format of AC2 and its Ezio sequels. Arno’s control centre is the Assassin base by the river, but there are other assassin mission points scattered all over Paris. Arno can increase his income to buy more upgrades and collectibles by owning and renovating local businesses in the same way that Ezio used to upgrade shops. You can check in regularly to collect your earnings. Arno’s health doesn’t automatically restore itself but you can visit shops to replenish your supplies. There are shops all over the map so you shouldn’t ever have to run short. You can also drop into one of Paris’ many cafes to interact with characters and earn rewards by taking on side missions. As with all the Assassin’s Creeds, the game doesn’t stop when you finish the main adventure because Paris is littered with extra missions, treasure chests, tokens and secret codes that will keep you busy long after the story ends. Clearing the map will be a massive challenge.
Beyond the single player experience Unity has got a lot to offer. The companion app follows the model used with Black Flag. You can sync with your console to keep tabs on progress and rewards in the game. It also allows you to recruit fellow ‘Nomad’ assassins and send them on missions in return for rewards in the main game such as treasure chests that remain locked until certain Nomad challenges have been achieved. It’s fun, and, like the Black Flag Companion, a little bit addictive in its own right.
The real step forward comes in the online multiplayer options. In previous games these were tucked away as extras and were a fun but fairly predictable selection of things like Capture the Flag. This time round it’s been built into the main game as optional missions that appear on the map from the start. They are as varied as the many one player challenges but require teams of two to four online players to work co-operatively. As the online Unity community grows so will the number of available allies for any task. It’s a cool idea. You can initiate a mission at any of the coop points on the map or join one that someone else has started. Watch out for shimmery looking citizens on the streets around you, wander up, find out what the mission is, and opt in if you fancy it. Simples. You can attempt all of these missions as a single player, but the difficulty level is off the scale if you’re on your own, so you’ll need to upgrade Arno as far as he can go before you take them on.
There’s been a lot of criticism about faults in the game’s coding suggesting that it has been rushed out unfinished. They cite long loading times, variable frame rates and bad glitching, including problems with floating characters or getting stuck in scenery. Well, the loading times certainly are very long, and they no longer feature the character in limbo from the old games, so it’s basically just a long stare at a black screen. It’s also true that when things get busy there is a bit of slowdown. However, during the playthrough for this review I didn’t experience any of the serious issues some gamers have reported.
In brief, it’s a huge, impressive looking game with a massive main story and loads to do round the edges. The tongue-in-cheek tone means that it’s more enjoyable than the drearily serious AC3. However, it lacks the variety and sheer exuberant fun of Black Flag, and the return to the AC2 gameplay format feels like a backward step. Nevertheless, while it’s a long way from being perfect, it’s still definitely worth a go.
Reviewed on PS4