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Assassin's Creed Unity - Review
The general rule of thumb with Ubisoft's Assassin's Creed series is that, for every one step they take forward, they manage to take two steps back. Given that last year's instalment reinvigorated the series somewhat, with its pirate theme, Assassin's Creed Unity is the inevitable lurch backwards terms of quality. And boy, is it one hell of a lurch.
Assassin's Creed Unity starts by culling a lot of the feature creep that's been a growing issue within the series for quite some time now. It's inevitable for a series that has annual releases that the amount of new, and returning, mechanics has begun to drag it down. Initially, this is a refreshing change of pace, making Unity feel more like Assassin's Creed II than anything else.
Gone are the morass of different side missions, or the overly complicated homestead system of Assassin's Creed III. In its place is a simple property system, much like the second game, that allows you to purchase cafes in order to receive a steady stream of income. Likewise, the game's lead Arno, does his best to be Ezio 2.0. Adopted into a family of wealthy templars after his father is killed, Arno's story tells a similar tale of revenge.
The core gameplay has likewise undergone a slimming down. Assassin tools consist of little more than a few variety of bombs; poison gas, smoke and so on, and the poison and berserk darts from previous games. Initially, it's an interesting move by Ubisoft to seemingly remove the clutter from the game and get back to basics. Unfortunately, you can't shake off the fact that many of the game's design decisions are made more to aid in cost-cutting, rather than to help produce a worthwhile game.
Some of Unity's other tweaks are less welcome. The addition of cooperative multiplayer doesn't add up to all that much. It's come at the cost of the series' far more enjoyable competitive multiplayer seen in previous installments and Unity's online play just isn't all that much fun in comparison. Playing online with strangers is simply asking for trouble, with many trying to simply brute force missions and not cooperating at all. Communication is key to get anything from the game's multiplayer and even then it's hampered by being nothing more than being scenarios lifted from the main game with a hefty difficulty tweak.
The multiplayer focus has also affected some of the game's single player aspects. Equipment is now all handled in the pause menu, along with now being referred to as your "load out". In effect, this simply means paying skills points for upgrades that you'd have gotten for free in previous games. Rather than be an exciting moment in the story, like it was in earlier installments, you now unlock the ability to assassinate two targets at once from the cold, sterile void of the game's menu screen.
Equipment, such as weapons and armour, is handled in a similar fashion. Arno can wield an abundance of different weapons, from simple one-handed swords, to giant claymores. Each weapon type has its own unique qualities, making it, in theory, better and/or worse against different enemy types. This would perhaps be interesting, if only Assassin's Creed Unity's combat had any depth to it. Combat has been tweaked this time around and has moved away from the Arkham Asylum-esque rhythm-action it had picked up in more recent sequels. This wouldn't have been much of a problem, had it been replaced by something else, only it hasn't, meaning much of the combat is a lifeless bash of the square button, along with the odd counter thrown in for good measure.
Even choosing equipment manages to feel frustrating, with over 80% of the items on offer being locked off until you've finished fussy, arbitrary requirements. Even worse, some of the better items simply declare "wait for the DLC" when you hover over to purchase them. Even the game's "special armour" feels like its tied to a dull time-sink, rather than a fun collection of side quests.
Of course, all of the complaints dance around the key issue that Assassin's Creed Unity has, and that's its performance. Simply put, it runs horribly. This is a game that simply needed more time in development. The crowds of people initially look impressive, until you realize that many locations will constantly suffer from a stuttering framerate. Exploring initially seems fun, until you get annoyed by the weird "auto-correct" in the game's free-running system. Assassin's Creed's platforming has never been the most precise, but it seems notably worse this time around, with Arno regularly jumping at the wrong ledge or getting stuck in weird places.
Even the game's stealth has taken a step backwards. The developers have attempted to make the stealth system similar to Far Cry 3's, with each guard's awareness being mapped to Arno. In theory, this would mean you have better knowledge of which guards present the most threat, yet, enemies are so twitchy, attempts at stealth are likely to result in constant bouts of frustration.
There are a few things to enjoy in Unity. The game's world design, always a Ubisoft strength, remains good, and exploring Paris during the French Revolution is admittedly one of the highlights. It's just that all this comes with the caveat that the rest of the game becomes a chore to slog through. Even Arno's story ends up becoming a tired mess. Rather than him having a direct interest in the outcome of the revolution (like Connor did in Assassin's Creed III), here, he simply drifts through with the all the social upheaval being little more than background noise, and acting as a peg to hang a few assassination missions on.
Assassin's Creed Unity is, without a doubt, the worst new instalment since Revelations and is arguably the weakest addition to the series since it began. It's a slapdash attempt at rolling out the Assassin's Creed formula, without any attempt to make it memorable or all that interesting. Strip away the online cooperative missions and you have a game without any new ideas, and still full of old, tired ones that have been executed far better in previous installments.
As the first Assassins game on new consoles, this is a dreadful way to start out.
Assassin's Creed Unity was released November 13th for Xbox One, PS4 and PC.
This review is based on the PS4 version.
© 2015 LudoLogic