Assassin’s Creed: Unity PS4 Review
Publisher: Ubisoft Developer: Ubisoft Montreal Genre: Action Adventure Players: 1-4
Age Rating: 18+ Other console/handheld formats: Xbox One
Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag was a welcome new direction, adding an enjoyable pirate flavour to the familiar framework of Ubisoft’s historically rich open world series. Freely sailing the Caribbean was a real revelation for the series, and it was so enjoyable that it was always going to be missed from future games in the franchise. Assassin’s Creed: Unity on the other hand is somewhat of a return to the core of Assassin’s Creed, as well as a welcome return to Europe for its backdrop.
The setting this time around is Paris during the French revolution, while our hooded assassin protagonist is Arno Dorian, a cocky, reasonably likeable but not particularly compelling hero, who is motivated by boring old revenge like Ezio and Connor were before him. At least Black Flag’s Edward was something a bit different for the series. Back to Unity though, and along the way you’ll meet important historical figures of the time period such as Napoleon Bonaparte and the Marquis de Sade, who are really quite wasted in their roles.
The story, as always, concerns the centuries long battle between the Assassins and Templars, and liberally plays with history and Arno’s relationship with Templar Elise adds an interesting dynamic. It’s not without its intrigue, but it’s hard to follow and it takes a particularly sharp mind to remember how each character fits into the grand scheme of things.
Surprisingly, the much derided modern day sections are near nonexistent, and in its place you’ll get to explore Paris in contrasting time periods on occasion, which can be fairly exciting and certainly more interesting than the boring modern day, but it would still be better to be just rooted to one time period for the entire game, particularly when it’s so well executed.
Ubisoft’s recreation of historical Paris is their most living, breathing and atmospheric setting yet. Dense crowds swarm around the streets, carrying out a variety of actions, such as protesting, brawling and such, which really brings to life the chaos of the period. It’s just a shame that almost everyone speaks with a British accent, which is very much at odds with the authenticity elsewhere going on throughout the city.
The landmarks of Paris such as the Notre-Dame cathedral are stunning in scale and look beautiful, and, as always, you’ll get to scale them. There’s a greater abundance of buildings that you can go inside this time around, which grants a further layer of richness to the incredibly detailed city.
Being the first game to be built specifically for new generation consoles, the visuals are a big step up from Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, with an increased level of detail, but this sadly comes at the cost of a smooth frame rate; a surprising problem given how rock solid the previous game was in that department and one that takes away somewhat from what is otherwise an aesthetically gorgeous game. Occasional bugs such as falling through the ground or getting stuck on objects also conspires to pull you out of this meticulously detailed world, but, from experience, these are more of an annoyance than anything else.
Navigation around the city is once again carried out through the series’ familiar free running traversal system, though Ubisoft has finally given it some long needed attention. Like previous protagonists, Arno still has the tendency to not always do as you tell him to and there are still some unnatural animation transitions, but this time around you can move up and down buildings and objects, making for smoother movement, more control and less situations where you’ll run up buildings and such accidentally. It is a welcome change that makes the game more pleasurable to play.
Combat meanwhile still has a focus on counters, but is more reliant on skill; there’s a smaller window to reverse attacks, removing the instant kill attack chains. It’s reasonably satisfying but still not on the level of similar accessible combat systems like the Batman Arkham series or Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor.
Stealth, as always, allows you to blend in amongst crowds, and like the recent Splinter Cell games, if an enemy sees you, you’ll be informed of where he last saw you, which you can use to your advantage. Crouching has finally been introduced, and the eagle vision can only be used in brief spurts before it has to go through a brief cooldown process. The AI meanwhile is dim and sadly not much of a step up from past games in the series.
Loadouts are a fresh addition to the mixture and is the place to go to purchase and equip weapons and attire. Arno is able to have a gun equipped as well as a melee weapon, which are split into speedy one handed weapons like swords, long spears and such and heavy axes and the like. There is also plenty of armour on offer, which not only changes Arno’s appearance, but also enhances him in certain areas, increasing his capabilities at stealth, fighting and using eagle vision, and allowing you to carry more items at once.
The game introduces a skill tree to the series. This is split into stealth, health, melee and ranged combat, granting you the opportunity to mould Arno to suit your play style. So if you want to play in a sneaky manner for example, you can unlock things like smoke bombs or double assassinations, or for the more direct approach you can unlock heavy attacks for your weapons.
Story missions are a mixture of stealth and action, though this time around it’s weighted towards the more sneaky side. Assassination missions are more plentiful and offer a greater degree of freedom, with multiple routes, as well as each one beginning with you looking for opportunities to make your job easier, for instance bribing a window cleaner to open up a window, granting you a good access point. It’s certainly not even close to being a Hitman rival in terms of freeform stealth, but it’s undoubtedly still a satisfying advancement for the series.
The side missions on the other hand often have a greater amount of variety and depth compared to past iterations of the series. Amongst other things, there’s chests to open, viewpoints to scale (to reveal things on the map) murder mysteries and riddles to solve. Paris is positively filled with things to do. True, not all of it is particularly engaging, but none of it is terrible either, and it’s a world that is so beautifully realized that it will be a hard one to leave for many.
In terms of multiplayer, the excellent and inventive competitive modes have been discarded and co-op play has been introduced. This allows up to four people to team up with one another. Team work is strongly encouraged here, and skills which benefit the entire team further highlights this fact. You can freely explore the city together and take part in missions. Provided you have a team that is willing to work together efficiently, it’s a great new addition that grants a fresh dimension to the series, but also mercifully never feels as if it’s encroaching too much on the traditional Assassin’s Creed experience in the way that many feared it would.
Assassin’s Creed: Unity has an unfortunate lack of polish, but makes some important steps forward for the series. It’s less a revolution and more of a refinement however, and fundamentally the same game with much of the same problems that have long blighted the series. It’s not enough to prevent it from being a strong and content rich game though, which also happens to have one of gaming’s most absorbing and engaging locations to explore.