Developer: Ubisoft Montreal
Release Date: 11/14/2014
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Up until this point, Assassin’s Creed had pretty much overstayed its welcome. With the release of Rogue, it was clear Ubisoft was just wanting to use the series as a yearly cash grab. While no single game is inherently awful or bad, the formulaic nature of every game playing nearly the same but with new characters and story just wasn’t appealing anymore. The game was starting to feel less unique and made from love and care and more just copy and paste and insert a few new characters. Unity was the series’ first next-gen outing with updated visuals, mechanics, and co-op. Unity scales the series back to its roots and focuses solely on the narrative and less on varied mechanics. For instance, naval battles are gone as the game focuses just on Paris set during the French Revolution. So, like in the original games, we get to run around a large town area full of chests, side quests, and things to collect to gain money to buy customization pieces. Then there’s the meat of the game which is the story missions.
Honestly, this is where AC shines best, just a large historically accurate city with fun story missions and a few side quests. Unity’s side activities are abundant and completely optional. These range from various co-op quests to helping solve mysteries using your Eagle Vision, to finding chests that contain various amounts of money or customization pieces, emblems, and secret relics. I personally feel there’s too much here and it’s all padding and filler. I spent a couple of hours doing these activities just to try them out and they don’t interest me at all. Once you finish the game there’s no reason to keep playing unless you’re a completionist and want to achievement hunt. The series has always been great for that.
Unity has a five-tier difficulty system in which missions are rated from one to five diamonds. Of course, you can increase your rank by buying or finding better armor pieces and weapons. You also need to buy skills to increase this rank as well. I finished the game at rank four and never found the game overly difficult combat-wise. You should never engage 8-10 enemies anyways and that’s been a rule in the series since the beginning. The skills you can unlock are rather useful and some are acquired just by playing the game. Poison darts, health, lockpicking, and various things like these have been done in the series before and at this point, I don’t find it necessary to lock these things away anymore. Just give them up in the beginning and let me acquire armor pieces. It’s just another excuse to pad the game and make you finish missions for skill points. The only reason to acquire franks in the game is to increase your ranking and allow you to buy armor and weapons, however, this is completely optional. You should be at least rank four by the end of the game, but I didn’t have to end up buying much.
The story itself is decent at best. At least we get to see Arno rise and fall as an Assassin and regular person. You start out playing through Arno’s childhood and how he discovered the Assassin Brotherhood and he is on a path of vengeance to kill the murderer of his father. You also have a love interest, Elise, who you knew as a child, and the strife they go through is okay. Unity’s story was never gripping or kept me on the edge of my seat. There were a few twists and surprises, but nothing amazing. The ending is rather disappointing and typical. The “real-world” here with Abstergo mostly takes a back seat and you never control any character like you did Desmond. It’s told through dialog and pre-rendered scenes. It’s mostly pointless and I wish the series would just get rid of this part of the story. I say this in every AC review I do, and I’ll keep saying it.
Sadly, while it did go back to its roots in terms of scope, the game still has mundane boring combat. The animations are silly with weird clipping issues and the game is still just a parry fest. You can unlock heavy attacks, but when the enemy’s life bar flashes yellow you parry and attack. Its uninteresting and head-on combat has never been the series’ strong point as it should be avoided. Most of the missions require you to find a target, assassinate them, or find your way into a stronghold and gather evidence for something. Eagle Vision is key here as it lets you see enemies through walls and tag them on your mini-map. As the game progresses these strongholds get tougher and bigger and more confusing to navigate. A new addition to assassination missions is side objectives that allow you to make the hit easier. There is usually one assistance and assassination opportunity that requires extra thinking and leg-work. Sure, you can just charge in and kill the target, but usually, in later levels, there are just way too many enemies around and you will never even make it. You also can’t finish the missions unless you’re anonymous so the target will lay there, you then have to run away, and then work your way back without being seen to finish the job. It’s best to just do it the correct way the first time around and it’s satisfying every single time.
I found these side objectives are rather neat and fun. Sometimes you can free some people to start a distraction and clear out an open courtyard which gives you quick access to the target. The assassination opportunity puts you right in front of your target without being seen. One mission had me kill someone attending a ball in a mansion. I freed a fireworks cart that would force the target out of the ballroom and into the hallway which let me blend in with the crowd and kill her without fighting through guards. Some of these were fiddly and you have to be in the right position at the right time or you will blow it, so a lot of trial and error is still needed which can be really frustrating, but satisfying once you figure out where the target is and the quickest way to them. I did find traversing the buildings can still feel finicky and too sticky. Sometimes I just wanted to hop down to go to a specific platform and Arno would hop around like a bunny and jump down or go up to something when I just wanted to run straight. It made me fail some missions, and this is still an issue that needs to be addressed.
The visuals of Unity are outstanding, but it’s a technical nightmare. At launch, Unity was one of the most broken games to ever be released, and while now it’s been patched up just fine, the engine is horribly optimized and runs like garbage even 7 years later on new hardware. The anti-aliasing is a resource hog and I had to turn it off just to get 60FPS on an overclocked RTX 2080. Back in the day, it was impossible to run the game maxed out and get 60FPS and it ran even worse on consoles. At least Paris is beautifully recreated and the historical buildings look beautiful and are fun to explore. Everything just looks so good here, but at the cost of a terribly optimized game engine.
With that said, Unity isn’t the worst AC game, but not the best either. I appreciate the return to simpler times with just a core story to focus on and one city to explore on foot. There are still too many side activities to pad the game and the ranking system is guilty of this as well. Combat is still boring and rough looking and climbing around things is sticky and fiddly. While the new opportunities during assassinations are fun to accomplish it makes the trial and error that much more prominent and frustrating despite the satisfying pay-off. Unity is worth a play-through if you have the rig to run it, but don’t expect a next-gen revolution.