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Why Assassin’s Creed: Unity’s “stealth button” might be the best news of all

Friday, 27th June 2014 07:44 GMT By Brenna Hillier

Assassin’s Creed: Unity introduces a “stealth button” that players use to enter sneak mode and evade detection. Is this the straw that broke the stealth action camel’s back, or precisely the change the series needs?

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Assassin’s Creed: Unity isn’t just a bigger, prettier, annual release. It’s going to make some significant changes to the franchise’s formula to date.

After chatting with creative director Alex Amancio, Kotaku posted a neat list of features and gameplay changes coming to the series with Assassin’s Creed: Unity in addition to the widely-discussed co-op mode.

There are a bunch of things in there that sound great, and I really encourage you to go and look; Stephen Totilo’s take is that Unity will build on some of the best features of Revelations – Amancio’s previous Assassin’s Creed title – to build the kind of “chemistry set” of systemic crowd interactions which made that title so much fun to just play with.

That excites me too; the crowd has always been one of Assassin’s Creed’s key features and anything that foregrounds it and makes it more useful, reactive and possibly entertainingly unpredictable is going to produce a lot of good “and then I did this, and they did that” water cooler stories.

But what I find most interesting, and what initially set off clanging alarm bells for me, is a couple of changes to the stealth system. I’m quoting directly from Kotaku here:

  • The addition of a crouch button that activates Unity‘s series-first stealth mode. While in stealth mode, Arno will crouch and be harder to detect.
  • The change to the threat detection system which will emulate Far Cry 3 and put the awareness meter around Arno’s body instead of on each enemy. Players should have an improved understanding of who is spotting them and from which side. “We’re all about making stealth better,” Amancio said, “making it easier to read.”

The sound you hear is thousands of “hardcore stealth fans” going up in the air and coming down in a different place – myself among them.

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Let’s talk about stealth

Let’s stop talking about Assassin’s Creed for a second and just jam a bit on stealth in general. Stealth is a complicated business. There are whole websites dedicated to exploring what goes into engaging and rewarding stealth design. We’ve all played stealth games or sections that drew us in and blew our minds, and we’ve all played stealth games or sections that felt unnecessary, poorly implemented or just plain boring. It’s clearly not the easiest thing to pull off.

It’s really hard even to nail down what makes stealth fun – especially when that’s such a subjective assessment. For some players, punishing rules that force you to reload or start again if you mess up is the most satisfying, and others prefer the opportunity to hide in a cupboard for 45 seconds while the guards suffer sudden, all-encompassing amnesia. Some players like simple detection systems where there’s only one factor – shadow, say, or line of sight – and others like a more complicated approach, with a number of non-binary factors affecting detection.

Some players like knowing precisely how tools, techniques and AI will react every time, and others like the chaos inherent in a systemic sandbox. Some players like to spend the whole game undetected while others enjoy frequent bursts of action or firefights. Some people like RPG stats, including luck, to play a factor in how stealth plays out, and others prefer it to be purely skill-based.

There are many other aspects to consider; what I’m trying to say is nobody’s yet figured out the perfect stealth formula that ticks everyone’s boxes, works as intended, and makes for a fun addition to a video game. That’s why you get divisiveness over games like Dishonored, Thief and Metal Gear Solid; there’ll always be at least one person who just doesn’t enjoy the formula and wanted a different experience.

So however Assassin’s Creed wants to do stealth is fine – but by making major changes to how it works, Ubisoft risks alienating a significant proportion of its established fan base.

Next: maybe this is just what we need.

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21 Comments

  1. TheWulf

    Not so interested in the title, myself, BUT I am a fan of stealth and non-lethal play. That was something that the first game did oh so well, that was why I liked it, before it all became an overly exuberant exercise in smug extroversion, with all of the pompousness and the killin’ shit. I wasn’t a fan of that.

    I’m not going to be buying Ubisoft titles for a bit, I think, just personal preference. But if they keep going like this, in the right direction, I might begin to at some point down the road.

    #1 5 months ago
  2. Talkar

    @TheWulf Stealth has been pretty nonexistent in every Assassin’s Creed game. Including the first one. And it certainly didn’t have a way of committing nonlethal takedowns. Not sure what game you’re talking about. It definitely isn’t Assassin’s Creed.

    #2 5 months ago
  3. apollyonbob

    Oh if you think crouching is bad, you should try playing the first Assassin’s Creed. Praying made you effectively invisible, it was great. Oh man, that was nearly a decade ago.

    (Side note: Holy shit 2007 was an amazing year! Crackdown, BioShock, the Orange Box, Assassin’s Creed, Rock Band – even the sequels were awesome – God of War II, CoD4:MW …)

    Anyway, not surprised to see this mechanic return, I suppose. Crouching makes more sense though.

    #3 5 months ago
  4. apollyonbob

    @Talkar If you approach someone without a weapon (ie with Fists selected) you’ll do non-lethal takedowns.

    #4 5 months ago
  5. Talkar

    @apollyonbob Depends on how you look at it. The game might count it as knocking out a guard, but i’m still fairly certain that you aren’t knocked out when you’ve gotten your neck broken.

    #5 5 months ago
  6. Erthazus

    Crouching does not automatically make it a good STEALTH game Brenna. If it does not have a detection mechanics aka (Light/shadow/camouflage) than it’s not a neat button.

    Sorry but you fail with Stealth games and you don’t know much about them. you proved that with Thief and Dishonored.

    and what Unity showed was porrly designed stealth at best. If AI is bad than it’s not poor. There is no reason for it at all.

    #6 5 months ago
  7. Game Hunter

    @apollyonbob you couldn’t do that in AC & AC II.the knocking was introduced in Brotherhood.although in AC II you could throw sand in enemies faces and then knock them out using bare hands.in AC your only option was to kill.

    #7 5 months ago
  8. Game Hunter

    @Erthazus shut your whiny ass.if you can pass the enemies without being spotted,it’s called Stealth,no matter how bad the AI is.

    #8 5 months ago
  9. bradk825

    @apollyonbob It really was an absolutely crazy year of awesome wasn’t it?

    #9 5 months ago
  10. budoshi

    So it finally took them 16 AS creed s games to finally realize that a stealth feature would be good in an assassin game ?…a little bit too late ? im no longer interested in these series, Assassin s creed game play has been recycled for years now , I think i’ll just pass.

    #10 5 months ago
  11. ddtd

    In the same Kotaku article they also talk about the combat overhaul, such as the removal of unblockable combos and more varied AI combat strengths and weaknesses. Supposedly Arno won’t be able to best a bunch of guards, and big fights will be a death sentence.

    If what they said is true, then it seems that combat alone will drive the player to a more stealthy approach too.

    #11 5 months ago
  12. DarkElfa

    I’m on a Ubisoft break until they either fix, place or remove Uplay.

    #12 5 months ago
  13. OrbitMonkey

    Tbh I think I prefer exploring the world of Assassins Creed. Not that I’m a huge fan, having only played A2 & just starting Black Flag.

    It is ridiculously easy to kill people though & changing it up to be more unforgiving could be fun. Just so long as they keep the lush open world!

    #13 5 months ago
  14. Game Hunter

    @ddtd lol I remember killing 40-50 guards in one of the missions in Brotherhood which tasked you with stopping the guards from going after Caterina Sforza after breaking her out of Cesare’s castle.

    #14 5 months ago
  15. Obernox

    FUCKING FINALLY!

    #15 5 months ago
  16. fearmonkey

    I like the watch dogs stealth system, where the little triangle fills up and then you are detected, they should use something like that. I have always wanted this in a AC title, i hated not having it, and soooo glad its finally in the game,

    #16 5 months ago
  17. bobnice

    The addition of a dedicated stealth button made me cheer when I heard them announce it at e3. I hate games that automatically decide for me when I should be sneaking. Its been too long that Assassins Creed games have insulted us stealth fans with its garbage stealth mechanics. Assassins creed games should not be considered a stealth game but rather an action game. Whenever I hear the word Assassin I think of a shadow that goes unseen, strikes his intended target and escapes unnoticed. Sam Fisher is the perfect example of an assassin. In every assassin creed game the stealth mechanocs are so bad with little reward to use srealth that I end up feeling like a ome man army -john J Rambo with hidden blades.

    #17 5 months ago
  18. bobnice

    Sorry for the typis again. Goddamn cell phones with tiny keypads

    #18 5 months ago
  19. Tormenter

    Makes you harder to see?

    Isn’t this just making it easier.. i.e dumbing it down?.. In the games I’ve had a chance to try it was never the ‘stealth’ I had a problem with.

    This just looks like (..LOOKS like…) adding a ‘win’ button.

    #19 5 months ago
  20. StealthSocky

    Okay, I get that some people don’t really like what they are doing with it. And to comment on other people saying, “I hope they keep the open world” or “I think it’s been more of an action game” and stuff like that, I agree on a certain level. Yes, it really has been more of an action game than a stealth game, but I still tried to play each one with as much stealth as I could, because it made it more challenging. And: yes! I do also hope they keep the open world environment, but you have to remember that previous games didn’t have the entire world open to you until you “unlocked” it further in the story. Which kind of keeps it story driven anyway, I’m not saying it’s not open world, I’m just saying it’s not as open world as… Skyrim, or other action games (That is the only one I can think of right now). I’ve been a real fan of the stealth genre and I love the reward of not getting seen, and not having confrontation, but it should have been difficult to get to. My example of a decent stealth game is Hitman: Absolution. Okay, some of you may disagree with me, but in my opinion, it had a great stealth mechanic and yes, it was still challenging, even though it had a “dedicated stealth” system, like they are trying to implement into Assassin’s creed. And I also agree that when I hear the word, “Assassin” I think of someone who is either: hired to kill someone in some way (even though that is really more of a Hitman), or someone who stalks his prey in the shadows or from rooftops, or maybe in a disguise right behind the prey where they can feel their assailant’s breath on their neck for their last moments of life, and then the “shadow” gets away without a trace. Anyway, it seems as though they have improved the parkour system with it’s “controlled descent” which may disappoint me, because the Eagle Dive, or Leap of Faith, is a signature move in the Assassin’s Creed Saga. And I personally hope they keep things in that you can do that into, even if it’s not a bail of Hey. Finally, I am personally REALLY psyched about a new addition to the Assassin’s creed series. And from what I’ve seen, and heard… It will lose some of it’s fanbase, but it will also gain some from the more hardcore stealth players, not like me, but you get the idea. To sum up, it’s an Assassin’s Creed game, and I hope that just because a few things change, that people won’t leave this fandom, because (Assassin’s Creed fans in particular) it’s still assassin’s creed. And it will be a new edition, with new mechanics, and a new story for the new ancestors (yes ancestorS because of the new coop mode), I hope that when it finally comes out, you guys will still love it, those of you saying that it’s sort of ruined.

    #20 5 months ago
  21. StealthSocky

    Sorry, that was a bit longer than I had intended that to be.

    #21 5 months ago

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