Quick Take: Assassin's Creed Unity is a lesson on choosing to keep release dates over quality, and the entire franchise will suffer for it.
I love Assassin’s Creed. I came real late to the party, but once I started playing the games, I fell head over heels in love with the gameplay, the mythos; all of it. When Assassin’s Creed Unity was announced, I was a bit sad that it was going to be located in France during the French Revolution. Assassin’s Creed III already did a revolution story, and after the sublime Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, I wanted something so much more.
And then Ubisoft surprised me. Assassin’s Creed Unity is one helluva a game. It’s stunning to look at, the play control is smooth and concise, and the Revolutionary Paris setting actually works.
Assassin’s Creed Unity changes the game up a bit by changing the interface. Ubisoft built a whole new engine for this new-gen and so far, I like what I see. I’m not having the graphical issues that have gone public in regard to the game. My Arno doesn’t get stuck in walls or hay carts, nor is there texture pops or noticeable FPS drops. The lighting effects work splendidly and the game looks just like it did when Ubisoft unveiled it to us in the media at this year’s E3. That, in and of itself, is astounding.
I was a little perturbed that Black Flag on the PS4 did not resemble that incredible promo trailer that was released prior to the game, where Blackbeard sat at a bar and told the story of Edward Kenway. The character modeling in that promo was awe-inspiring, but when the game came out, it had none of that. It was actually a better polished AC III, in my opinion. That’s not a bad thing. Black Flag is one of my favorite games of all time. Seriously.
Assassin’s Creed Unity actually looks like promo footage.* So, for me and my game, Unity looks and plays amazing, despite one massive issue that cannot be ignored.
*I did not get a review copy of the game, so I benefited from the rather large day one patch, and the subsequent patch that hit four days later.
The new game engine at work here is nothing short or amazing. There are so many people crowding the filthy streets of Paris, and while character models are reused, there are a good 200-300 different models and you have to look really hard to find a duplicate. The massive, animated crowd scenes really come to play when Arno synchronizes an area. When I pull a leap of faith, I can see all of the people protesting in the square below and as I fall, those people smoothly come into focus with no stutter or lag, all the while they are waving flags, or weapons, and it just looks — and actually feels — alive. Impressive.
Clothing has distinct texture and some of the character models in cut scenes have visible pores on their faces. Assassin’s Creed Unity is one of the prettiest games I’ve ever played and feels so new gen. And yes, there are occasional glitches, like people floating in the middle of the street, but that’s nothing new to an AC game. I once played a game of checkers with a guy floating six inch above the game board. It didn’t break the game for me. I found it amusing. I’ll take the occasional stutter and these graphics over shoddy design and terrible character models any day.
In Assassin’s Creed Unity, the main character is you. Me. Us. The player. We are playing a historical simulation on the new Helix System, developed by Abstergo Industries and powered by the Animus Engine. As we play the game, the fourth wall breaks down as the game is hacked by two familiar faces to long-time AC fans, and we are given an opportunity to help the Assassins Brotherhood to stop the Templars. By continuing to play the game by Abstergo, with help of the hackers, we–collectively–can prevent the Templars from unlocking the identity of another all important sage.
This is very meta, and works so much better than being pulled out a game to play the “real world” missions as in previous games. So, no parkour from a guy who sounds a lot like Uncharted’s Nathan Drake. No snooping around Abstergo headquarters in first person. This new game interface works well to keep the gameplay focused in the actual game.
To compliment this new interface, Ubisoft has implemented rift anomalies within the game. So, your character, Arno Dorian, will suddenly have to avoid being detected by Abstergo IP security by jumping into other bits of code. This code transports Arno–and us–to other periods in France’s long, bloody history and let me tell you (no real spoiler here as the trailer was seen by everybody), climbing up the Eiffel Tower being chased by Nazi planes and zeppelins during the 1944 occupation was pretty friggin’ fantastic. I will say that Occupied France is not the only rift in the game.
Ubisoft also cleaned up a ton of the random sub-mission type stuff in Unity. Gone are the pigeon boxes to acquire assassination contracts. Now you just walk up to a person and they tell you what’s wrong and offer you cash to pull off the deed.
Another great new addition is in the murder mysteries. Arno teams with a lazy police captain to solve murders–all with the help of the historical figure, Eugene Francois Vidocq, considered to be the father of forensics. I love solving the mysteries and it’s a welcome addition to the game.
There is also a side quest to unlock Nostradamus Enigmas that are scattered all around Paris. These involve solving riddles to unlock pieces that will in turn unlock a really cool outfit. Even by taking out some of the most mundane fetch quests, Ubisoft was still able to add more, giving the game excellent content to keep me playing after I finish Arno’s 12 chapter, 15-hour story.
Arno Dorian’s story is well told. His father was an assassin, and he was killed when Arno was very young. Arno then went to live with a man named De La Serre and his daughter Elise, who happened to be Arno’s age. Our hero grows up in this family as their ward and he develops a relationship with Elise. When Monsieur De La Serre is murdered, Arno seeks revenge and discovers his father’s secret, as well as Elise and her father’s, and the war between the templars and the brotherhood rages on.
Unlike recent past games, Arno does not have a hand in the Revolution. Not like Connor did, at least. The event is just kind of happening in the background and I like how it mixes history with the game’s mythology without forcing things. Let’s face it: Connor’s story was a bit contrived. He just happened to be a part of all of the great events of the American Revolution? Arno isn’t like that. His is a story of revenge, plain and simple. And I like it. I like Arno. His wit and delivery has made me chuckle a few times and I like his character model. Having deep customization options also helps to make Arno fit what I want. He’s no Edward Kenway, but I really like the character.
While this is a new Assassin’s Creed for a new generation of consoles (and PC), there is a few glaring hiccups that have popped up, and unfortunately, they really hurt the game and in one case has completely broken one of the most important factors between a developer and the consumer: trust.
First is the in-game tie ins to the companion app and the Ubisoft Initiate account. There are treasure chests that are tied to these two services and players cannot open these chests unless they complete objectives in the app or have a certain Initiate level. The biggest problem with the latter is that you can only raise your Initiate level by playing other Assassin’s Creed games. So, the player cannot get 100 percent completion in Unity unless they have already played the older games. As for the app, it has been hit or miss since the game’s launch; it’s not even available on all tablets; and its optimized for higher OSs, so it runs like garbage on iPhones older than iPhone 5.
But by far the biggest blunder in all of this is the broken multiplayer mode, here called co-op. I play on a PS4, and I am unable to play the co-op. It’s broken. Ubisoft has no fix. I scoured their website and that is a fact. How do you release a game that doesn’t even work as advertised? The subtitle of “Unity” is because of the up-to-four-player co-op and it doesn’t work!? This is mind boggling that a respected developer like Ubisoft would fumble this badly. Postpone it. Break a few hearts. Change a few corporation’s bottom lines. But when you release a game, you damn well make sure that game works. As you can probably gather, I am unable to review the co-op side of Unity, and that not only makes my job more difficult, but it has hindered my gaming experience. For shame.
Assassin’s Creed Unity is anything but. It’s divided. On one hand, you have an excellent single player game that is beautiful to look at and fun to play. This half of the game is astonishing. On the other hand, you have additional modes and features, including one of the game’s selling points in co-op, and they don’t work. It is not game breaking, as there is still a 15-hour single player campaign and an additional 15-20 hours of side quests. But the game has been released and it is not finished. Not for me, and not for the PS4. Ubisoft is working on the issues. I understand that. But it should have been fixed before the game rolled out. I may never buy another Assassin’s Creed game at launch. And for someone who came into this completely in love with the franchise, I don’t trust Ubisoft any longer. That says it all.
Sometime in the next few weeks, I’ll begin Assassin’s Creed Rogue for review. I only hope that Ubisoft has the bugs worked out on that one, as I’m not sure my sanity can stand another mind-boggling blunder from one developer like this in one holiday season.
One final note: my score for the game is based solely on the portion that I could play, and then points were deducted for the issues. I will gladly revisit this review once a full-working game has been released (or patched) by Ubisoft.
Assassin’s Creed Unity was reviewed for PS4 and purchased at retail. It is available now for the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.