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Review: Assassin’s Creed Unity

by onNovember 19, 2014
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It has been four years… Four long years since the appearance of the Phrygian cap and the eye of providence in Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood, a detail that did not escape my keen historical eye (at least I believe so), and kept on waiting eagerly for the time I’ll be reliving La Révolution Française. For you non-French speakers, I’m talking about the French revolution. Thus Assassin’s Creed Unity emerged, promising a richer than ever open world, more intense fighting and a redesigned infiltration system. But before I start this review, I have to share this disclaimer: I’m French, born and raised in Paris, and my emotions about playing in home city will get the best of me. Call me biased, and If you expect a review that is going to trash the game because of the trends of scores that has been given by other sites, you’ll be quite disappointed. So if you’re willing to read this, go on.

The first question a good number of fans of the series should ask is: how is this new era justified in the lineage of Assassin’s Creed? Unity’s story is following the footsteps that were set by Assassin’s Creed IV Black Flag. The new hero is none other than yourself, a recent winner of the latest game console developed by Abstergo, the company serving as a front for the Templar order. As soon as you begin testing it, and witnessing “The Tragedy of Jacques De Molay”, the Assassin order will tap into your Helix machine (powered by Animus). They denounce the Abstergo propagandistic tool, inviting you to see instead the memories of Arno Dorian, a man who worked for the just cause of the Assassin. The objective of this whole maneuver is nothing more than to find – before the Templars – a Sage, an element in the story that fans will be familiar with after Black Flag. Sage are human beings that have a high level of DNA composition from the first civilization, which could be valuable in the race for fragments of Eden. Fans of Desmond’s character will be disappointed, but others greet Ubisoft’s initiative to focus on this era of history. If you land for the first time in the Assassin’s Creed world, this is undoubtedly the perfect episode to get you started, as it counts as a reset.

To explore the darkest moments of the French Revolution and the Terror that followed, Ubisoft Montreal has chosen to make us play as a young Franco-Austrian assassin: Arno Dorian Victor. Born to a wealthy family in Versailles, the guy reminds me furiously of our dear Ezio in both mind and body: a charming ponytail smiling man. Less of a womanizer in comparison to his Italian counterpart, Arno will quickly suffer the Templar and Assassin’s conflict and join the Order to repent for his past mistakes. The task will be even more difficult than first episode of the series, as this Assassin must learn to channel his desire for revenge and remain faithful to the Brotherhood creed. Arno is also emotionally linked into the conflict, as he lives a love story with Elise de la Serre, a young woman he had known since his early childhood, and happens to be a Templar. A little touch of Romeo and Juliet?

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Now at peace since the signing of a truce, the Assassins and Templars will have to rise arms in this episode, sometime breaking alliances, or even unravelling treachery within their ranks. Without saying too much, the proposed cast proves to be compelling, offering many charismatic characters who play hidden roles in the fight for the Republique. Although not that brilliant, the main story has the good taste to not overdo using the French Revolution heroes, such as Napoleon, Robespierre and more. Apart from these positive points, however, I remain a bit skeptical about the main character, who does not lack charm but is a bit too soft compared to its predecessors. As for the present era you live in the game, it could’ve been, somehow uninspiring, reduced to cutscenes and in-game conversations, especially considering all the previous chapters.

To make us forget the disappointments, Ubisoft fortunately have put together a playing space that is simply breathtaking. Paris is huge, beautiful, and without doubt one of the most amazing cities that I have ever witnessed in an open world. In addition to the successful modeling of large buildings (and to scale, should I say), many have been fitted with indoor environments, whether it is catacombs or the inner areas of Notre Dame, accessible without loading time. As a Parisian myself, I cannot stress enough how marveled I was to relive “La Ville-Lumièrein that era, remembering the different neighborhood based on the landmarks, and walking through the busy streets of my native city. Not only varied and beautiful, Paris brings diversity to the level design and infiltration system, which has also been revamped, for the occasion system.

Not only varied and beautiful, Paris brings diversity to the level design and infiltration system

Abandoning its rigid gameplay that was never really built for stealthy players, Unity contrast with its predecessors by offering for the first time an “infiltration” mode. With the touch on the left trigger, Arno can prone, becoming less noisy and more difficult to detect. Coupled with a cover system, a limited use Eagle vision, these new features provide more flexibility to players when it comes to planning their approach and kill targets with discretion. The additional movement schemes with the free-running and a lightly polished AI, make us appreciate the direction in this part of the gameplay that was in dire need of dusting.

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The Ghost blade is also a lovely addition to the Assassin’s arsenal: a variant of the crossbow or blowgun, you are able to send normal or berserk darts, effective in mid-range and offers a stealthy alternative to handguns and rifles. Another novelty is the ghostly outlines that Arno creates if detected, indicating the last known position to the enemies on the map, which will then inspect to try to find you. While the ideas are not revolutionary, remnants of the Splinter Cell mechanics, they fit perfectly with the direction taken in this episode. When you see how the difficult conflict can be in Unity, you’ll have to get started on mastering these infiltration mechanisms.

If you were used to disembowel enemies by the hundreds since the first episodes, especially with Assassin’s Creed III and Black Flag, Unity really tries to highlight its gameplay built for infiltration, by making its fighting system more difficult. Sure the same concept is there, asking you to dodge and parry attacks, but it less predictive, and the removal of certain moves we got used to, such as using a guard as a human shield makes the task turn into a deadly matter when crowded. Note that sometimes, the attack animations lack the smoothness of its predecessors, noticeable during the finishing moves. If we were to compare it with its predecessors, Unity is more like Assassin’s Creed Revelations and least like Connor’s adventure.

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Even with this minimalist fighting system, there’s still depth, with parrying or dodging at the right time, can open up new opportunities to attack repeatedly, with the goal of reducing the enemy’s life points to zero. The damage depends on two criteria: the stats of the equipped gear and the level of your enemy –1 to 5 – visualized by little diamonds on top of their head. Even after boosting your equipment to the max, picking the best one, you should know it is now almost suicidal to try to eliminate huge groups of enemies, especially with guards in the back not hesitating to shoot you while their teammates finish you off. There is a great sense of teamwork from the enemy’s perspective, and you smoke bombs will be your best allies to run away from the mess.

Often considered one of the most popular mechanisms of the series, free running was starting to annoy a number of players, especially with the unintended ascend of merchant stalls or steep falls. Unity now introduces two types of free-running mechanics, which offer a much more significant comfort when it comes to travel the streets and rooftops of Paris. You will now combine the right trigger button to another one depending upon the desired movement: A to go up, or B to go down and under objects.

If the first option allows you to run into the street without Arno climbing when you get too close to a building, the second system provides a controlled descent avoiding silly falls and save valuable time to reach the lower grounds. The system is much more pleasant to master even with some inaccuracies due to the busy city or inner building designs; best example is the entrance of buildings through windows, which is done by simultaneously pressing both triggers when climbing, or using the controlled descent when the window is at street level. It is more intuitive, but it will take a few tries before you get it completely.

I mentioned a little earlier the emphasis on equipment, accompanied by a skill system that brings a slight RPG dimension to the series. Double assassinations, lock picking or use of stun bombs are all features that are unlocked by using skill points. This creates a real sense of progression since you will have to prioritize during the story sequences. The quality of the equipment is much more important now as well, materializing in the form of a statistical system and higher perks activated.

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You have the choice between three types of melee weapons available (one-handed swords, two-handed heavy swords and long reached on) as well as two ranged weapons: pistols and rifles (three if you consider the Ghost Blade). A very shocking thing I realized during my review is that the secret blade cannot be used in combat, the first time since the founding episode! Protective equipment are numerous and can be changed from the head, to belts, wrist and leg arms. They each have statistics and aesthetic of their own, a point that will delight fans of customization and those looking to befit their heroes according to their style of play.

All of these personalization, skill system, and perks are at the base of the new multiplayer co-op mode 

All of these personalization, skill system, and perks are at the base of the new multiplayer co-op mode. Gone is the competitive multiplayer that was introduced in Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood, Unity ushers the series into a new era of cooperative experience, between 2 and 4 players and numerous missions dedicated solely to this mode. The good surprise comes from the ability to freely explore the city with friends before launching (or not) in a co-op mission. The experience are included perfectly in the open world and is more pleasing that all of the proposed scripted missions, rooted in the context of the Revolution and even have a small introduction cinematic. A great addition to the gameplay perfectly suited for this episode; though note that the matchmaking system is a bit flawed, as I have been paired with way higher assassins on some missions, not that I complain about.

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In addition to the co-op missions, there is so much to do, with many scattered collectibles such as cockades, treasures, artifacts, and nomadic points to be used for the companion app as well as synchronization points only available co-op missions. Other than that, the most original are probably the murder investigations side missions. By base, you use your eagle vision to inspect different areas and recover valuable clues. Once collected, Arno becomes a intern detective, and will give you the choice to accuse one of many suspects. Accuse the wrong one, and you’ll still get your reward, but it will be slightly penalized.

Another comeback are riddle missions that goes by the Enigmas of Nostradamus. These missions also offer to appeal to your sense of observation and your eagle vision to discover hidden written symbols all around Paris based on the riddles. Quite painful to finish, as it relies on a lot of understanding of the city, these missions will unlock a special armor and bring a touch of exploration and reflection to enjoy the surroundings of Paris. Fifty scripted missions named Paris Stories are also available, allowing you to discover other characters of the French Revolution. Like the previous episodes, you will probably need a hefty 50-60 hours to finish the game to a full 100% and around 12-15 to complete the main story sequences (12 in total).

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Before concluding on the technical and artistic part of the title, it seemed logical to return to one of the crucial points of the series: the key Templar assassination missions. The sequences of the main story devoted to this aspect of the adventure is very different from other missions and at times evokes famous murders of the first episode of the series. You are on your own in an open area with the only instruction “Kill your target” and the presence of two secondary objectives that will help making your job easier (such as creating a distraction by freeing prisoners). If these sequences are very pleasant with their staging and diversity, as well as the proposed level design, they are however not as open as you might think since there are only one or two viable solutions apart from running into the pile head down.

Although I have already discussed in part the visual quality of Paris, all that remains to discuss is the technical part of the game. In some part, it is better than most of his predecessors by offering realistic smoke and lighting effects, a more varied NPC character models and a larger viewing distance. Even after the recent patch to date (patch 2), there is still some bugs, but they are less noticeable due to large crowds, which are one of the strengths of this episode. However, even though there is not many of them, I could not bear the excruciating loading screens.

Assassin’s Creed Unity was reviewed using an Xbox One review copy from Ubisoft. PlayStation 4 run-through was also done, with more noticeable visual and performance issues even after Patch 2. The game is also available on PC. We don’t discuss review scores with publishers or developers prior to the review being published.

What we liked

• Paris, one of the most beautiful cities in an open world game
• Accessible indoor environments without loading screen
• Interesting quests
• Stealth is more fun and enjoyable
• The story mission assassinations
• A neat and fun co-op mode
• A real progression system (equipment, skills, gear)
• A well transcribed conflict Assassins / Templars
• Back to a very charismatic character since the days of Ezio
• Arno and Elise’s relationship
• Revamped Freerunning controls

What is not fun

• Although revamped controls, Freeruning is still a bit clunky
• Interminable loading time on some occasions
• Combat system that lacks depth
• HUD not well thought out
• Various bugs and noticeable framerate drops

Editor Rating
 
Concept
9.0

 
Graphics
9.0

 
Sound
9.5

 
Playability
8.0

 
Entertainment
9.0

 
Replay Value
8.5

Final Score
8.8


Our final verdict
 

More of an evolution than a revolution, as usual victim of technical bugs and instabilities, Assassin's Creed Unity nonetheless is a very good game, which took me into one of the most beautiful open worlds ever seen. Apart from being a visual feast, the game’s two greatest assets are its new stealth approach and the arrival of its cooperative missions. It is a beautiful refresh of a franchise that was becoming overdone, and I am excited to see what is next. Maybe medieval Japan? Ancient Egypt? Who knows?

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