Assassin’s Creed and I have a long, bumpy past. We’re like that really popular couple in high school that are so perfect for each other, yet we’re always fighting and breaking up.
What are you doing here again, Assassin’s Creed!? I told you I needed a few years off… Awww, you brought me French pastries. That’s so sweet. Yeah, I missed you too…
And just like that, Assassin’s Creed has me again. I guess I’m just easy, I dunno.
But that wasn’t the case leading up to its release. I was totally not over catching Assassin’s Creed with Julie under the bleachers….
Ok, seriously, I was so against Unity, I didn’t follow anything about it. I didn’t care to hear any news, watch any videos, anything. When I first found out it was taking place in Paris during the French Revolution, that dinged about a 3.2 on my Excite-O-Meter. Nothing against the French or their Revolution, but just as a long time fan of AC, I was hoping they continued the route they were going with Black Flag.
AC IV felt different. It had a different type of story for the Assassin you played as. The locale was fresh and new and was an absolute blast to traverse. On top of that, sailing the waters of the Caribbean to get from point A to B was absolutely gorgeous and unlike anything before it in the series.
But Unity seemed similar. It looked common among the other AC’s. And to be honest, I was feeling burnt out on them even before Black Flag. AC III looked like it was going to be the difference maker, but I didn’t even finish it thanks to the (what felt like) 4 hour introduction and overall blahness. Like Unity, I had no intention of trying Black Flag but wound up getting it during a sale and fell in love with Assassin’s Creed all over again. Damn old flames, always coming back.
Anyway, thanks to Best Buy and their GCU membership, as I went into detail with last week, I wasn’t going to lose anything by trying out Unity. So I did.
Reluctantly taking it out of the package and putting it in the tray, I felt it was already at a disadvantage. Not knowing and not caring to know anything about it, the game was going to need to do a lot to impress me. Heck, I honest to Altaïr had no idea what your assassin’s name even was before I started playing.
But I do now. His name is Arno Dorian. And he’s pretty bad ass.
Sure, he could still learn a lot from Ezio, but he’s worthy of spending a few dozen hours with. Charming, funny, cocky. He’s one cool and entertaining character. What sets him apart from other Assassin’s? He’s French. Duh.
He also feels a lot more agile. But I think that’s more thanks to current-gen programming than his French genes. The way he gets around is much more natural looking with a lot of style and grace. Some subtle movements when climbing and descending add a realistic touch to Arno that is much appreciated. But more on that later.
It took me a bit of playing, but I finally learned to appreciate Unity’s beauty. It’s been touted back and forth as the “first ‘current-gen’ Assassin’s Creed”, since It’s only on PS4 and Xbox One (with AC Rouge on last-gen consoles). But I don’t know if that hindered my expectations when it came time to play. I just wasn’t too impressed with what it offered visually in the beginning. Even with trying to embrace it, it looked like every other Assassin’s Creed. Yes, I noticed a touch of visual improvements, but for the most part I was left feeling like it could’ve be done on last-gen hardware. I’m sure coming right off the insanely beautiful campaign of Advanced Warfare, anything less than that level of greatness was going to have me feeling like it was last gen.
But. As I continued playing, and began opening up to the character and the story, my expectations went away. I started to really see the improvements in the world, and they started to shine through. Most noticeable to me was, as I mentioned, was how fluid Arno’s movements were, especially when free-running up, down, and over buildings. There are many improvements in the animations for free-running, and they all add a whole new level of character and realism to Arno.
You know, as real as the 18th century Frenchman you’re controlling in a computerized world could be. Seriously though, it’s like you’re watching a real parkouring free-runner have his way with the city of Paris. And most importantly, it made the fun of running around all the more pleasurable. You can’t see it very well in the video above, but it’s impressive to see his coat flapping around as he’s running everywhere. It’s great to know the free-running aspect is still a main focus for Assassin’s Creed.
The Current-Gen Improvements
- Updated free-running
I know, the one thing you’ve probably been wondering is what exactly are the improvements to the game? What makes Unity current-gen? First off, besides the visual improvements, there’s also a whole new system for running. The basics are still there, but you may have noticed in the video the dedicated buttons for descending as well as the usual ascending. So if you want to safely get down from a high tower, you don’t have to find a haystack to dive into, which by the way are not as abundant as before. Just press the right buttons and you’ll go down from ledge to ledge till you’re safely on the ground. It came in handy numerous times for me since it helps you control where you’re dropping.
- Amount of action in a scene
Another obvious upgrade from being on a current-gen console is the amount of NPC’s on the screen. During my initial “you better be good!” attitude with Unity, I was fighting my way through insanely thick crowds in the narrow streets of Paris. Not really thinking about it, I was just a tad annoyed that 18th century Paris was so overpopulated, and on top of that no one really had anything to do but walk around the streets. But more towards the end of the story, during my “Hmm, I kinda like you!” attitude with Unity, I opened my eyes and realized feats like this weren’t possible on last-gen systems:
If you listened to episode 528 of Major Nelson Radio, he had an interview with Alex Amancio who is the Creative Director of Unity, and he went on talking about how Unity had a scene with 10,000 NPC’s. I am not completely certain, but I’m sure this is that scene. And yes, it was totally mind blowing. For comparison, previous AC games gave you about 200 NPC’s in a scene. And typically in Unity, you’ll have about 5,000 walking around cluttering the streets. But seeing 10,000? It’s beyond impressive.
And the fact that they’re all controlled by AI is even crazier. They’re not just models standing there giving a generic cheer or whatever they’re doing. If you go to any spot in that massive crowd and take out your sword or fire your pistol in the air, everyone around you will scatter like roaches. Trust me, the few missions based around this scene were a pain in the ass for me (not because of the crowd), and almost every time I went into them for cover, they all started running away leaving me wide open.
- More areas to explore with no load times
Something else you should thank current-gen hardware for is the amount of windows and doors you can venture through to enter buildings. I think it was Assassin’s Creed III that introduced this, but they were scattered about. Here, the official number is 1 out of every 4 buildings in Paris has fully modeled and decorated interiors. So yeah, it’s hard to find a building that doesn’t have an open window or door of some sort that you can use to either find collectibles or as a short cut during a chase. And there is absolutely no load times when going into these buildings, which is impressive since some of these rooms are fully detailed with numerous pieces of furniture, paintings, fires burning in the fireplace, etc. Heck, some windows give you access to an entire building where you can go up and down flights and flights of stairs to explore. Again, gives a great level of realism to Paris.
Assassin Skill and Appearance Customization
The updates don’t stop at Paris though. Arno has a bunch of new customization options you can take advantage of. He doesn’t have everything other Assassin’s start with, unfortunately. You have to buy almost all your offensive and defensive skills with points that you earn from completing story missions. While it’s annoying at first, it gives the game a lot of depth, making your Assassin more molded to you and the way you play. For instance, you can’t use heavy or long weapons unless you use skill points to learn the mastery behind using those weapons. Same thing with using a pistol. You can go the whole game without shooting a gun or a rifle since the only way you can use them is by using skill points for either the pistol or the rifle.
As far as his looks go, there are a lot of color options available in your customization menu. No more having to go to a specific tailor in a remote part of the map to get that one shade of blue you like to stab people in. Same with your armor and weapons. You buy it all in the menu screen and don’t have to visit a blacksmith. That part kind of sucks since I enjoyed that aspect, but still it’s easier to manage on the fly.
Changes to Combat
In its heart, Assassin’s Creed should be played as a stealth game. Yes, combat is inevitable, but you’re an Assassin. You’re meant to keep to the shadows, stalk your prey, you know, be Batman. But because you’re always playing as such a badass, when you get into a pickle, it was always easy to kill off anyone in your way. I was an insanely huge fan of the parrying system in previous games where you’d wait to block and if you timed it right it was an instant kill. It made taking care of large groups of baddies immensely easy. Unfortunately, those days are gone. I found, especially in the earlier hours before you were all beefed up, combat was rather difficult and challenging! I didn’t feel like an Assassin at all, but I was ok with that. You had to force yourself to try and be more stealthy. So instead of thinking “eh, I’ll try to sneak around but if I’m caught I’ll just cut through them like butter”, I was doing my best to stay out of the view of larger groups of guards. It made venturing into restricted areas actually mean something, and for that, I was grateful. You’re an Assassin! Accept your challenge!
Now, the story. I won’t get into any details, but it’s not as boring as I thought it was going to be. It seems like there’s no more visiting the real world where you control a current day character. You spend the entirety of the game in the Matrix with sporadic instances where you’re reminded you’re in a computer working for someone. There are also about 3 or 4 things that happen throughout the game that are insanely cool. Let’s just say the 18th century isn’t the only time you get to experience.
The characters you’re interacting with in the story are great too. I don’t know if it’s because it’s France, but they somehow managed to include a fairly interesting and likeable love story into the fold. The main focus is always the conflict between Assassins and Templars, as well as the Revolution, but it was refreshing to have to also consider what was going on with your love interest. Especially considering.. well, you’ll see when you play.
Without getting too much into the story, I’m really pleased with the way it progressed and concluded. When I first found out about Assassin’s Creed Rouge on last-gen consoles, I was a little jealous. That story at face value seemed worlds more interesting to me since in a way it played off the Black Flag approach of an Assassin. But after playing a couple of hours and getting the taste of Ass Creed back in my mouth, I began opening up to everything about it and it became pleasurable.
Yeah, I definitely could’ve worded that better. You’re welcome
The Co-op Features
The new co-op mode was something I wanted to try. While playing the story you’ll notice plenty of opportunities to wander into the co-op part of the game. There are points on the map where you can do so just like any other point on the map. Also, it can come in the form of a shadowy Assassin figure just randomly appearing. This happened to me as I was running and he popped up right in front of me. I won’t go into detail on how much it startled me, but still, it’s a cool option. The shadowy Assassin appears as if he’s interrupting your session in the animus and he’s asking for your help. It’s a really cool way to initiate a co-op session. I regret not trying it out, I hear each mission is fairly robust.
I hope you noticed that I haven’t mentioned anything about bugs or glitches in this review. It’s not because I’m unlike some sites we all know that love to focus on the negatives. It’s mainly due to the fact that I hardly experienced any. Out of my 14 hours or so of playing, I only experienced a slowdown in framerate once. Also, I did fall through the ground and got stuck for a few seconds before I desynchronized, but again, that was only once. I saw no NPC’s walking on air, nor did I see any nightmare inducing skinless faces in cutscenes. Though, I would’ve laughed hysterically after screaming like a little girl.
It makes me wonder how glitch-riddled Unity actually was. Were gamers really unable to play the game due to them? Who knows. It’s possible since Ubisoft was rather shady with raising the embargo 12 hours after the game released, but as far as I’m concerned, I played it since release day and hardly had any issues.
When it boils down to it, Unity is another Assassin’s Creed. If you loved them before, you’d like this one. If you weren’t a fan, this probably won’t persuade you. Personally, I think there are enough advancements to say it’s worthy of the term “current-gen”, but at the same time, it could’ve been more advanced in a few places.
Sadly, with my limited time with it, I only played the story and didn’t get to venture far off the main path. There were plenty of side missions and quests that sounded awesome and I would’ve loved to do them. But i knew if I started exploring it would’ve taken me longer to beat it and I didn’t have that time. And that’s a downer because I was really wanting this armor but you needed to complete an extensive, riddle-based side quest that sounded awesome to play.
There is something I really did not like about the game though. And it’s the fact that a platinum is insanely doable in Unity. With no trophy requiring you to hit level 50 by forcing you to play a multiplayer that none of your friends ever play, it makes 100% a piece of cake. With Assassin’s Creed II being my first platinum, I was saddened every year when multiplayer was required to earn trophies.
Anyway, here’s the deal. If you’re a fan of Assassin’s Creed and on the fence with Unity, I say take that Leap of Faith and swan dive into Paris. You’ll enjoy Arno’s company, and heck, you probably wouldn’t mind seeing him again on future titles. I’m really glad I decided to try this out and I can honestly say I’m sad I had to trade it in so soon. I can totally see myself picking it up again in the future. And hopefully sooner rather than later.