Assassin’s Creed: Unity does a lot of things right, a lot of things wrong, and a lot of things the jury’s still out on. Let’s go over it all in exhausting fangirl detail.
I’ve been playing Assassin’s Creed: Unity all weekend, and I have a lot of opinions. I’ve helpfully grouped them into positive, negative and confused on the three pages below, so you can pick which set you feel most aligned with or against and flame as appropriate.
Do us all a favour and don’t go counting up the words on each page and making an overall judgment based on that; it’s much easier to be negative than positive, and on balance, I’m having a pretty good time so far.
Assassin’s Creed: Unity – things I love
The three kinds of free run (now that I’ve figured them out)
In previous Assassin’s Creed games, you’d spot a place you wanted to go, and you’d push the movement stick forward. Your assassin would encounter an obstacle and stop. You’d press the free-run (or high profile for the old school killers) button, and push the movement stick again.
Sometimes you got where you needed to go. Sometimes you’d encounter a climbing puzzles and spend a while moving the analog stick in various directions until you got there. And then quite a lot of the time you’d just sail off into space at a random interval, usually to splat on the ground. It was less then satisfactory.
In its endless efforts to make traversal less of a deadly roulette, Ubisoft has introduced free-run-up and free-run-down buttons. Basically, if you want to get down or up in a hurry, you hold one or the other button and Arno takes over. It’s especially good for getting down; faster and far less deadly than simply dropping.
In its endless efforts to make traversal less of a deadly roulette, Ubisoft has introduced free-run-up and free-run-down buttons. It’s especially good for getting down; faster and far less deadly than simply dropping. It works really well in chase sequences, because it means you’re not just holding down jump as you leg it, at risk of ending up back at street level.
The new system works really well in chase sequences, because it means you’re not just holding down jump as you leg it, at risk of ending up back at street level. Instead what you do is hold down free run and steer, looking for those carefully constructed paths, and using free-run-up and free-run-down intermittently to smooth the process. Want to hop over a stack of chimney pots rather than drop down among them and have to climb out the other side? Make sure you hold free-run-up, and even if you’re pointing slightly the wrong way, Arno will aim for the highest point, so you land neatly on the chimney. Want to drop down to a rope to cross a street quickly? Hold free-run-down and Arno won’t leap across the street to hang from a ledge, wasting precious time.
This will take some time for veterans to get used to. If you try to do one of those boxes-to-beams-to-poles sequences, for example, and you hold free-run-up, Arno is more likely to jump for the edge of the wall, if it is within reach and higher than the beam you’re aiming for. You need to use plain old free run for that sort of thing, even though you’ll be jumping. Once you make that mental leap (ah ha ha ha), it’s great.
Spoilers: it doesn’t always work, alas. See “traversal” on page two.
Co-op missions (when the other guy has any clue what he’s doing)
Wow, it turns out Assassin’s Creed is pretty fun in co-op. A couple of you scattering around the arena – two on the roof, one in the crowd, perhaps – to suddenly strike at multiple targets is deeply satisfying. Converging on a single target is great, too. Stealth is even more tense with two of you at it, especially when you don’t know the other assassin and how they approach the game, so you need to be on your toes and ready to adapt your plan. Walking around a high-security corner into the arms of a guard, only to have my co-op partner silence him with an immediate air assassination, is one of those water cooler moments I’ll never forget.
Ever since Assassin’s Creed 3 Ubisoft has been justifiably proud of its animations, but Unity really takes it to a whole new level. There’s an astonishing variety of melee animations in this game, even if you stick to one class of weapon, so that as of Sequence 10 I’m still seeing new ones all the time. It’s very easy to perform a stylish finishing move, and they look great – the blood splatter all over Arno (and everyone and everything else) is a nice touch, too.
In quieter times, take a moment to check out how Arno moves. Watch the way his arms and legs flail when he uses a lift or makes a leap. See how his tread adjusts to the slope of the street, and how he pushes NPCs aside. Watch him mantle and squat on ledges. Especially watch him during free-run-down sections, if you can. This is a long, long way from Altair and Ezio; the earlier assassins look positively stiff by comparison, and it’s worthwhile watching them side by side with Arno just for that revelation.
If all else fails, give a round of applause for the motion-captured cutscenes, which are terrific. Ubisoft gives Naughty Dog a run for its money nowadays.
The equipment system (now that I understand it)
Okay, so: the combined strength of your weapons, armour and skills adds up to your player level, which is displayed as a series of diamonds. Mission difficulty is indicated by diamonds.
At first, I got really frustrated by this. My approach to open world games is to do all the side content first (I abandoned this tactic after an hour or two; see “the content glut” on page two) so I can afford all the best gear before I tackle the story, but most things seemed way too high level for me to do, and new gear was massively expensive, so I couldn’t level up
It turns out the difficulty really only refers to how tough and numerous the enemies you’ll meet are, so if you can ghost a mission you’ll earn a fat reward with little challenge. Once you have a bit of money coming in (invest everything in your Theatre Cafe chain!) it’s really easy to buy new gear at about the same pace as the main storyline ramps up the difficulty.
Once you can afford stuff and get your level up, then it’s worthwhile thinking about doing side missions to unlock specific pieces you like the look off – aesthetically and stats wise. It’s possible to build in very specific directions, to make yourself super sneaky, kind of tanky or perhaps well-stocked with ranged weapons.
Some of the outfits are ridiculous and others are ridiculously good, and the same definitely applies to the colour schemes. Playing dress-ups is surprisingly fun, especially as the fabric in the game is so good. By gum, someone at Ubisoft should win a not insubstantial award for the way the costumes look and move.
Where is the assassin. Where did he go. Can anyone see him pic.twitter.com/Qtd1PTI5pT
— Tim (@burgerdrome) November 15, 2014
I like Arno! He’s got a bit of that Ezio scoundrel way about him, but in a more innocent, playful way. He’s serious about his tasks, but has much more of a sense of humour than Connor. He’s in it for himself, but he’s far less gruff than Edward. And he’s not a prat, which – bless him! He’s one of my favourites – Altair spent a lot of time being. Arno makes me laugh, and I believe in him and especially his reasons for doing the things he does, and that last is more than I can say for any of them since Altair.
I was very disappointed when Arno got a hood and covered up his hair. It’s one of the best ponytails yet to grace gaming. Some of the other important characters have good hair too, helped along by the fact that the setting is pretty much Wigs A.D., but Arno’s was amazing. An excellent graphical achievement. (His stubble, on the other hand, was an utter disgrace. It looked like the oversized, hairy thigh of another NPC was clipping through his face. Good riddance.)
As with any enormous Ubisoft game the writing is patchy as heck, and I have absolutely no idea why, in attempting to recreate the feel of the tremendously colourful French language, Ubisoft chose to make everyone English, both in accent and slang use.
Despite this, some of the incidental dialogue is just terrific, in a way that’s hard to explain. Here’s a very silly example: infiltrating the palace I came across a pair of guards caught up in a moment of revolutionary zeal, horrified by the excess of the ruling class. “Would you look at that?” one said. “It’s gold, innit?” the other asked. “I reckon it is,” said our first speaker. “Fuckin’ hell,” the second concluded, in tones of disgust and awe. This genuinely made me laugh out loud and briefly consider not killing them where they stood. (Still did it though! Gotta get those Creed points.) Another little example is the ongoing conversations between your maid and the manager of your home base. I have a passing investment in whether she ever gets to go on a walk with her beau or whether the upstairs hearths will always need seeing to.
Even out on the streets, where very little is scripted, you hear a lot of amusing things. Guards will call you “whoreson”, “shitstain” and – my personal favourite – “filthy moderate”, which makes sense historically but is just hilarious to hear suddenly hooted at you.
I’m also very fond of the ranting of women in the crowd. A woman standing on a platform rousing a mob to political fury is one of the most powerful images of the French Revolution, and I love seeing it in Unity. Even the paper sellers are firebrands. Terrific.
Confession: I’m terrible with history. I have about the same level of general knowledge as a curry that’s been in the back of the fridge a week too long. I almost never have any idea who any of the people the Assassins and Templars are dealing with are, and I usually don’t care, despite all the cutscenes and encyclopaedias and really laudable attempts to educate me. I liked Assassin’s Creed 2 and Brotherhood quite a lot, because I knew who the Borgias were, but apart from a bit of “oh yes George Washington, he went over a river once, didn’t he?” I have otherwise been totally at sea for the entire franchise to date.
I don’t think this matters much as what Altair and especially his successors got up to in the Animus never mattered much from game to game, except in terms of who they had babies with, and I’ve never felt the plotting would stand up to any attempt to pay attention to it. I’m similarly lost in Unity (Templars bad? Templars good? Templars bad? Get to the point Ubi we all know it’s going to be “Assassins bad” eventually) but for once I actually know who some of the people are.
And what people. I met the Marquis de Sade and he did not disappoint me, having a Russell Brand-like beads-and-open-shirt outfit going on. Napoleon is depicted in such a way that you suddenly remember that almost everything you know about him comes filtered through a British lens, and now here is a perspective informed by a cultural history shared with France. I even grew quite fond of a voiced but otherwise generic fortune teller quest giver, to the point where I went to look her up and find out what happened to her and if she were really real. Unprecedented engagement.