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Assassins Creed Unity: The Review

December 6th, 2014

Major spoilers ahead. If you haven’t finished the game yet, proceed with caution

The final credits just finished to roll on my screen and I’m now left on my couch with a lot of questions in my mind…

The Story

The general consideration that I can make is that the single player story is getting less and less important the more we proceed with this saga. If the previous chapter (Black Flag) was all about Edward trying to redeem himself, in Unity we play as Arno who will fight his way down the road of personal revenge. Again, the fight between Assassins and Templars seems just noise in the background. So much so that half way through the game Arno gets expelled from the order.

This fact already brings a lot of questions to the table. If he gets expelled, why don’t the kill him? He knows everybody within the order, he knows the location to their head quarter. It would seems more that likely that being out of the order would also mean the end of your life. But it’s not like that. The same is true for his equipment. We grew up in the first three chapters in the series knowing that the Phantom Blade is kind of a sacred weapon that can be used only by who truly believe in the Assassins’ cause. So why Arno is not stripped of his possessions? We don’t know.

As with Black Flag, Arno kills the Templar Grand Master only because he’s the person responsible for his father and Elise’s father death. Being affiliated with the Templars is just a bonus. And this brings us to Elise. She’s the daughter of a betrayed Templar’s member who than works with Arno to bring down the Grand Master. She is a central figure in the game; a nice change of pace and a very useful ally. I might be sentimental, but there was no reason to kill her at the very end. Especially because there’s no “epilogue” (except for a very quick and useless “many years later” scene along with Napoleon) to the story as we had in previous chapters, her death doesn’t seem to have any impact on Arno. As soon as the credits are over you are back in Paris. Which is very odd. You are no longer part of the Assassins, your nemesis is dead, you are done. Why would still play the part of the vigilante?

Paris

At the end of the day, what really matters in Unity is Paris. After spending too much time in the forest (AC III) and on a boat (AC Black Flag) we are finally back in a more familiar environment for this game: a city. Assassins Creed has always had is great success in the richness of details used in recreating the playground for us. Florence, Venice, Rome, Istanbul they were all beautiful. Paris is astonishing on a completely different level. First of all, it’s massive. Crossing the city from one end to the other takes a lot of time, mostly because I was always stopping to admire the landscape.

Before the game release, the main talk revolved around the realisation of Notre Dame. Having played through the game, I can safely say that Notre Dame is just one of the many gems you’ll find scattered across the map. The scale of the city of course doesn’t represent the scale of real-life Paris, but all the major landmarks are there and those are replicated perfectly down to the last detail. The Panthéon, Les Invalides, the Palace of Versailles (I know it’s not in Paris) and even the Bastille are a joy to observe.

All those elements really help the entire city to come alive and they also make it look like it’s much bigger than it really is. I was really happy when I first learned the AC was going back to his origins and I’m sure I wasn’t the only one to think it like that. It’s good to experiment, but I believe that the AC franchise works better in this kind of environment. The basic game interaction sees a guy climbing up things. In a city, you can mask identical elements (main building structure) under slightly visually different facades; in a forest after a while all the trees are exactly the same, deteriorating the game’s flow.

Multiplayer

Another very welcomed new feature in Unity is the redesigned Multiplayer system. Unlike previous chapters, in Unity the multiplayer is built right into the main game, allowing you to seamlessly move between the two. Scattered across the map there are starting points where you can join multiplayer missions: Co-op or Heist. Different missions allow for a different number of Assassins (up to 4) and they all have different approaches.

In co-op you really have to co-operate with the other players in order to achieve the common goal whatever would that be. In the heist scenario instead, you usually have to steal some treasure from the Templars. The more assassins are in the game, the more “fake” targets are disseminate around the map. In this case spreading in different directions allows the team to more quickly get to the end of the mission, while also spreading the enemies around.

The other advantage of having the multiplayer always at hand is that you can now create “teams” (or just join an existing one). By doing so, you can summon your team member if you need help during any mission. They will receive a notification and they can immediately join the game. It’s a fun new game dynamic that once more will make you forget about the main single-player story in favour of this massive world around you.

Bugs

One thing that consistently came up from day one reviews of the game was the abundance of bugs in the game. Most of them were visual bugs, with characters losing their skins or Arno being stuck after weird interaction with the environment of the city or impossible kills with enemies dropping on the floor after being hit seemingly from miles away. This bug is the one I’ve encountered the most, especially in multiplayer mode. You are standing few meters away from the enemy soldier but still you are killing him with your sword. Or you are standing right in front of the enemy but your sword is rolling in the air but despite the lack of contact the enemy dies.

The one thing that was really annoying were the many crashes that brought the game to a sudden stop. It happen so far four times (which is four more times than ever before). The game would simply freeze; the background music would loops around a single note and then back to the xBox home. Pretty annoying.

Finally, the last annoying bit is the infrequent but still noticeable slowing down in proximity of large crowds. Being in Paris during the year of the Revolution, means that the city is full of big mobs. When you are jumping up and down roofs next to one of those crowds you can definitely notice the game slowing down, dropping the frame rate to cope with the mass of dynamic polygons down in the street.

Where next?

The single player ending leave us with many doubts about the future of the franchise. Since the death of Desmond Miles, the franchise has moved away from the true Assassins blood line. Since AC III, the player in the future has less and less importance, which culminate in Unity by being completely omitted from the story. In this last chapter with only hear the voices from the “real world” four times and there are three short interactions in different time scale but those don’t add anything significant to the overall story. Moving away from the real world gives Ubisoft more freedom in choosing how to develop the story in any period of time they want, but on the other end it makes more difficult for the player to look at the “bigger picture” as it was possible with Desmond.

Luckily, despite a very low profile ending, we already know a lot about the next chapter in the story. Early this week Kotaku leaked information and screenshots about the next game. Apparently the next game will be called Assassins Creed Victory and it will be set in Victorian Age London.

Of course we don’t yet have details on the story, but the picture above (apparently coming from an already advanced development stage) is already igniting the excitement. If Paris was astonishing, this picture demonstrate that London will be the culmination of this magnificent art that is Assassins Creed.

As always the future looks very bright.