Published on November 22nd, 2014 | by AjayLikesGaming3
Review – Assassin’s Creed Unity
At this point, you’d be hard pressed to find someone who isn’t aware of the plethora of technical issues and embarrassing bugs that are plaguing Assassin’s Creed Unity. Ubisoft Montreal’s flagship title stands as a wholly depressing reminder of what the results of a hard-locked release period will induce. Following EA’s release of Battlefield 4 and Sim City, among others, this seems to be a rather worrying trend among AAA developers.
Though the optimisation on PC is utterly embarrassing, I’m fortunate enough to have a rig powerful enough to brute force through it and allow me to average 60fps in game and 45-50fps in cutscenes. While this is hardly ideal, it did allow me to play the game from start to finish with minimal issues. In fact, I only ran into a total of three bugs in my 18 hour playthrough.
I guess I’m pretty lucky!
While many other reviews have focused on the game’s technical shortcomings as its primary force (and I certainly don’t deny nor excuse them), I’d like to focus on my experience – an experience with a game that was actually playable…and kinda fun.
Unity’s twisting revenge narrative is framed in a wonderfully realised picturesque Paris that truly feels alive. The stunning attention to the renaissance architecture is an absolute marvel with the streets of the city packed to the brim with NPCs going about their day. From market sellers and paperboys to church-goers and drunkards in bars; the city feels purposeful and the dawdling citizens of old are noticeably reduced.
Guiding you through this city is Unity’s protagonist; the sweet-talking assassin, Arno Dorian. Opting to play the game entirely in French for immersion’s sake, I found Arno’s characterisation quite a bit different between languages. The familiar charms of fan-favourite, Ezio Auditore, run slick through the veins of Arno’s English portrayal. While this does work perfectly well, I found that the more serious approach of the French portrayal helped frame the game’s revenge narrative far more comfortably.
Despite the differences, both languages feature stellar performances from near-enough all of the quirky characters that Arno meets throughout the 15-hour campaign. From the hardass quips of Pierre Bellec to the depraved eccentricity of Marquis de Sade, each personality is brought to life superbly no matter which language you choose.
Met with a rather mixed response is the absence of any time away from the Animus. In previous outings, the game would pull you away from the virtual world and thrust you into the present to reiterate the threat of modern-day Templars, Abstergo Industries.
While some found this to be a nice change of scenery and a unique way to link each title together, I’ve always found it distracting and the overarching narrative embarrassingly convoluted and drab. Unity’s use of a single narrative and character-set allows for both a greater overall focus as well as a far more immersive experience. The story may meander into the absurd at times but it’s far saner than any other outing from the franchise.
Assassin’s Creed has felt like a franchise that had lost its focus in a desperate attempt to keep the series alive. From the tower-defence in Revelations to the boat-focused action of Black Flag, the series seemed to forget its titular goal – assassinations.
Fortunately Unity has taken strides to strip back the series to its roots and make stealth and infiltration its primary focus. Similar to the gameplay seen in this year’s Metal Gear Solid: Ground Zeroes, each mission begins with our protagonist on the outskirts of a reasonably sized sandbox. From there, the player has the opportunity to scout the area for guards, potential entry points and viable distractions.
Though not particularly complex in design, I found myself meticulously planning each and every move prior to execution. In one instance, I noticed a woman talking to her incarcerated husband through the bars of his cell. After breaking into the prison, I freed the man who would then incite a riot that served as a distraction, allowing me to sneak into the facility unnoticed.
Once inside, I was met with a vast amount of rooms and intersecting corridors filled with patrolling guards. It’s at this point the addition of the much-needed crouch walk and cover system became absolutely essential. From my hiding spot, distracting a guard with a well-timed cherry bomb only to then sneak behind his partner and slide my blade into his neck was one of the many satisfying executions this new system granted.
Outside of this, the follow-your-buddy and oh-so-familiar rooftop chases serve to frame each assassination mission. Though these work great for breaking up the pace of the narrative, it does often highlight the shortcomings of the much-improved freerunning system. While normal traversal is generally fine, when put into a situation where time matters, the imprecision of the system really shines through. Spots that should be a simple jump often trigger an acrobatic glide across a multitude of aimless steps just to reach your destination. Sometimes cool-looking isn’t always practical.
Combat is vastly altered from its predecessors, too; serving as the third major overhaul since the series’ inception. Assassin’s Creed 3 and Black Flag’s combat were pitifully easy, allowing players to mindlessly mow down opponents with no real consequence. This system has been entirely revamped with Ubisoft citing fencing as one of their major influences. This influence is definitely clear with the counter-kill now replaced with a simple parry. With perfectly timed parries, Arno unleashes some incredibly brutal finishing moves. You’re certainly not invincible and when matched up against 4 or more opponents, things can get especially tough. When the guns come out, it’s time to hightail it out of there!
Luckily, Arno has a great deal of weaponry at his disposal. Ubisoft have introduced an impressive amount of choice this time around. Swords, axes, spears, halberds and pistols – the choice is up to you, and with each possessing their own individual upgrades, there’s plenty of incentive to switch things up.
Alongside this, there are a whole host of different outfit combinations; each possessing stats that can be used to tailor your outfit to your playstyle. If stealth is your thing then perhaps consider a hood and cloak to decrease your visibility. If you like to mow down guards then take a chainmail chest piece for added protection. Though these statistical changes aren’t always apparent in game, the aesthetic customisation is a welcome addition that helps really add that personal touch to your individual playthrough.
While this is all purchased through in-game currency earned by upgrading your properties and completing side missions, Ubisoft have included the option to bypass this by paying real money via a microtransaction system. Though each piece of armour is easily attainable and thus the system is easily ignored, the inclusion of it at all is an incredibly depressing trend that belittles the model’s origins as an optional inclusion in Free-To-Play titles.
While I only experienced three myself (a model error, a wonky ragdoll and a floating NPC), I couldn’t in good conscience put out this review without mentioning the wildfire of reported bugs. From missing faces to body-morphing NPCs and broken geometry, the game is undeniably causing game-breaking issues on many systems.
This is perhaps the most depressing part of Unity. The game is one of the most enjoyable experiences I’ve had from the series in a long time and yet I feel extremely uncomfortable recommending it. Its well-designed missions, compelling narrative and utterly stunning environments should be the biggest talking point for this game. Unfortunately, due to a distinct lack of quality assurance to meet its release window, this game will be remembered for its bugs and horrendous performance.
Perhaps if Ubisoft manage to patch the game into a state that doesn’t require a NASA computer, things may change. However, as it stands, Assassin’s Creed Unity takes up its seat as yet another title harmed by rigid release dates.
Summary: With a little more time, this could have been a great addition to the franchise. Here's hoping some much needed patches clean things up in the future.