From Jerusalem, over Venice, over Rome, up to the wilderness and the seas, we've discovered quite some locations in various time periods through the Assassin's Creed franchise - Paris is next.
With the very ambitious goal of setting the latest Assassin's Creed: Unity in Paris during the French Revolution, there's no denying that Paris is very likely to amaze us.
But being the first exclusive Assassin's Creed game tailored for current-gen platforms, the question is if Unity has what it takes to make the franchise further evolve. With co-op multiplayer being the newest added feature to the series, is a big new setting and cooperative play enough to make Assassin's Creed: Unity a "revolutionary" chapter for the franchise? Or is it simply the same old Assassin's Creed formula in a new setting?
The main character of the game is Arno Dorian (Dan Jeannotte), a native Frenchman who was born in Versailles to an Assassin father. After his father's murder, Arno is adopted, unaware that his new family holds a senior position within the Templar Order, with his new father figure the Templar Grandmaster. Arno blames himself when his father is murdered, and so sets out on a quest of redemption that brings him into the Brotherhood of Assassins, where he slowly rises through the ranks.
The latest new protagonist in the Assassin's Creed franchise is Frenchman Arno Dorian. Arno's more aristocratic and charming origins and approach towards women definitely reminds one of Ezio Auditore's persona from past AC games, even though Arno still doesn't reach Ezio's level of cool and lovable. This is mostly due to the fact that Arno's character and simply what we learn about him is very tightly tied to the game's plot and very rarely strides away from it. Therefore, aside from some skindeep information about Arno's relationship to his father and his more fleshed out love for the Templar girl Elise, it often feels like we don't get to know Arno's person and his background as much as we would've wanted to. Several cutscenes and dialogue do a respectable job of showcasing Arno as a funny, charming and generally more lighthearted hero this time around (especially in comparison to last year's Edward or AC: Rogue's Shay). Yet it somehow never truely feels like we actually got to know Arno as we did Ezio. Sure, seeing that it took three games for Ezio to build up his interesting persona to its fullest, maybe Arno also needs a bit more time to fully bloom up.
Storywise, Unity also takes many key concepts from Ezio's well known revenge story and uses it as a starting point for the game. After finding his father murdered as a kid, Arno's fate leads him to the Assassin Brotherhood where he slowly learns the Assassin ways and skills. What puts a remarkable dent into Arno's progression though is that it very often seems like he doesn't even need any training. Several missions before Arno even meets an Assassin and gets to his training, the game already had you climb high buildings, do swordfights, do chases and do a leap of faiths (even though in a later cutscene Arno seems to be completely scared of doing a leap of faith...???). This continuity weirdness is really something very notable during the story's first chapters when keeping in mind that even Edward in AC: Black Flag at least had the excuse that he simply is a pirate who generally knows how to climb around on a ship.
|"Your first day of training, Arno!" - "But...I already know all this..."|
Anyway, regarding the overall story in Unity, it's generally a fairly straightforward revenge quest affair with little big surprises and highlights, yet with quite some unused potential especially considering the difficult love relationship between Arno and Elise. Though the fact that both of them are set on different sides of the conflict, seeing that Elise is a born Templar and Arno an Assassin, the emotional drama is there, yet really not as impactful as it could've been. The story in Unity shows to rather focus on the actually quite convolutedly told political intrigues during the French Revolution that Templars and Assassins happen to be involved in, instead of giving enough time to flesh out the Romeo and Juliet potential between Arno and Elise.
Speaking of the story's political intrigues, though the story of course once again has you fight against as well as team up with some famous historical figures like Napoleon Bonaparte, Maximilien Robespierre or even Madame Tussaud, Ubisoft very much leans itself out of the window here regarding how it depicts some of those historical characters. For example, whereas Napoleon is depicted as clear friendly ally, Robespierre is showcased as an evil politician completely using the French Revolution for his own advantage. Gamers who know one or two things about history will quickly notice that Ubisoft took quite some freedom with its historical characters this time around. Sure, it's completely okay since AC is just a fictional videogame story, yet it will surely confuse or even anger one or two gamers out there (for more intel on that, check this out).
And regarding the future world Animus-exiting-sequences, those are pretty much completely gone in Unity and are instead replaced by a handful of cutscenes and in-game voice-overs. In Unity's story introduction it is explained that Abstergo now pretty much controls or at least needs you for a home version of the Animus called Helix for home customers. Yet, the future Assassin Brotherhood hacks into your feed to recruit and help you.
The lack of a clear future-related plot in Unity is a very clear indicator that Ubisoft seems to have run out of ideas about what to do with its future real-life sub-plot. Since Desmond's story came to a dissappointing end in AC3, AC: Black Flag introduced a fresh and new take on how conspiracies could be perceived through the eyes of a usual employee in Abstergo, which is sadly not followed up upon in Unity. Sure, it's somewhat sad to see that Ubisoft didn't have a clear vision of the future storyline despite the next interesting step of the Animus being that it is now used as a home console (4th WALL SYMBOLISM!), yet it's also nice to have an Assassin's Creed game for once that doesn't interrupt you with annoyingly unfun and mostly boring future segments that never were the strongest parts in any AC game to begin with.
|The future plot is only present through some short cutscenes and voice-overs.|
Campaign and Side-Quests - "Basic Fare"
The campaign in Unity goes along quite similarly as its accompanying story, meaning that it only has little true highlights and mostly follows the standard fare. Few missions or levels will cause the feeling of "never having seen this done before in an AC game" since Unity overall feels much like a back to the basics approach in the franchise. Nevertheless, Unity's campaign features a nice change of pace in its levels. While annyoing tailing missions, which were overly present before in AC: Black Flag, are now satisfyingly kept to a minimum, actual missions demanding (or at least encouraging) stealth approaches occur quite often and represent Unity's strongest and primary mission type. Therefore, whereas Unity does lack in actual originality in terms of mission objectives, it makes up for this in its difficulty. AC: Unity surprisingly enough is hands down the most difficult of all AC games since some mechanical tweaks (which we will take about later) make offensive "kill everything"-tactics far not as easy to pull off and mostly a very unwise and risky move.
Of course numerous side-quests are also scattered around Unity's impessively large map of Paris, and this time around, they are actually far more fun to do and more fleshed out than before giving each action enough interesting context. Furthermore, there are various collectibles, chests to unlock, murder mystery missions to solve, and environmental puzzles to decypher. Also, there are random events occuring on the streets of Paris with thugs threatening, robbing or bullying civilians, which you can join in and help solve the situation (by killing) if you want.
What stands out as the freshest addition to the game's activities are so called Rifts in the Animus, that take you to other time periods in Paris like during World War II or the Middle Ages. Rifts are very impressively intoduced during the game's main story and not only serve as a nice reminder that AC also features sci-fi elements in its story, but they are also definitely the biggest highlights of the game that are sure to surprise you with cool set-piece moments. What sweetens their inclusion in the game even more is the fact that you can return to rifts later on on specific spots on the map to revisit them and further explore Paris during those other time periods for more collectibles.
|It was pretty much guaranteed the Eiffel Tower would be in the game somewhere.|
Updated Core Mechanics - "Small Steps Into The Right Direction"
Without any seas and islands to explore and the entire game being centered around one big city, Unity might easily come off as a game that only makes steps backwards. And while in some regards the "back to basics" approach of Unity as a whole might be quite off-putting to some, there is no denying that Ubisoft surprisingly enough still managed to find ways to improve Assassin's Creed's core mechanics.
For once, Unity's aforementioned increased general difficulty level is thanks in huge part to the fact that counter-insta-kills have been removed from Unity's combat mechanics. Additionally, fighting large groups of enemies at once is no longer an easy task to overcome but actually pretty much suicide if not equipped with a strong enough weapon and enough medicine (regenerating health no more). These might seem like no big changes for the franchise's combat but they sure do make fighting and handling dangerous groups of guards way trickier and the game's levels overall far more challenging (especially when keeping in mind that enemies also happen to carry guns).
Another more forced feeling way to make the game more challenging is the design decision to not give Arno all his Assassin abilities right from the start, unlike what we are used to from the other AC games. With that said, abilities like double takedowns or simply sitting on a bench to blend into the crowd have to be bought in the menu through XP points. While unlocking those abilities one by one feels accomplishing in some way, it still feels a bit cheap in comparison to other AC games when seemingly basic abilities have to be bought first to use them. Yet, seeing how this also benefits the game's challenge, it's okay to give this decision somewhat of a pass. Also, the fact that you can customize your character and buy weapons and gear from anywhere in the city simply through the pause menu sort of balances it all out pretty smoothly.
|Automatic descend is a great new addition making traversal way more fluid.|
Ubisoft further spent time to improve getting from A to B in Unity and made getting around town far more fluid. Aside from many new animations and parcour moves Arno is capable to pull off, Ubisoft added the feature of automatically descending buildings through holding down the B or O button. This addition to the general control scheme of your assassin's controls is extremely handy and very intuitive to get into. No longer do you have to uncertainly plunge down into the streets or slowly hop down. On top of that, holding down B or O while running also lets Arno automatically slide or hop under or over obstacles making timed pressings of the jump button a thing of the past.
All this leads to a few button layouts being changed in Unity for good to make room for the new and welcome additions regarding the controls. With that said, trigger buttons are now put to far better use seeing that the right trigger is used to let Arno run, while the left trigger actually lets him crouch for stealth movement. Useful stealth movement is another important and long overdue addition to the Assassin's Creed franchise and even though in Unity it can be in some instances hard to exactly know if you are now actually hidden from the enemy's line of sight or not (especially when hiding behind tables), the sheer ability of being able to hug corners now like in Splinter Cell for quick and quiet takedowns mostly makes up for that.
|Finally, stealth is respectably given more care and attention in Unity.|
Every AC game since AC2 seemed to feature (and strongly try to sell itself) through a specific new feature or gimmick that would make that certain entry stand out among others. After adding exploring the wilderness and the open seas to the series with AC3 and AC: Black Flag, Unity focusses once more on AC's multiplayer component that slowly dissolved into oblivion with the last few predecessors.
Now, co-op is added to the franchise for the first time (hence the title: Unity). Friends can drop in or out of your game at any time and there are also missions specifically designed to be tackled with up to three friends by your side (though you can also do each co-op mission on your own if you dare - yet they are quite difficult when played alone).
The fun when playing co-op though is definitely depending on how well you and your partners or friends work together. Thus, it's definitely nicer to play with a friend who knows what he is doing instead of a random newbie stranger. But another important factor is definitely how co-op missions are tackled: going in very offensively even with four players can be challenging, yet with the additional aspect that the less you get spotted, the more loot you are awarded, further gives motivation to stay in the shadows and do things stealthily (though not everybody will necessary stick to your stealth plan).
Co-op missions are a nice addition to the franchise though not an overly impressive main selling point considering that the co-op mission designs themselves are quite a bit underwhelming and standard. This only underlines that the true fun in those co-op missions is only there when you got actual friends or partners to play it with.
|"Guys! I said wait for my signal!"|
Though not really a gameplay-mechanical selling point, Unity's setting of 18th century Paris is actually so well realized and gorgeous that simply playing an AC game in this amazing location (and most importantly during such a historically very relevant time period) might be reason enough for many gamers to give the AC franchise another shot. Compared to the only other AC game set in only one city, AC: Brotherhood, Unity completely outshines Rome not only in the sheer gigantic scale of the city itself but also in its sense for detail: Paris' skyline seems to go on forever, clouds greatly affect lighting in certain parts of the map, differences between rich and poor parts of the city are clearly visible, the streets are convincingly populated with tons of citizens roaming the streets and in some locations even protesting in the hundreds, and the list goes on and on with more and more details. These details are not limited to the cities exteriors either, since Unity now lets you flexibly enter many buildings through specific windows or doors. Especially in palaces these interiors impressivley shine with gold and marvel and often tend to make you just stand still for a second and enjoy this carefully built world.
Unfortunately though, all this visual splendor seems to come with a price - plenty of bugs and glitches.
By now, everybody probably already heard of the game's several technical issues regarding glitches and bugs frequently occuring across all platforms. From character models that pop-in randomly when the crowds reach the thousands, over several clipping errors on ragdolls, up to the infamous "no face glitch", at least at this point in time it's pretty much guaranteed that you are bound to run into quite some bugs sooner or later. Yet all the bugs seem only to be centered around visual aspects of the game, meaning that the bugs are of no game breaking nature and (at least in most cases) aren't too tragic to entirely break your immersion.
Nevertheless, overall AC: Unity can be called an immensely beautiful but also oftentimes a graphically instable feeling AC game.
(Also, despite some patches are sure to go online any time soon, gamers should better stick to the console versions of the game since the most problematic bug reports seem to center around the game's PC version.)
|As of launch, especially PC gamers will often encounter some messed up bugs.|
Soundwise AC: Unity is kept way more suble than its predecessors. The game's score is professionally produced yet lacks definitive theme melodies like for example in AC: Black Flag.
Voice acting along with the game's great facial-capture work is very well done though. Despite the fact that the story and writing of characters leaves some things to be desired, Dan Jeannotte does very well as Arno Dorian. Most emotional moments are well enough delivered to make relationships work and character facettes that we get to see from Arno are varied enough to make controlling him and following his story an enjoyable albeit not amazing experience.
Last but not least, the crowded streets of Paris are further brought to life by exquisite sound design with citizens individually talking to each other about various things and the simple daily proceedings between different people taking place. Though it's still a bit weird to often hear the people in Paris speak equally as often in English as they do in French (sometimes even simply alternating between the two languages).
|Mostly though, Paris is amazingly realized and it's easy to lose yourself in it.|
Assassin's Creed: Unity comes off as a back to basics approach for the franchise. Without a primary gimmick on the forefront of the game, except for the newly added co-op multiplayer, Unity seems to focus mostly on improving its core mechanics and ironing out the franchise's long present shortcomings. And in that regard, Unity mostly leaves everything we know about Assassin's Creed's mechanics intact and only slightly altered or added seemingly minor features like the automatic descend, improved stealth and removal of counter-insta-kills. Surprsingly enough though, these changes make Unity a far more challenging and stealth-oriented AC game. With these welcome little new additions and alterations, it will definitely be hard to imagine playing another AC game without them, proving that these changes definitely go into the right direction.
Yet still, in terms of truely new ideas, Unity falls fairly short and sadly seems to recycle too many aspects of preceeding AC games like Arno sort of feeling like a rehashed version of Ezio, the main story being an unnecessarily convoluted revenge quest with little highlights, quite some unused story potential, and mission designs as good as never trying something new that strides too far away from the standard AC formula. It's no surprise that completely new surprises like the Rifts that unexpectedly throw you into new time periods catch you completely off guard and happen to be the game's standout highlights.
Paris is amazingly realized by Ubisoft and in many ways this new location and exciting time period alone might seal the deal for many gamers to head back to the Assassin's Creed franchise (even despite some of the now still existing technical problems). The addition of co-op is a nice touch but it can't mask the fact that Unity is very short on new ideas and instead feels like an AC game that mainly intends to answer fans' requests and wishes for the franchise with some mechanical tweaks.
With that said, Assassin's Creed: Unity's small tweaks show that the franchise's will to approach and solve its technical problems can indeed make Assassin's Creed overall a better gaming experience. Unity offers some short new steps into new and right directions but still in too many ways seems to be too scared to completely revamp its core with new ideas. The few improvements featured in Unity are most probably not enough for non-believers to completely put new faith into this yearly franchise again, yet Assassin's Creed: Unity offers an admittedly nice new fix for fans of the franchise in a stunning new location with one or two new surprises in store. Here's hoping the franchise isn't too scared to go all out with new changes both storywise and mechanically in next year's Assassin's Creed.
Final Verdict: 7 out of 10