Stunning visuals killed by technical failures.
Paris in 1798.What a time to be alive. The streets are filthy with mud, blood, and gunpowder smoke. Starving citizens bully perceived enemies to guillotine stands. Guards grapple with anarchists. Above burn spiked heads.
Below, French Tricolor flags lie stamped into the dirt. Assassins Creeds Unity recreates all of this with astonishing clarity and sets it within the most detailed city we’ve ever seen in a game. If Unitywas about absorbing the ambience of a period of history, we could stamp a big “YES” on it.
The full story is more complicated.
Unityis about exploring the city, jumping, and stabbing. The professional killer of this adventure is young rogue Arno Dorian. Born of wealth, he’s driven into the Assassin order by tragedy and there uses his skills to seek revenge and win the affection of cherished childhood friend Elise.
Naturally, there’s also a convoluted plot involving the ongoing feud between the Assassins and the Templars, who are both manipulating the revolution for increasingly confusing reasons. This is complicated only slightly by the return of the ongoing Assassins Creeds Unity metaplot. In this game you’re playing a VR product created by the evil Abstergo Industries, which is searching for the death site of a figure in Arno’s life. The best thing about this is that it’s delivered in brief, infrequent cutscenes and voiceover skits. No longer are you pulled from your adventures to roleplay a more boring person. Instead, the present day plot influences several quick but very entertaining interludes that leave your assassin faculties intact. We won’t spoil them.
The French connection of Assassins Creeds Unity
Almost the entire game is set in Parisand the return to a single-city setting reflects Unity’s desire to strip down a series that’s entertained many tangents. It’ssimplyabout assassinationsnow. And they’re great.
The act of efficiently dispatching a target has been incidental to the series for too long, so we’re glad Unitydoes it justice.
Targets are hidden away in castles, prisons, andpalaces that you have to crack like a violent puzzle. Poised like a periodBatman on some dark rooftop, Arno assesses the area to pick out gaps in defences. When the mission starts you’re free to approach the target however you wish.Manipulating the sandboxesis great fun. We’ve whipped up starving crowds into a frenzy, set fire to sniper towers, and done other terrible things best left to discovery.
These missions are facilitated by a new stealth system.
It finally has the crouchwalk the series has always needed, but there’s a clunky cover system we found far too fiddly.
Plus there’s a new weapon—the phantom blade.
It’s a wrist-mounted minicrossbow that lets you kill targets at range or send them berserk to cause a distraction.
The campaign is padded out with numerous set-up missions.
While these are generally fine, you’re still following NPCs along dramatic rooftops, stealing things from heavily guarded areas, and saving civvies from criminals—familiar stuff.
The close focus on everyday assassin business also puts more pressure on Assassin’s Creed’s core traversal systems, and it can’t quite handle the artfully crooked geometry of Paris. There are now separate commands for freerunning up and down buildings, which is useful, but movement in all directions lacks precision. Simply climbing into a window can be a nightmare.
There are dozens of simple manoeuvres that should be effortless, but aren’t.
Look out for the assassin’s greatest enemy, the small box, which Arno sometimes mounts as though it’s the highest point in the world.
Sure, 80 percent of the time things work nicely, but for a game so reliant on traversal it fails too often. Assassins Creeds Unity has always had these problems, but the complex streets of Paris seem to compound them.
Combat has been refreshed, too, with good intent but mixed results. In Black Flag and Assassin’s Creed 3, you were immortal. Not so in Unity. The counter button has been replaced by a parry command. Time it perfectly and Arno will execute a countering blow that will put the enemy off balance and open them up to brutal kill-moves. But Arno can only suffer a few blows himself before being run-through, and can quite easily be shot to death in the middle of a fight.
We liked Arno’s fragility a lot—combat shouldfeel dangerous—but it shouldn’t feel quite so out-of-control.
Ubisoft has said the system is inspired by fencing, but it’s remarkably sluggish.
Our button presses seem lost, as ifwe’re shouting instructions from a mile away.
On the plus side there’s a good variety of weapons. You can choose to fight with swords; long weapons such as spears; or big weapons like axes and clubs.
These slot into an overwhelming suite of customization options that let you choose Arno’s hood, gloves, trousers, and coat. Different items confer varying bonuses to your toughness and stealthiness, but these don’t make much difference until the twilight stages of the game.
They’re bought with in-game money you can earn by completing side missions, whichvary wildly in quality.
Beauty and The Beast of Assassins Creeds Unity
You can skip all that and buy weapons and armor with real money via a microtransaction system that’s opportunistic and a bit depressing. After buying the game, you’re invited to spend more money to play less of the game.
Fortunately it’s easy to ignore this, but the same can’t be said for the awful in-game chests and items tied into Unity’s companion app and Initiates webgame. Initiates chests are littered all over Paris. If you try to open one the game minimizes itself, opens your browser, and attempts to connect to the Initiatessite. It’s intrusive, shatters the fantasy, and holds back items and features from players who don’t want to waste time on apps. Horrible.
It’s disappointing because there’s real beauty to be found in Unity.
Paris is stunning. We rarely gasp, but one came unbidden when we climbed a spire to see a patch of golden sunlight moving over the Notre Dame cathedral.
Whether you’re striding through slums or royal palaces, Unityrealizes urban filth and glittering opulence with equal devotion. After finishing the game, we felt like we’d visited another place. That makes us dearly want to recommend Unity, but unless you have a seriously good graphics card, we can’t.
It’s fluid and gorgeous on our GTX 970, but on midrange cards like a 670, expect choppy frame rates.
While our experience has been relatively clean, Unity is rife with widely reported bugs.
The game also occasionally pauses for 15 seconds at random points. Plus it’s crashed a few times. Others have reported disappearing faces, floating NPCs, and more severe stability problems.
The other huge failure is co-op. The new mode lets you summon up to three friends to run around exploring, or to engage in missions.
We almost had fun in these, but not one game has passed without a disconnection error, or a wrongly placed objective marker, or a target not spawning, or numerous other errors. It just doesn’t work.
If Ubisoft gets it patched up, Unity could become a perfectly enjoyable part of the Assassin’s Creedcanon. It’s a solid campaign elevated by quality missions and an extraordinary setting that might just push the big number at the bottom of this review to eight or beyond.
But with a big selling point out of operation, a raft of technical issues, performance problems, microtransactions, plus stilted combat and freerunning systems, Unity—in its current state—can only be considered a failed revolution. What a shame.