It only feels like yesterday since I was gallivanting around the ocean seas in Assassin’s Creed Black Flag. Even though I was strict on tackling the main story missions, I still to this day I haven’t found the time to completed it. But like Christmas, another Assassin’s Creed is just around the corner, and this year brings two! It’s time to burn the Black Flag and raise the French Tricolour – a flag born by the Paris militia during the French Revolution, an era in which we will be partaking in some assassin-based shenanigans in Assassin’s Creed Unity.
In this next-gen instalment we follow Arno Dorian, a Frenchman and son to an Assassin father, who after being killed is adopted by a family that, unaware to him, holds a senior position within the Templar Order. Filled with grief after seeing this adopted father murdered during the prologue sequence of the game, Arno sets out on a journey of redemption that sees him mix with the Brotherhood of Assassins, rising through the ranks in an effort to expose the true influencers behind the Revolution.
The game begins with you playing a young Arno, easing you into the game’s basic controls whilst also showcasing a few new tricks that Arno can now do. New to the franchise is its new parkour system. Rewritten from the ground up, this new system allows you to scale down buildings safely without the need to look for pigeon-lined rooftops or ledges with carts of hay conveniently placed beneath them. By holding down the R2 trigger and pressing the Circle button you elegantly leap down from roofs, ledges and beams until your leather boots are back on the streets.
On the ground, the streets of Paris is the most lively we’ve seen in an Assassin’s Creed title. Even whilst zoomed out, during the synchronisation sequences, you can spot tiny pedestrians going about their business below. Plenty of time can be had just walking around and experiencing the many high-brow and low-life areas of Paris, each bringing their own architecture, market stalls, locals and many high and low skill-based challenges and side missions.
The main story missions in the game are well thought out and make good use of the well-crafted buildings and environments within the city. Many buildings are able to be entered or passed through, each containing locals and even workers inside them. It’s a small feature, thanks to the additional power of the new consoles, but really helps to draw you further into what feels like a living and breathing city.
To distract you from the main story, and add extra longevity to the game, there are a number of side missions and tasks you can take part in. Heists are online co-op missions that have you stealing hidden chests with three other assassins. Crowd Events occur as you wander through the streets of Paris and can consist of tackling thieves, killing criminals and generally protecting civilians. Like previous instalments of the franchise, doing up social clubs and cafe theatres is also a thing, both rewarding you with huge cash boosts and allies with each renovated building.
For the first time you are able to customise what your character wears, whilst also adopting a kind of skill-tree mechanic where Sync Points can be earned for completing story or co-op missions and be used on obtain certain Assassin Skills. These Sync Points can be distributed between Melee, Stealth, Ranged and Health skills. Earning the ability to unlock each of these skills depend on what parts of the timeline you’ve played, so you’re sadly forced to play through the main story to reach the more juicy skills available, instead of making a bee line towards unlocking a particular preferred skill.
Weapons, armour, equipment and explosives can also be upgraded with the use of Creed Points – the game’s currency system. Doing so will not only customise the aesthetics of your character, but it will also help boost the four previously mentioned skill-trees of your character too. Weapons can be bought and each will give you the ability to fight in a variety of combat styles. Various swords are on offer, as well as axes, spears, hammers, spikes and pistols.
New to your assassin’s arsenal of Batman-like equipment is the Phantom Blade. Similar to a tiny wrist-mounted crossbow, this stealth-based weapon fires bolts silently over a limited distance, allowing you to avoid melee contact in areas that might cause a little too much attention, or for taking down guards that are a little out of reach. Berserker bolts can also be equipped that, like the poisoned darts in Black Flag, will turn any guard shot against his own soldiers, causing distraction or just reduce the amount of guards you need to take down yourself.
Thanks to the power of today’s new consoles, Unity has opened the doors to a new level of fidelity to the franchise. I found that Unity has gone for quantity and draw distance over a rich level of quality. It didn’t leap out at me as a significant next-gen improvement – props to the last-generation’s achievements. The sheer volume of local citizens create a vibrant and bustling city of Paris, with a sea of bodies lining the streets and AI characters going about their business, chatting to one another. During the launch of the game there has been some major visual glitches reported by some gamers, like floating pedestrians and missing skin textures with floating eyeballs and teeth! But in my playthrough, I found the odd gameplay glitch rather than these visual ones, however all of these niggles are actively being addressed by Ubisoft, as they rapidly release regular downloadable updates for the game.
The sound in Unity remains of a very high standard, with all voice acting from its variety of characters in the story missions being full of life and very well executed, whilst the sounds from 18th century Paris bring an audibly immersive, vibrant and lively city to your ears, with its ringing church bells and various banter being passed between the local inhabitants and street sellers.
New to the franchise are co-op multiplayer missions. Located around the streets of Paris, or taverns, are areas in the game in which you can take on co-operative missions with other buddies online. Friends currently playing appear as ghosts, and approaching them allows you to request them to join their mission. Up to four players can join together on a co-op mission, and to me this experience alone is worthy of the entry fee. It is great fun to see and work with other players, co-ordinating assassinations and attacks on unexpected guards and targets, picking locks and setting up traps. It’s great fun and it’s a very welcome addition to the franchise that enhances it greatly.
Like most Assassin’s Creed titles, each one brings with it slight changes and additional gameplay mechanics. However, the game itself maybe set during the French Revolution, but Unity lacks any kind of revolutionary update to the franchise, more of the usual evolution to the franchise, which is to be expected with an annual release schedule. The nod towards co-op missions in this game may pave the way towards an even more open and connected future for the franchise, which will be very exciting, but until then expect much more of the same in Assassins Creed Unity with some Parisian flair.