After a few years sunning itself in the Americas, the Assassin’s Creed series has gets a refresh and moves to France, as well as to a new generation of consoles.
With Paris as the main setting of Unity, don’t expect any ship based battles here. Instead we get more rooftops, busy streets and sewers. But will this be Vive La France or a bit Sacré bleu?
Things start well with the introduction of our hero, Arno, acting as the (rather long) tutorial as well as providing a back story as he sees his father cut down by an unknown assailant. Pretty soon Arno finds himself recruited as an Assassin so that he can follow the path to his father’s killer and defeat a few more Templars along the way.
Paris is an excellent background for Unity and shows off a vastly more complex city than previous entries in the series. The houses are separated only by narrow streets, allowing Arno to spend more time up on the roof than in the more spacious US, but it also provides plenty of character. Wonder down a side street and you’ll witness plenty of life going on as you work to complete missions. It’s the nearest Assassin’s Creed has got to a believable city.
Buildings themselves are more complex and allow for a far greater freedom to climb. This works in tandem with the improved control system that is designed to make the parkour far more fluid. Climbing walls and chimney pots or descending from buildings safely feels like second nature, though the odd sideways move can confuse the game enough to prevent you from moving quite as freely as this would make you believe. Still, its a vast improvement in design. The fighting controls have been tweaked, too, to give players a more simple and free-flowing combat system made up of attacks and counters. These make combat easier but perhaps a little less fun for those wanting a challenge.
Another area which has been reworked is the stealth. While the first Assassin’s Creed game hinted at the options available to kill your targets silently, there was always a feeling that the game wanted you to do it their way or not at all. With Unity, you have a much greater choice over how you kill your target and that includes using a much improved stealth option that borrows from Ubisoft’s other games. Now when enemies see you, you leave a shadow behind. This is your last known spot and enemies can be forced from their guarding positions to investigate while you sneak around behind them.
Weapons include a new hidden blade with a small bow, giving you the ability to kill from a distance or shoot a poison dart that will force them to fight among themselves. Larger weapons come in classes, with big 2 handed weapons causing more damage and swords acting as a more refined and responsive approach to defending yourself. Pistols give another long range option once you unlock the skill for using them.
Earning money is important in replenishing certain weapons but there’s a secondary system for earning credits to unlock skills such as lock picking or extra health. It’s a little overwhelming at times, though, ensuring you manage to have enough of both to achieve good results in later missions. The easiest way to make money is to buy cafes and renovate them through specific tasks dotted around Paris. This gives you a regular income which you must remember to collect in order to keep the money flowing in. It’s yet another thing to pull you away from the story missions, but these tasks take only a short time to complete and are worth the extra effort.
The story provides the main focus here, tasking you with everything from simple assassinations to following targets and stealth kills, but Unity, just like previous games, gives you plenty to do outside of this. Your first look at the map once the game properly starts is frightening. Icons overwhelm the maps and offer collectables, street missions and even murders to solve, providing a wealth of things to keep you busy long after you complete the main story.
This is, however, a ‘next gen’ game, the first proper one in the series, so does it feel like a step up? Graphically, yes, it does. Paris teams with life, both on the streets and even up on the rooftops. That’s not to say the PS4 can cope with all this extra work, with some slowdown at times becoming more obvious as streets become more crowded. It’s certainly no show-stopper, but occasional glitches can grate on a game that requires fluidity. Content-wise, though, there isn’t much effort to set this game apart from the other Assassin’s Creed titles, bar the changes mentioned above. It’s a step up, but only a small one. We may have to wait for the next game in the series to see Ubisoft get to grips with the hardware.
Assassin’s Creed Unity is perhaps not the Next Gen game many were expecting, then, but it’s still a joy to jump over the rooftops of revolution-torn Paris or walk amongst its bustling streets, hunting down your next kill. The extra freedom the game gives you makes a tangible difference to how you complete missions and it’s perhaps a sign of bigger things to come next year.