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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

assassins_creed_unity_e3_2014_3

Back to Assassin’s Creed

I like a lot of different stealth games; I’m probably more forgiving of various “flaws” than many who identify themselves as hardcore stealth fans. Dishonored was one of my favourite games of the last few years, and that has quite a skill-based, unforgiving stealth system, but I also really enjoy stealth in Skyrim, and guys, let’s face it – it’s pretty much broken.

In general, if I’m playing a game that’s all about stealth – as opposed to one of multiple options – I want that stealth to be “realistic”. I want detection to have gradients, and I want mistakes to be consequential. I definitely don’t want to press a stealth button and turn invisible. So when I first read that comment about how Assassin’s Creed: Unity introduces a crouch button to go into “stealth mode” my eyes rolled so hard I gave myself a small headache. Assassin’s Creed is a game all about stealth – surely you’re in stealth mode all the time!

At first, introducing a stealth button seemed to me an admission that stealth is not Ubisoft’s priority any more, but something to be tacked onto the game as an optional extra. But then I gave it a bit of thought and realised that that’s kind of how stealth has felt for several releases now.

In my recent feature on the ups and downs of the Assassin’s Creed franchise, I noted that Ubisoft has made significant changes to the formula over the years. These changes have had deeply consequential effects on stealth gameplay. In the first Assassin’s Creed, guards were always capable of spotting you. To run around, climb, or even just walk too close to them would put you in danger. There were very few ways to hide while moving around, which made exploring the city a tense affair.

I really enjoyed that shizzle but I understand that for many players it wasn’t fun. Who – besides me – wants to walk slowly around a city doing nothing to attract attention? You can do that in real life! That’s why Assassin’s Creed 2 introduced a scaling notoriety system, meaning you could get away with a lot more as long as you kept your reputation under control, and later games did away with it altogether, having the guards ignore many instances of weird behaviour and forget you exist as soon as you escape – except during alert situations or in clearly defined high security zones.

Assassin’s Creed: Unity E3 2014 trailer.

As such, the core experience of Assassin’s Creed shifted away from pure stealth with side activities to a hybrid gameplay style foregrounding lots of excellent things, like the ever-improving parkour and combat systems. And that’s fine. Not every game has to be pure stealth and the success of the Assassin’s Creed series shows that gamers like whatever it is that the game is now.

However, I feel pretty comfortable saying that stealth has taken a backseat over the past few Assassin’s Creed releases, and it hasn’t done the series any favours. Although Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flag fixed several of the stealth problems introduced in Assassin’s Creed 3, in general, being super stealthy has become less rewarding and enjoyable. Missions that are purely about stealth, such as eavesdropping, have been poorly implemented and are among the least popular. Most missions can be finished without making any effort to be stealthy. The few missions that do insist on you going undetected are just frustrating.

As such, Assassin’s Creed has lost a little bit of its heart – of what originally made it stand out from other open world action games. It does still stand out, of course, but new differentiators – like Black Flag’s excellent sailing – only serve to highlight the fact that stealth is no longer one of its selling points.

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It’s time for a shake up

As I said above, but will repeat, it’s fine that the series has grown and changed to background stealth a bit. It doesn’t make Assassin’s Creed any less good; it just makes it different, and that can be disappointing for fans like myself who were so attracted to that core premise.

Reading that Unity will introduce a “stealth button”, take out the day-night cycles that made timing an important factor in missions and include a UI to show detection initially disgusted me. I felt like we were finally seeing the end of the process by which the franchise’s stealth systems have been watered down into near non-existence.

“Ubisoft has lost the plot,” I said. “This isn’t Assassin’s Creed.”

I stand by the latter half of that observation, but I’m rethinking my opinion of Ubisoft’s decision making. I feel confident saying that this new stealth system Amancio has championed isn’t the Assassin’s Creed we know. But as I’ve argued in the section above, the Assassin’s Creed we know isn’t a very good stealth game.

For years now, any chance of a genuinely satisfying stealth system has been crushed under Ubisoft’s other design goals. The stealth system has not evolved in line with other aspects of the game, and Ubisoft has not introduced additions to compensate for the features that have been removed for being too inaccessible or frustrating. It’s all just been gradually stripped away.

So maybe a further evolution, and a more drastic, considered one at that, is precisely the right thing. With the changes Amancio is introducing, Assassin’s Creed’s stealth systems will finally get the shake up they’ve needed pretty much since Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood. I might not like the sound of a stealth button and a UI, but I do like the sound of that.

The new stealth systems of Assassin’s Creed: Unity might not be of the kind that I generally prefer, but if this overhaul brings stealth back to the forefront of the series and makes it rewarding and worthwhile, then I’m on board. I’m ready for major change, Ubisoft. Make it so.

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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 3 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 3 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 3 months ago
  4. apollyonbob

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

    #4 3 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 3 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 3 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 3 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 3 months ago
  9. bradk825

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

    #9 3 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 3 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 3 months ago
  12. DarkElfa

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

    #12 3 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 3 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 3 months ago
  15. Obernox

    FUCKING FINALLY!

    #15 3 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 3 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 3 months ago
  18. bobnice

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

    #18 3 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 3 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 3 months ago
  21. StealthSocky

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

    #21 3 months ago

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