Assassin’s Creed Unity review

Assassin’s Creed Unity review

Assassin’s Creed Unity review

by November 11, 2014

With Black Flag a rum-swigging success story, the question on Ubisoft’s collective lips must have been: “What do we do after the drunken sailor?” It was never going to be easy to follow in Edward Kenway’s slightly wavering Assassin footsteps but as you squint up at an eagle circling the spires of Notre Dame and take in the bustling chaos of French Revolution Paris, you’ll quickly realise that – despite enjoying your Caribbean holiday – you’re home now. Assassin’s Creed Unity manages to not only deliver an astonishingly beautiful recreation of Paris, but an open world sandbox so dense and rich you feel like there isn’t enough time to see everything on offer. Proper assassinations step back into the limelight, free-running takes on new levels of slick rooftop traversal and (despite some less attractive ‘Creed hallmarks making an unwelcome return) Unity’s visuals feel genuinely new-gen.

Unity is the tale of Arno Dorian. Without spoiling too much, he’s on a quest for some serious vengeance and finds himself quickly popping on a hood and hidden blade and becoming embroiled in the Brotherhood of Assassins just as Paris decides to overthrow the monarchy. Handy. Refreshingly, unlike AC3’s determination to hit every location on the American Revolution tourist map, Arno’s journey is distinctly more character-focused. Expertly woven into the narrative, the Revolution itself is a clever story tool as the Assassins and Templars wrestle for control in a tumultuous political environment. If that doesn’t sound cool enough, there are severed heads on sticks too. 

The fact that Arno is a likeable soul with a sense of humour and a sharp tongue made the 50-or-so hours I spent with him a pleasantly enjoyable experience. Add in the ‘fiery Templar’ Elise and, despite her continent-crossing accent (seriously, is she English, American, Australian? It’s bizarre), you’ve got some characters worth caring about. As a big fan of Ezio Auditore, I find this young Assassin pleasantly reminiscent of the charms of the Renaissance Master himself, and followers of Edward Kenway’s rogue-like personality should be suitably charmed too. 

Paris is enormous, beautiful and positively dripping with atmosphere… and blood, from the newly hewn victims of the ‘National Razor’. Ditching old-gen tech means thousands of non-player characters wander the streets waving flags, burning effigies, frequenting markets and going about their daily business. As Arno careers through the newly introduced interiors of buildings to escape inevitable pursuers (who don’t like his habit of stabbing their bosses), the inhabitants scream and dive out of the way. The level of detail, as you find your way inside buildings such as Notre Dame, are an atmospheric joy as dust billows under your feet and shafts of sunlight fill the halls of the sparkling homes of the French aristocracy. Impressive contrast lighting means the game takes a second for Arno’s eagle eyes to adjust as you plunge out of an open window to make an escape, meaning you never quite know what’s going to be on the other side.

There has been a murder!

It might seem a bit bizarre that a man who inserts a blade into a jugular roughly every hundred and eighty seconds is rewarded for solving murders but let’s not ask too many questions eh? Unity’s Murder Mysteries are a (dying?) breath of fresh air, complete with gory historical artwork and plenty of clues scattered across the streets of Paris. Sometimes it’s glaringly obvious who your suspect is – “Oh hi, you sound /mental/” –  but turning on Eagle Vision and getting sleuthing is a satisfying addition to the frankly overwhelming number of side quest distractions. Plus, Horrible Histories style, you get a free gory lesson without even feeling like you’re learning

This being the first new-gen-only AC, Ubisoft has finally taken the time to tinker with the main pillars of the franchise and free running has had a welcome overhaul with the addition of parkour up and down buttons. While free run down takes a few hours to get used to after years of hammering jump and hoping you don’t fly backwards off a wall, Arno’s deft twists and turns, as he descends to the bustling streets, quickly become a satisfyingly stylish way to travel. New-gen tech also means you can’t stop watching his coat swish as Arno leaps between buildings in a single, exhilarating, gymnast-style bound, or slides deftly inside an open window.

But what of the ‘assassin’ part of Assassin’s Creed, you ask? The stabbo? Well that’s here too, and combat has had an overhaul to pop the odds squarely in favour of the opposition. Where Black Flag celebrates the mashing of the counter-attack button with its ships-full of human-shaped, hidden blade cushions, Unity has removed the feature altogether. Attack, parry, and roll are your new friends. Add in the reinstating of the rather old school health potion feature, and open-combat is considerably trickier and more difficult to get used to. 

It can be upgraded with skills and your choice of armour, but you’ll quickly find yourself avoiding large groups of civilian-police and guards, unless you fancy a frustrating dose of desynchronisation. Combat is ultra gory and satisfying once you’ve mastered its art – whether you choose two handed heavy weaponry or a sword and pistol combo – but it’s in trying to avoid it where Unity falters slightly. While the encouragement of stealth is no bad thing, especially with the welcome return of large scale assassination missions where you can choose exactly how to play, the game suffers from the franchise’s traditional ‘clumsy enemy AI’ and occasional stealth hiccups. 

A few other AC bugs linger; you can be spotted behind cover, enemies will either forget you in an instant or continue to hunt you from afar, and the game’s desperate insistence to not let you interact with mission objectives while your conflict indicator is high is infuriatingly last-generation design. “I’m here,” you scream, “isn’t that enough?” It’s worth saying too that frame-rate wise, I experienced things slowing down occasionally through busy scenes, in both review and retail copies. Another unwelcome AC hallmark returning to plague the new generation.