Over the course of its six previous entries (main series) the Assassin’s Creed franchise has done an amazing job of remaining fresh despite its yearly release cycle. From Altair’s epic journey during the Third Crusade to Edward Kenway’s Caribbean piracy it has woven an intricate storyline of assassins versus Templars from the 12th century to modern days. Mixing stealth with action and adding a healthy dose of history it has made for some of the best games ever created.
In Assassin’s Creed Unity we are transported to the French Revolution and introduced to our newest assassin Arno Dorian. He’s a young man trying to do right by his adoptive father, who was brutally murdered and for which he took the blame. Amidst the ever present Templar and Assassin’s Order rivalry we also witness the rise of the people versus the aristocracy in the great city of Paris in 1789. Admittedly Arno isn’t the most exciting of the assassins we’ve ever encountered and his story isn’t the best either but it’s still an enjoyable one.
Immediately noticeable once you’re in the game is the sheer size of it all. AC Unity is massive in scope which easily matches its ambition. If there’s one thing you’ll never have to worry about in this game it’s running out of things to do. From collectible chests and cockades to side missions it’s an onslaught of content. Chests are everywhere with a few new twists mind you. Some require lock picking skills, some attach to your AC Initiates profile and require a certain initiate level to open, and others tie into the new AC Unity companion app available in all major mobile stores. It’s a bit tedious tying everything together but it provides for a much deeper experience in the long run. You’ll also want to keep an eye out for Nostradamus Enigmas to recover fragments of the Nostradamus Disc too. Solving the riddles of the enigmas is no easy task and will stump many gamers for a long time.
Collectibles aside there are also a plethora of side missions to dive into. You can complete social club missions, solve murder mysteries or meet interesting (and some well-known) citizens of Paris and complete missions in ‘Paris Stories’. Arno is also charged with running the Café Theatre, an old Assassin’s Order base of operations so for those of you who love upgrading your headquarters you’ll have that too. In fact the Café Theatre is one of my favorite spots in the game. It’s huge with something hidden around every corner and watching it come back to life from a rundown old building to a vibrant place of business (and secrets) is awesome. One of the best locations in the theatre is the Club Hall as it serves as the base of operations for Assassin’s Clubs you can either create or join.
Naturally this brings me to the best new addition to the Assassin’s Creed franchise and that’s co-op. Completing co-op missions and heists with anywhere from two to four players is amazingly fun and adds way more to the game than the old PvP ever did. Chatting with a friend about tactics and strategy and then pulling off a sweet synchronized kill is something I enjoyed immensely. Joining a club, as mentioned above, adds an even deeper element to it as your club can complete objectives and even win competitions against other established clubs. When you access the Club Hall in the basement of the Café Theatre you’ll be able to see other club members gathered there and interact with them. It’s easy to join them on their missions or invite them to join you on yours. Ease of use is a big plus when it comes to social interaction in a game because anything that tends to hamstring the process inevitably ends up turning players away from it and in the case of AC Unity that’s the last thing we want.
The gameplay itself is a great mix of old and new and the best of the new is the ability to free run down buildings as well as up. Gone are the days of falling off buildings in favor of gracefully parkouring down them like a badass ninja. The animations that accompany the flashier parkour style are pretty killer too. Old standbys like the smoke bomb are still available but there’s also poison gas and Arno’s new weapon, the Phantom Blade. Essentially it’s a mini crossbow that attaches to Arno’s wrist firing off lethal blades to off your targets from a distance. Using a Berserk Blade is a treat as it turns enemies on their own allies too which can be helpful when wanting to clear a larger group. As you complete the campaign you’ll also unlock Sync Points which you can use to further develop Arno’s skills in the categories of melee, ranged, stealth and health. Ultimately you’ll want to mix up moving between the campaign and all the available extras on the side to get a fully rounded experience. That won’t be hard though because anyone who’s ever played an Assassin’s Creed game knows it is virtually impossible to go from one point to another without getting sidetracked in some way. I’m not sure about you but it happens to me every damn time.
Customization is at an all-time high in AC Unity from weapons to outfits to special boosts and co-op skills. All manner of swords, pikes, rifles and pistols are available for purchase and they can be upgraded as well to make them even stronger. Arno’s outfit is customizable from head to toe and is no longer just a cosmetic feature. Clothing items offer perks to your eagle vision, your health, your ammunition carrying, your stealth and more. As with weapons they are also upgradeable and I found myself contrasting and comparing obsessively before purchasing anything.
If there’s one thing that Ubisoft has always strived for in the Assassin’s Creed series it’s authenticity. Whether it’s the characters you interact with, the buildings you see or the historical events you witness they want them to be as true to life as possible. In Assassin’s Creed Unity this is more obvious than ever. The streets are alive with people at every turn and the utmost care has been placed to give you as real a playground for Arno as possible. From the Notre Dame Cathedral to homes and shops, everything is seamless to move in and out of (at the cost of a fairly lengthy loading screen mind you) and painstakingly detailed. From the near 1:1 scale of known landmarks alongside the true to the era graffiti on the walls it all screams authentic. Ubisoft hired some well learned historians to keep them on the right track in their story and their presentation and it shows.
As good as everything looks, because the game is pretty stunning, it does suffer from some pretty severe frame rate drops at times and that is easily its biggest downfall. During synchronizations for example the 360 degree pan around the city slows significantly. At one point early into the game I was inside a cathedral just full to the brim with stained glass and sunlight and the slowdown there was atrocious. Given that the level of detail was immensely high I can understand the ‘why’ behind it but it still pulls you out of the moment. Is it game breaking? No, not really. Does it suck to see? Most definitely! For the most part it’s only noticeable in cut scenes and synchronizations at least and not too often anywhere else. Perhaps Ubisoft tried to push too hard this time around to take advantage of the new hardware and unfortunately it shows. Still though, as you’re making your way around the city streets it really does come together beautifully and despite the odd hiccup it truly does look unbelievable in action.
In terms of voice work and sound the game delivers a high level product. I’ll admit that I’m surprised at how many people have British accents in Paris mind you. I’m not sure why Ubisoft decided to go with primarily English accents for a game centred in Paris but the only reason I can think of is that it might be easier for most people to understand. In terms of that authenticity I was speaking about though I would have liked a little bit more of the language of love. The city itself though is absolutely alive! You’ll hear lots of the Parisian citizens bantering as you walk its streets and the crowds are absolutely buzzing. In contrast to earlier games in the Assassin’s Creed franchise this is the first time that the technology has been able to keep up with the developer’s vision of a bustling city. 1789 Paris is the most living and breathing location we’ve ever been able to visit in the series hands down.
If you’re a fan of the Assassin’s Creed franchise you will undoubtedly love what Ubisoft has brought to the table with Assassin’s Creed Unity. A vibrant playground that you can tackle alone or with friends, it adds just enough new while still staying faithful to what made it successful in the first place. Despite some minor hiccups along the way this is a great first showing for Assassin’s Creed exclusively on current generation consoles. It makes me excited for how much further the series can evolve as developers truly learn how to get a handle on the hardware. Seven (well eight if we include Rogue) games in to the main series and Assassin’s Creed is showing no signs of slowing down.
*** Game reviewed on Xbox One via a code provided by the publisher ***