Assassin’s Creed Unity


Though you wouldn’t know it by his accent, Arno Dorian is a dashing young Frenchman who is also kind of a brat. When his adoptive father is mysteriously murdered on the eve of the French Revolution, Arno can’t help but feel responsible so he joins the Assassin Brotherhood to seek vengeance. There’s just one problem. His late father figure was Grand Master of the French Templars while his biological father, who also died under suspicious circumstances when Arno was only 8 years old, was a member of the Assassin Brotherhood. And if matters weren’t complicated enough, Arno’s adoptive sister and love interest, Elise, is herself a member of the Templar Order. This is Assassin’s Creed Unity.


Unfortunately, that’s not all that Assassin’s Creed Unity is. It’s hopelessly trying to infiltrate a second floor balcony window, only to end up anywhere but inside said window. It’s getting surrounded by a group of enemies, throwing down a smoke or stun grenade, and watching as the frame rate plummets. It’s attempting to loot a chest and being greeted by a message asking you to sign-in to your Uplay account or download the companion app before you can access its contents. It’s a HUD that constantly bombards you with messages at the most inopportune times. It’s carefully planning a unique assassination, just to watch it fall apart due to imprecise controls and a clumsy cover system. All of this, too, is Assassin’s Creed Unity.

It pains me to say that because I’m a big fan of Assassin’s Creed. I loved Black Flag and couldn’t wait to see what Ubisoft had in store for the first truly next-gen entry in the long-running series. Apparently, neither could Ubisoft – wait that is. Assassin’s Creed Unity was originally slated for release on November 4th, but was eventually delayed to November 18th. Two weeks. That’s how long the development team was given to fix the numerous issues with this game. In a rush to meet its annual schedule, Ubisoft shipped Assassin’s Creed Unity in an unfinished state.


Okay, let’s start with some positives. Front and center has to be the graphics. It seems inappropriate to describe Paris during the French Revolution – a bloody and brutal period – as breathtaking or stunning, but that’s exactly what it is. The shading and rendering is unmatched. Everything from character models and animations, to lighting and fine points like materials is outstandingly good. The interiors of some of Paris’ iconic landmarks – Palais de Versailles, Notre-Dame, The Bastille – are just as exquisitely detailed as the exteriors, and the transition from one to the other is seamless. On several occasions, I stopped dead in my tracks just to take in how gorgeous the city looked at different times of the day. Assassin’s Creed Unity is simply the best-looking next-gen title to date, but all that beauty comes at a price. The infancy of the new tech has resulted in numerous performance issues, including a variety of bugs and glitches, textures and characters popping in and out, drops in frame rate, ridiculously long load times, and even the occasional freezing and crashing.


Sound design is equally brilliant, as it has been since day one for this franchise. The orchestra-based soundtrack is modern in style and full of energy. The effects, from the unique sounds of each weapon to the tick tock of the grandfather clock in the luxury homes, are just fantastic. Dan Jeannotte and Catherine Berube turn in great performances as Arno and Elise respectively, as do the rest of the voice cast. However there’s just one problem, and that’s the lack of French accents. Every character in the game speaks with a British accent, even Napoleon Bonaparte. Yes, that Napoleon – the French military and political leader. Ubisoft explains this as “…the Animus translating everything into the language you’re playing in. It would really make no sense for there to be a French accent because that would mean that this French character is trying to address you in accented English.” Yada, yada. Then why did Ezio Auditore de Firenze speak with an Italian accent during his run? I get that it’s an artistic choice. I just expect more from a franchise that strives for historical accuracy, let alone a French publisher.

Accents aside, I don’t feel Unity does as good a job marrying the real-life locations and famous individuals of the period as previous Assassin’s Creed titles have. There’s no denying it’s success in recreating late-1700’s Paris, but it’s not quite as successful in recreating the social and political upheaval of the time, at least not within the main story arc. Arno’s motivation is very one-note, that of revenge. It’s this sole motivation that drives the plot, which, aside from a blossoming love story, is mostly to do with Arno climbing the ranks of the French Templars, assassinating its members one-by-one. The story takes place during the French Revolution, just not so much within it. As for the meta-story, it’s confusing, muddled, and practically non-existent. One of the core parts of Assassin’s Creed is the importance of the past to the present or the future. If you abandon this, what’s left? Ubisoft needs to start figuring this out.


The assassination missions have undergone some changes for the better. When it comes time to assassinate a target, the game will present the scene and encourage you to explore the area and create opportunities by completing a side objective or two. For instance, in an earlier mission you’re tasked with assassination The King of Beggars in his sewer hideout. Before you enter, you have the opportunity to sabotage the chimneys and defend a group of beggars, objectives that not only grant you an advantage in the sewers, but a chance for a unique kill. Every major assassination offers these opportunities to make things a little easier on you.


For a franchise this many installments in, I find it frustrating that I’m still struggling with the controls. I like that sprinting and climbing have finally been separated into unique buttons – the latter even further into one each for ascending and descending. I also really like the new parkour animations, but I ended up fighting with the controls more in Unity than any previous Assassin’s Creed title. Some of that has to do with Arno’s inability to maneuver through indoor environments without leaping onto a bookshelf, but really any movement that requires precision or a deft touch often results in something completely different happening than intended.

The cover system is also quite clunky. While in cover, you can’t move from one piece of cover to another, nor can you turn corners. Entering and exiting cover is done at the press of the button, but Arno doesn’t exit cover very gracefully so it’s not uncommon for enemies to be alerted to his presence when he does so. For a game that emphasizes stealth, the cover system needs to be better than this. Then there’s combat, which is sluggish and unresponsive. Drops in frame rate are partly to blame when larger groups of NPCs are onscreen, but so are competing titles like Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor whose fast, fluid and visceral combat makes the system in Assassin’s Creed Unity feel antiquated by comparison.


I like that you can customize Arno – his gear loadout and skills. There’s an excellent assortment of hoods, coats, bracers, belts, breeches and trousers to equip, all of which have stats for melee, health, stealth and ranged, and all of which can be upgraded to unlock modifiers such as running noise, falling damage, additional item slots, additional damage, healing, disguise duration, eagle vision range, and much more. You can also alter the color of your outfit with a variety of fancy-named, eye-pleasing options such as Royal Purple, Beige Ghost, and Dark Woods. There’s an equally impressive arsenal to choose from, including one-handed, long and heavy melee weapons, pistols, rifles and guillotine guns. Like the outfitting, each weapon has stats for damage, parry, speed and range, and each can be upgraded to cause additional damage. In an interesting twist, as you complete missions you’ll earn points to unlock various Assassin skills, such as lockpicking, double assassination and ground execution, among others. It all lends to an added role-playing element that wasn’t present in previous installments.


What’s slightly confusing is all of the currencies in the game – four in total. Francs are used to purchase weapons and equipment, as well as replenish your ammunition and items. Sync Points are used to unlock new skills. Creed Points are used to upgrade your existing equipment. And then there’s Helix Credits, a Freemium currency that you can collect in-game or purchase with real-world money and ultimately use to “hack” (read: acquire) weapons and equipment at a faster rate. You obtain these currencies by completing campaign missions and side quests and in the case of Creed Points, by doing just about anything skill-based.

There is no competitive multiplayer in Unity. Instead, the game offers a series of co-op missions and heists for up to four players. Complete with intro cinematics, the co-op missions are some of the more entertaining parts of the game, but your enjoyment will depend largely on the people you’re playing with and their desire to work as a team. With skills and boosts tailored specifically for team-based play, it’s easy to see co-op playing a larger role in the Assassin’s Creed multiplayer experience moving forward.


Look, Assassin’s Creed Unity isn’t a bad game, it’s just not up to the standards of the franchise. It needed more development time – more time to optimize the experience and to get its systems to work smartly. As of the writing of this review, Ubisoft has released a few patches to improve performance and even gone so far as to offer customers compensation in the form of free DLC and a free game for season pass holders. While I applaud Ubisoft for taking these steps, it never should have come to this in the first place.




Reviewed By: Stephen Riach
Publisher: Ubisoft
Rating: 70%

This review is based on a digital copy of Assassin’s Creed Unity for the Xbox One provided by Ubisoft.

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