Assassin's Creed: Unity is set in Paris in 1789. The French Revolution has turned a once-magnificent city into a place of terror and chaos. Its cobblestoned streets run red with the blood of commoners who dare to rise up against an oppressive aristocracy. Yet as the nation tears itself apart, a young man named Arno Dorian will embark upon an extraordinary journey to expose the true powers behind the Revolution. His pursuit will throw him into the middle of a ruthless struggle for the fate of a nation, and transform him into a true Master Assassin.
Somewhat fortunately for us, we received the game quite late for review and besides an initial test on the non-patched disc, we have been playing on patched versions of the game. Indeed it must be said that we didn't encounter too many issues; we fell through the ground once while climbing a building, a couple of cut-scenes had terrible lip-synching so it looked like a poorly dubbed Hong Kong Kung Fu film, and occasional clipping issues and items floating where they shouldn't (at one point in a crucial cut-scene a book being held by a character was floating about 15cm above their hands). All-in-all while this game launched with a lot of issues this is improving at a rapid rate to the point where it's not such a big deal and perhaps some early review scores are reflecting the early, very buggy, builds of the game.
Anyway enough about those issues, how is this game overall? Well as expected Assassin's Creed: Unity is a third-person open world action game where your character tries to survive the complexity of the French Revolution. While the game still contains some modern day elements, they are near non-existent which, in our books, is a good thing. The story isn't overly riveting, however the real highlight is Arno's childhood friend Elise who is an absolute highlight of the game compared to the pretty dull main character. Ubisoft should have elevated her to the main character!
As with other games in the franchise the lead character has a wide range of weapons at his disposal including single handed weapons such as swords, heavy weapons, long weapons, pistols and rifles. Arno has Phantom Blades for stealth kills and takedowns and while he starts out with pretty mediocre skills and attire he can be upgraded as the game progresses and therefor improve Arno's stats and abilities such as health, attack strength and moves, and lock picking skills.
There are, however, some gameplay elements that have been removed. One of the biggest staples of the franchise - being able to perform double assassinations from above - isn't available until a fair way into the game. Even more bizarre then that is the fact you can no longer hide bodies to avoid detection. I mean this is a new(ish) console and yet you can't take a body of someone you have slain from lying in the middle of a pathway and move it into some bushes or a cupboard to hide the evidence. Bizarre.
This game isn't just about the main campaign, indeed if you complete it without any side missions you're probably looking around a 30% overall completion rate. As with other games in the franchise there are plenty of side-missions and tasks to complete - finding and opening chests, chasing down criminals, completing Paris Stories which are missions not related to the main storyline. As you progress through the storyline you will also purchase a Cafe Theatre which can be upgraded and earns income as well as Social Clubs which can be used to meet and play co-op missions with friends.
One of our favourites was finding clues to solve a series of murder mysteries. In these missions you will investigate the murder scene looking for clues, interrogate people involved, and then accuse a suspect. Get it wrong and you will reduce your reward. So far we've completed around 8 of these mysteries, and there are still more to go - there's a few hours of fun here alone and indeed I wish Ubisoft had included more of these puzzle solving elements into the main Sequence missions which are primarily get to point A, sneak in and assassinate a character before escaping.
Also entertaining are Helix Rift missions which see you entering a Virtual Environment (this is a link back to the modern day component of the game), and rushing around to collect code fragments which can then be used to free trapped operatives. It's a nice diversion from the main game and, again, is a nice time waster.
Sadly there are plenty of small, niggly issues that remain with the game. Loading becomes somewhat annoying between missions or cut-scenes. Indeed, why is it with this generation that even with massive installs to the Hard Drive - in the case of this game we're talking 44GB - that we're still left to wait for 30+ seconds during loads. Might as well save my Hard Drive space and stream off the Blu-Ray disc. Movement through the crowds looks a little awkward and not nearly enough people get pissed off when you just shove them out of the way.
More annoying then all that is the amount of "social" connectivity - there is a Smartphone App available which needs to be used to unlock Nomad Chests in the main game - but there are reported issues that using the App can corrupt your save file. The game also connects to UPlay and has something called "Initiates" which changes your ranking and unlocks more content - but, ermm, whoops as of this week there are still connection issues so you can't unlock the rewards. Whoops.
It's not all great visually though; as we've mentioned already the game has been lampooned due to the number of bugs and despite improvements with patches it's the visuals which in which you are likely to encounter the most issues with clipping remaining the biggest issue, some occasional incorrectly placed objects in the world and some skipping animations. There are however two more glaring issues the first being frame rate dips which occur mostly when Arno moves through large crowds - which we must point out include hundreds of NPC's in a scene - and his movement through these crowds look a little awkward as he move his arms around to brush people out of the way. The second major graphical issue is the lip-synching which is very off the mark in some cut- scenes we encountered, but even in smaller dialogue scenes during gameplay mouths don't match the words. Not game breaking by any means but should have been fixed, or at least minimised, prior to release.
Assassin's Creed: Unity has had a very rocky launch window, but the game is improving at a rapid pace. There's no denying that this is a visually stunning title, but the storyline doesn't quite meet those lofty expectations or potential, and nor does the online co-op mode. Ultimately while this review is filled with negativity this game still remains very playable and entertaining and gets our recommendation. It's just that, ultimately, Ubisoft should have spent more time to polish the game to perfection.
Review By: Dave Warner