Assassin's Creed Unity Review
Throw out the anchor, the Assassin's Creed series is back on land and I am feeling slightly seasick. I loathe developers that come out with updated iterations of a series each year, and with Unity coming out only a year after the very successful Black Flag I feel Unity has to fight an uphill battle. Its saving grace could be that it is exclusive to next-gen.
The game is primarily set during the French Revolution, and our main character Arno is an initiate of the Assassin Brotherhood out to avenge the death of his father and adoptive father. For the most part Ubisoft has done away with the side plot of Abstergo and the present world in favor of focusing on the memories of the main character, which is something that I am actually a huge fan of. The Abstergo plot had always felt like a side component that had begun to get way complicated and a frustrating part of the game to play. The only problem with the story is that I feel that they dropped the ball on delivering on this great opportunity to focus primarily on the memories. The missions, including the side missions, seem to lack a lot of depth. The game tends to rely on the sheer amount of missions than on detail to the point that many of them are seemingly not even remotely related to the story at hand. The volume of missions may be appealing to some, but to me it is a little overwhelming and daunting.
Story depth aside, Unity does have a lot of new car smell and a flood of modifications that almost breathes fresh air into the now aging IP. For starters, our assassin does not come completely outfitted with the skills that we all know and love from previous games in the series. There are now skill points that are achieved through completing missions which are towards a type of skill tree consisting of melee, ranged, health, and stealth skills. Not really a step in the right direction in my opinion, but being able to kind of mold your type of gameplay is an interesting twist. Just because it works for other types of games doesn't mean it belongs in the Assassins series. The gear also has some added depth and is not just cosmetic. Each piece can be purchased and each has added benefits based on boosts to character stats, stealth, currency gain, and more. Not only does this provide another method of molding your style of gameplay, you can sure look good doing it too. Weapons haven't really changed much but there are a wealth of them including a shift to heavier and long range based melee weapons aside from the typical swords as seen before. All the items can also be stretched a bit further by being upgraded with in-game currency though by the time you have grinded out some cash you will more than likely be able to afford something slightly better than just upgrading. Overall there are a lot of options which most people should like, but I prefer the simpler ways of customization. That aspect tends to take a backseat for me especially if I feel like I am progressing even without upgrading.
One change I am in favor of is that the method of completing missions is no longer singular or linear based. Depending on the mission there are typically multiple methods of completing them. For example, if there is someone that needs to be assassinated you can approach it from a stealthy perspective or utilize the environment around you and create distractions to complete the mission. I like the challenge and freedom afforded by the choice a method of completion. Even if one method doesn't seem to be working out for you it is OK; switch up the approach and go in a different direction. I also want to give Ubisoft a huge high-five for removing the stalking missions, they were super annoying and time consuming. Sure you still have to be patient and follow your targets around but no longer do we have to hide on rooftops or in trees and bushes to listen to conversations.
The biggest change and addition to the series is dropping competitive multiplayer for co-op. Marked by a special icon, co-op side missions can be found all over the map within each memory and allow up to 4 players depending on the mission. The objectives range from stealing money, protecting a V.I.P, assassinating a target, or sabotaging executions. You would assume that all of the objectives would require cooperation and communication, however ultimately everyone ends up doing whatever they want. I really enjoyed the concept and the missions that only included myself and one other assassin. Once three or four players were involved there was no organization and the missions ended up being a race to the end, frantically attempting to keep up with everyone.
Speaking of frantically trying to keep up with other players, let's address the new climbing mechanics that I believe were implemented to help traverse the environment more easily, but just give me a major migraine. Climbing and scaling buildings, trees, markets, and rooftops has been a key component of every Assassins game and they have always had difficulty perfecting the technique. Unity attempts to remedy past issues and stacks its parkour style with the a few button combinations. Now there are different buttons combinations in order to climb up or safely scale down. Sounds great on paper, but my experiences have been completely the opposite. So much so that several times I would be climbing a building and come to a complete stop until I shifted Arno a hair to the left or right for him to finally find his next reach. Seriously Ubisoft, just open that transition hit box a little more to add more of a feeling of fluidity in movement. Another gripe in the past has been mistakenly jumping off a building to my death wishing there had been a haystack to save my life. Now there is a safer downward method with a certain button combination allowing Arno to scale down without risking a swan dive to the ground. Again sounding great on paper, but I never found it useful since the environments were so tightknit that it almost was not required.
Unity is kind of an ironic title for the series because so many new concepts have been introduced to the point that it feels like an attempt to form a new identity, but it never really comes together. The game has had a rocky release with a list of bugs that I truly believe have been the worst of Unity's problems. Unity feels like the developers were given a blank slate and threw new ideas at it to see what stuck. Ubisoft, please do not allow the series to become an annual release to the point of a numb experience. Black Flag was a great leap in the right direction so if they can combine the two experiences I think Ubisoft could have themselves a great new set of games for years to come.
Final Rating: 70%. Muddled concepts and a lack of depth fail to create any unity.