Assassin’s Creed Unity Review (PlayStation 4)
For a game called Assassin’s Creed “Unity,” this title sure deviates from the rest of its brotherhood (some pun intended), by probably being the buggiest, most frustrating iteration in the bunch. That spot was reserved for Liberation on the Vita, based on controls and framerate alone, but at least Aveline’s story was still pretty fun to play. With Arno Dorian’s turn in Unity, we get a maddening mix of wonky controls, in-game monetization of skills that were series staples and the most frightening glitches this side of the Seine.
With the French Revolution as a backdrop, we’re thrust into the now familiar struggle between the Assassin Brotherhood and the Templar Order, relived thanks to genetic memories that have been turned into a virtual reality playground by the entertainment division of Abstergo. Your character is tapped by the Assassins to help them learn how Arno Dorian came across a Sage during his life, so you get to live out the Frenchman’s memories within the machine.
Unfortunately, traipsing around Paris as Dorian does not prove to be as user-friendly or as fun as his forerunners. It’s tough to go from the pirate lifestyle and the freedom of sailing the open seas with Edward Kenway and the crew of the Jackdaw to running around a glitchy City of Lights with Dorian. While all of the trappings seem to be present, there are a lot of hiccups in Unity that causes stutters in action. For example, scaling buildings and parkouring seems more of a chore now because Dorian has difficulty finding footholds or, indeed, climbing up rooftops without being magnetized to ledges and getting stuck. This annoyance is magnified when you’re trying to escape guards and find yourself clumsily trying to climb sides of buildings as if you were Spider-Man trying out his powers for the first time. Ubisoft has tried to make terraining a lot easier with the Parkour Up and Parkour Down options, and while this move is appreciated, I would have rather stuck with the old mechanics. It was, however, refreshing to be given more interior spaces to climb through and hide in, which is a very welcome change.
Combat is made to feel slightly more cumbersome thanks to the inclusion of skill tree that allows you to unlock skills that used to be staples, such as air assassinations and hiding in a crowd. These not-so minor changes might shake long-time fans of the series. While this allows for a more customized version of your Dorian, it can be jarring to vets who have a sort of system in mind, like myself, when it comes to approaching fights in Assassin’s Creed games. While this does offer a chance to break out of those learned patterns, it can still feel a bit disorienting, and could end up in a very beaten and bloodied Dorian. Just all of the blood, really. Aside from these changes, traversing the city to pick up missions, participating in random activities like treasure hunting and getting into scrapes still feel very much the same, though the slight differences can feel like big ones.
Secondary to the gameplay is the story, which features the son of an Assassin who then gets taken in by a family of Templars, one of which is his childhood friend, a girl named Elise. Things get tastier when Elise herself becomes a Templar and his adoptive father, a Grand Master of the Order, is murdered, with all of the blame pinned on him. I won’t spoil the proceedings here, but of course Dorian ends up becoming an Assassin and meets a variety of characters in his quest to uncover the powers behind the Revolution. The Assassin’s Creed series has always shined when it came to depicting characters from history and bringing them to life with top-notch voice-acting. Unity is no exception and introduces us to players like the skeevy Marquis de Sade, Maximillian de Robespierre and even Napoleon Bonaparte.
Part of the reason I kept trudging through the less-than-stellar and glitchy gameplay was to get the next bits of story and see cutscenes played out between interesting characters who were made even more lifelike thanks to fantastic facial animations. Of course, this illusion was broken during gameplay when NPCs would glitch out and present me with twitching corpses with floating eyeballs and hollowed-out heads. As good as the characters looked (most times), the city looked even better. Thanks to being a next-gen game, the streets were more vibrant and populated, even with the apparent squalor all around. Since cities in Assassin’s Creed games feel like characters themselves, it was impressive to see all of the damp and smoky parts of Paris being shown some love.
The most disappointing part of Unity is the co-operative aspect of the game, which was marketed as being a pretty major part of the experience, even going so far as having a posse of Assassins gracing the cover art. It’s a shame to find that this is optional and there are lockboxes strewn about the city that can only be unlocked during co-op play. Sorry, lone wolves. But for those of you who opt to run with a pack can head to taverns to hook up with your buds, who will then see you as a complete rando while you complete objectives together. While it’s not an integral part of the game, we’d love for there to be a future Assassin’s Creed game in which a fully-fledged, co-op focused experience was the star.
Unity is not a bad game, but it certainly doesn’t feel like it advances the series very much, especially for the first title in the series to be a fully next-gen game. Perhaps we expected too much and hoped for a lot more out of the co-op experience, but it just doesn’t stand up to our expectations. So it’s funny that the backdrop is the French Revolution, since it doesn’t do too much that could be construed as revolutionary.
This review was based on a purchased retail copy of Assassin's Creed Unity for PlayStation 4.