Thursday, 20 November 2014

Assassin's Creed: Unity

It's hard to believe that the original Assassin's Creed was released 7 years ago this month. I remember playing it for the first time, being enthralled by it's breathtaking setting and fluid controls, then having most of my appreciation for the game being dashed away by that story twist. You know the one, the twist that introduced the modern day setting, the Animus and the fact that everything you played up until that point was merely reliving memories of an ancestors past life. Granted it's an interesting concept on paper, but to me it cheapened the game, it's unique setting and any stakes set from there on out. I knew Altaïr would survive the game seeing as Desmond is a direct descendant of him. I knew that the world of the past was- for all tense and purposes- not immediately real, but rather some kind of lifeless echo. Personally, this problem diminished what would have been a fantastic series, as instead of simply exploring different eras through time, you were just some modern day bartender that got hooked into an expensive gaming console. However, this latest offering in the series doesn't really focus on the modern day convoluted saga of the Assassin's Creed franchise, and that's a good thing.

Developed by Ubisoft Montreal and out now on PC, Playstation 4 and Xbox One comes Assassin's Creed: Unity, the 11th entry in the Assassin's Creed franchise and one that should reinvent the series, but ultimately ends up giving us more of the same. You take on the role of Arno Dorian, a native Frenchman who after his Assassin father is murdered, is adopted and raised by a high ranking member of the Templar Order. However, when his adoptive father is killed years later, Arno begins to learn about his past, and who his real father was as he takes his first steps into the Brotherhood of Assassins; the ancient order that runs through all Assassin's Creed titles. The story is rather typical, but as mentioned before I'm pretty glad that Ubisoft never quite puts too much focus on the modern day, post-Desmond Miles world, as this French Revolution setting is all the narrative this entry needs.

The first thing that strikes you when playing Unity are its visuals. Wow. Seriously, though they arguably have been somewhat downgraded since the reveal trailer shown at E3 2013, the city of Paris has been wonderfully realised here. Whether you're down on the ground making your way through poorer parts of the city towards a high profile target, or up high overlooking the city in all its majestic, detailed and bustling beauty, Ubisoft Montreal have outdone themselves with Unity's presentation and atmosphere. Crowds can amass to the hundreds, smoke billows from chimneys, people go about their daily lives and the whole open-world is dotted with so much detail and minutia that you'll find yourself getting lost in your own adventure, rather than the main one placed before you.

Gameplay remains mostly the same compared to previous instalments, with a few new additions and updates hidden behind the familiar. You'll do the usual Assassin's Creed stuff- Accept a mission, scale buildings, make your way across the city, stalk a foe as silently as you can and, naturally, assassinate the target. It follows the very same formula as before, though I will give Ubisoft a good deal of credit for re-jigging assassination missions into something a little more open ended, as you'll often find that there a multiple ways, routes and methods of murder for any given target. This, more than ever before, truly taps into the feeling of being part of the Brotherhood of Assassins. From stalking your prey until plunging your blade deep into them, assassination missions have never been done this well in previous Assassin's Creed games.

Combat has been once again rebuilt from the ground up, though it still relies on the basic idea of attacking and waiting to counter attack and/or dodge. It's bloody, fast paced and incredibly satisfying, especially if you manage to dispatch a large number of foes without getting hit. Furthermore, Unity finally ushers in customization to the series. From upgrading weapons to gain the upper hand during combat to unlocking new parkour moves that will allow you to run, climb and swing around Paris with extra ease, Unity does a great job at allowing you to create your own personal Arno Dorian. It's not exactly the levels of customization you get from games like Saints Row, but hey, it has choice where it matters.

The big disappointment comes in the form of multiplayer, which essentially doesn't end up being as epic as it should be. You can play with up to 4 players, embark on assassinations together and even take part in heist missions; missions in which payment increases the more stealthy your team is. Have a member of your team that keeps getting seen, has an addiction to killing civilians and doesn't have a stealthy bone in his body? Drop him, as he'll absolutely obliterate the money awarded to your team after completing the heist. Multiplayer is undoubtedly fun, but I guess I expected more from it, as ultimately even the most nuanced group of Assassin's Creed players end up looking like 4 dudes aimlessly jumping around and stabbing people.

Overall Assassin's Creed: Unity is a great game, but one that isn't the next-gen saviour that we all hoped it was going to be. While it does have a stunning open-world, an exciting era in the form of the French Revolution, interesting characters and fantastic “time anomaly” missions, at its heart it feels like it's reliving past games whereas it should feel like a revolution (no pun intended!). I don't mean to be down about it too much as it's a step in the right direction especially in terms of narrative, but I think it's time Ubisoft shook up the series before it's too late.

Assassin's Creed: Unity isn't quite the revolution I hoped it would be and gets a 4/5.


Denis Murphy

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