The Assassin’s Creed series has established itself among other franchises as a stand out in terms of historical settings and boasting beautifully recreated worlds across the spans of time. Despite this, I was starting to lose interest in the series, not even bothering with Brotherhood and Revelations. If it weren’t for 2013’s Black Flag, I probably wouldn’t even have picked up Unity. Ok, that’s a lie – I would have, simply because it’s a new PlayStation 4 game exclusive to current generation consoles and its promise of a beautifully recreated France during the Revolutionary period of the 1700’s.
Set in Paris, the story follows a young Parisian named Arno Dorian. Following the death of his Assassin father, a family – with ties to the Templar Order, sworn enemies of the Assassins – takes Arno under their wing. Blaming himself when his adoptive father is killed, Arno sets himself out on a quest to bring the killers to justice bringing him into the Brotherhood of Assassins and slowly rising through the ranks. Arno’s love interest is in the form of Elise who is his adoptive father’s daughter and a Templar herself. Much like in previous Assassin’s Creed instalments, the game introduces several historical figures including the likes of Napoléon Bonaparte and The Marquis de Sade.
The games’ story is somewhat identical to previous instalments, but thankfully, the present day story arc is minimal in this game, giving much more immersion into the finely detailed world that is 1700’s France. Additionally the story has ties to Assassin’s Creed Rogue, the Assassin’s Creed game that was released alongside Unity for the previous generation consoles. While Arno himself is relatively cool, he isn’t at all relatable and he just seems bland and faceless amongst the “getting kind of stale” rivalry between the Assassins and the Templars, making the story seem really thin.
Booting up Unity and immersing oneself for a few moments into the opening levels, you immediately notice that the designers have utilized the power of the current gen consoles as the models and characters look beautifully rendered. With a few more hours of play, you are exposed to an open and immersive recreation of France and I must say – wow! I was so impressed at the immaculate detail of the buildings, alleyways and the entire volatility of the Revolutionary era. Streets are crowded with characters, more than I have ever seen in a game on screen at any particular time, the French flag is strewn in the mud amongst mobs, anarchists and police officers fight openly in the streets, the sounds of the pedestrians and markets are overwhelmingly detailed. Needless to say, my eyes and ears were impressed!
However, after getting over the initial visual exposure and reveling in how beautiful the game looks, I became frustrated and annoyed about how the game feels. The problems with controlling the main character, Arno, are the same issues I had with Altair, Ezio and Edward from Assassin’s Creed I, II and IV respectively. While the game has a new “free run up” and “free run down” system for ease of traversal, I found a lot of my time was wasted yelling at Arno for climbing onto a ledge that was in the opposite direction in which I pushed the left stick or for hanging outside a window, furiously pressing the L2 button because the game said “push L2 to enter window” only for Arno to either hang there non-chalantly or even shimmy in the opposite direction. Oftentimes, I was frustrated when he was hanging on a building and I would hit X to climb up, only for Arno to stay in place and move slightly, further adding to my frustration.
Combat was another issue altogether. While the animations of Arno’s attacks are quite stunning and akin to a swashbuckling film, the camera always gets in the way of full cohesion and Arno struggles to respond to your commands with dexterity. In fact, so many times did Arno “disagree” with what I was telling him both in combat situations and with world traversal, I was legitimately questioning myself if I was actually this bad of a gamer.
This was exemplified during “stealth” missions. Requiring me to blend in with crowds and avoid detection, I found myself being spotted even when I was certain that I was not in the view of the guards. Sure, there’s a push L2 feature for a “stealth mode” and you can take cover on walls, but most of the time I was either spotted, or I was cursing Arno for going into the wrong direction. Ultimately, the stealth mechanic feels really broken and apart from some key “tutorial” missions at the beginning of the game, if you are spotted you can either throw a smoke bomb and run away or stand by and fight them, so in any regard I felt there was no point and no reward to stealth at all.
The exploration of Revolutionary era France made up for a lot of control issues I had experienced, including doing side missions like collection heads for Madame Tussaud and uncovering clues to solve murder mysteries, adding more depth to a rather thin story-line. During the story line, the player is given Assassination targets, which I had found rather enjoyable purely because of the free reign you had to accomplish them.
Assassin’s Creed Unity also boasts a variety of customization that I quite enjoyed. As with all games in the series, Unity rewards exploration and I loved spending a bit of time finding chests to earn money so I could update Arno’s look, in turn updating his health, combat and stealth statistics. Making my Arno look like a Musketeer was a very proud moment for me. Doing missions also gives you points to spend on skills to develop Arno into even more of a killing machine, such as giving him the ability to roll after a great fall, or throw coins into public – ok, so not so much of a killer then, at least I still enjoyed unlocking a using these skills. The game also has a very rewarding multiplayer aspect whereby you can join Assassin’s online and complete difficult missions and earn better weapons and gear.
Concluding, I have had quite a bit of fun marveling at the visuals and stunning recreation of France and free running across rooftops and atop Notre Dame, however the clunky controls prove frustrating and take a lot out of the game. The story is very “by the books” and I got very little fulfillment from it but I absolutely loved roaming France, completing murder mysteries and doing random side quests. I would still recommend playing Assassin’s Creed Unity, but I would warn about the frustration the controls gave and the silly glitches the game contains. Ultimately, I feel like the game needed a bit more time before its release as it feels somewhat unfinished.