Game Review: "Assassin’s Creed: Unity"

Disclaimer: This particular review was written by someone who is largely unfamiliar with the series. Another, coming from an expert, might come eventually.

Assassin's Creed: Unity

Played on: Xbox One.

Goddamn, that was epic. Now, I’m not talking about the game itself, but my experience playing it. For my job, I had early access and an embargo (a standard thing in my experience), so I had to finish the game in two days. I’m still pretty proud of myself for actually doing it because, believe it or not, it felt like work. It’s amazing that people like Yahtzee have to do this 24/7 with apparently every videogame that is released.

Anyway, the whole thing wasn’t so hard, really (don’t cry for me) because I was genuinely enjoying the game. I’m a bit of a stranger to the Assassin’s Creed series. I bought the first one when it came out and disliked it; I found it repetitive and not very engaging, despite its strengths (rad parkour). I didn’t touch the series again until Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, after I had been incessantly told that the series had changed, and it was no longer a plotless, repetitive thing. I didn’t really like Black Flag that much either. It was pretty great at first, but the endless sailing bored me to death, and I left it pretty quickly.

Now, after reading the bafflingly negative reviews Unity is getting, I think I understand why I actually liked it and most reviewers didn’t: I don’t suffer from Assassin’s Creed fatigue. When I was playing it, I was doing so under the idea that the game was completely different to the others, which was why I was enjoying it so much when I didn’t enjoy the rest. I’ve been informed that it’s not very revolutionary (no pun intended) at all, so why did I have so much fun with it, especially considering it was still “my job” to play it.

I’m not sure. Let’s see if I can figure it out, because this is mostly a positive review.

There are dynamics in the game with which I was not familiar at all, so I was in a mindset of discovery. I had forgotten how Black Flag was played, so I was excited to learn the structure of the game, which I slowly began to recognize. The game’s main structure is pretty much the same as Black Flag (and I assume the rest of the series), but that didn’t bother me. I generally dislike games divided by “Chapters”, but considering that this one employs the tactic as a plot device, it gets a pass.

I was pretty surprised to see that the story didn’t immediately involve the French Revolution, and in fact didn’t involve it until near the end, when it began to tie in clever ways. The main plot here is basically a murder mystery—the tip of the iceberg that is a nation-wide conspiracy involving the Brotherhood of Assassins and the Templars. I was enjoying the basic premise, but even I know it was treading ground the series had already covered. There is an additional whodunit subplot halfway through, one that ends in a (rather predictable) twist that resulted in a very epic scene. I think that was the turning point when the story began to pick up more. By the end, I was genuinely involved, and the historical cameos were fun on a bun (Marquis de Sade was the bomb).

On a less positive note, I couldn’t help but feel like the “outer” story (involving a character called Bishop guiding you through the genetic memories) was entirely pointless. Yes, it was a clever framing device I really appreciated, but I wish they had actually made it more involving. I can’t think of many framing devices that could be entirely slashed away so easily. Yes, the three “data bridge” segments, which involve Arno dashing through broken memories, were some of the best parts of the game—especially the second one—but could’ve been better incorporated.

Additionally, I kinda disliked how Arno’s personality became completely blurred when he donned the Assassin outfit. I understand arcs, but he went from having a personality to being another faceless Assassin. I’m glad he recovered some of his character after a twist late in the story.

Quick tangent: someone has got to explain how the hell these characters have the Assassin skills even before joining the brotherhood. It bothered me in Black Flag, and it bothered me here again.

What was most surprising to me was how addicted I became to the gameplay. Having a time limit to finish the game forced me to avoid most side missions, but I’m legit impressed that I had to force myself to not do them. Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t say that the side missions are particularly well written or well incorporated; they’re mostly repetitive, but I’ll be damned if I didn’t enjoy more excuses to do some badass Cirque du Soleil Spiderman shit around Paris.

Speaking of: goddamn, Paris was beautiful. Assassin’s Creed: Unity might have one of the greatest settings in a videogame I’ve played. Few worlds are as alive as Paris was in here. From the ridiculously detailed landscape to the organic, vivid crowd dynamics. I loved walking around the city, finding how the historical context was tearing Paris apart, and how well this was reflected in the citizens. From a gang of radical assholes you’ll love to shank, to the protesters rallying and waving French flags. This obviously begins to escalate as the Revolution begins roughly 70% of the way into the game. The uneven and accurate design of the city made it impossible to be bored with just running around town.

The graphics were the most impressive thing, and this might be the first time a videogame actually feels “Next Gen” to me. Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes looked better, but it was certainly not working this hard. Yeah, some of the loading times were rindonculously long, but considering the sheer size and depth of the world, I can’t complain. There were also no considerable framerate problems to speak of. I only noticed some minor drops when I “synchronized”, and the game gave me a full 360° of the area. Not bad at all.

Probably my favorite gameplay mechanic was the character customization. There were shades of western RPG in the mix, and for someone who usually doesn’t like playing the sneaky weasel, this is much appreciated. Thanks to this rather simplistic progression system (experience points used to unlock attributes, skills, et al), I was able to create more of a Tank character, which gave me a better chance to play the game in a way I was comfortable with. I became very adept at heavy weapons—which, by the way, are brutal as hell—with a shitload of health to boot. My problem was that I was an unstoppable, OP killing machine at first, but when it came to the late-game enemies, I was way too slow to defend myself and more often than not found myself in need to smoke bomb my way out of there.

This progression system was a slight divergence I really loved, but I understand it’s not enough for longtime fans to recognize as innovative.

A negative side to this, however, is that I felt like a huge chunk of gameplay elements were lost in the way. I’m surprised I never used the pistol except during one mission that involved using it as a special extra challenge. I never unlocked a million different stealth abilities, and in retrospective I’m glad I didn’t because they would’ve been largely useless.

Now, the missions themselves. Though the manner in which they are tied to the plot is pretty good (with the exception of Sequence 9, which could have very well been cut out entirely), the missions themselves aren’t the most varied thing. However, something I appreciated endlessly, and something that was not in the previous games I played, was how open ended they were. Each assassination mission gave you a plethora of paths to take, depending on what flavor you like. You can take advantage of certain opportunities going on in the city (one, for instance, involves you creating a distraction with a prison break to make your entrance to a building easier), sneak through secret entrances, or just wing it.

I loved this. It gave each mission the flavor the writing lacked, and made them infinitely more fun. I generally went for the Batman approach, but there was this one mission very late in the game when you have to assassinate a particularly repulsive character. It gave me all these complex opportunities to do so elegantly, but I just charged at him like a bull and hauled ass. It was beautiful; I wish I had recorded it.

The only real problem I had with the game was a big one. The controls. They were shit in Assassin’s Creed, they were shit in Black Flag, and they are shit here. Such rich level design does not mix well with shitty controls, and they often turned an exciting getaway into a frustrating nightmare. Moving Arno around requires unreasonable accuracy; there is so much to interact with in the levels, that just grazing the wrong prop would result in Arno perched on a table like a retarded bird instead of running away. The fact that the new “free-run down” movement (a very welcome addition, don’t get me wrong) is still a bit broken didn’t help matters. There are so many paths to take in any given scenario, that Arno never quite knows which one you want to go through. This was particularly frustrating in the several scenes that had you chasing after something or someone; they were very awesome (especially one involving a hot air balloon), but could quickly become infuriating.

When it comes to videogames, I don’t like co-operative multiplayer so I was never drawn to that side of the game. Yet, even if I was, there was no way for me to try it as the game hadn’t yet been released and I don’t have more than one Xbox One controller. Still, the little I could see from checking out the mission prompts scattered in Paris, the missions looked like fun on a bun, if co-op is your kind of thing. I wish I had something to say about this key aspect of Unity.

Overall, I feel like the main reason I loved Unity so much was because I’m not as familiar with the series as 90% of the people playing it is. If you’re not familiar with the series, this apparently is a great place to start; the gameplay is addictive, the graphics are beautiful and the story interesting, even if some of the missions are uninspired, and it controls like a rhino with MS. However, if you’re a longtime fan expecting something entirely new to the series, this isn’t for you. Rogue might be the one that does that.

Probably not, though.

Stay tuned for reviews of the entire main series, starting this weekend!
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About The Damn Beast

Pre-op trans-minotaur, sci-fi/fantasy/horror author, metal singer, videogame journalist, pop culture blogger. I also lift heavy things and put them down again repeatedly to occupy more space.
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