Arno joins a cult where he witnesses a human sacrifice, he hunts down a giant, he solves murder mysteries because Paris’ local detective is too lazy. If this all sounds interesting, that is because it is pretty interesting — in concept. Instead, Arno simply hunts down Templars in the cult, finds and kills an enemy of the “heavy” type, and runs around eagle vision-ing his way to a culprit with no sense of mystery. Assassin’s Creed Unity is, above all else, boring.
The initial idea presented in Unity has potential to be the best story in an Assassin’s Creed game years: A mystery during one of the largest upheavals of a government in history that forces an Assassin and a Templar (with previous history) on a us-against-the-world adventure. By crafting a such self-contained story, Ubisoft has made an excellent jumping on point for newcomers to the series especially with the new consoles. Sadly, by the end of the game no new ground has been tread and the highly predictable finale falls flat.
Throughout the story Arno meets his quota of running into certain historical figures. Napoleon is the standout character for those who aren’t as familiar with the time period, but no matter what recognizable faces or names, none of them are used to any effect. They jump in and out of Arno’s life quickly and infrequently, providing no special service because of who they are. I’m all for Ubisoft to throw in characters of historical importance, and we have seen how bad it can be when overdone (looking at you Paul Revere from Assassin’s Creed III), but there seems to be no effort to make the historical characters memorable here.
This is in large part due to Arno not being involved in the world around him. As rioters line the streets and spark a revolution, Arno’s main interactions with the crowd are hiding within them until the suspicious guards pass by. Paris is by far the most beautiful creation Ubisoft has made this series, but being so distanced from the actual goings on in the world makes Arno feel disappointingly unimportant to the larger political happenings.
Any effort Ubisoft put into crafting this beautiful world is negated by the unpolished mess of Unity. Framerate drops, animations not animating, and character and texture pop-in are too frequent of issues to look past. Sometimes the problems can stack on top of each other to the point where Unity becomes a near unplayable mess.
When it does work correctly, the experience is smoother than past entries to the series. Tweaks to the parkour system such as added animations and a dedicated downward free-run button make traversing the city very fluid, accessible, and fun. However, another addition, the “enter window” button, only likes to work under very specific conditions — and even then only half the time.
As always in Assassin’s Creed, when Arno is not traversing he is on the offensive in one way or another. Assassinating operates as it always has in the series, and works as well as it always does. Combat, on the other hand, has undergone some major changes. Gone are the days of chaining together one-hit kills until a pile of enemies lay at your feet. For the vast majority of the game, Arno can’t even stand a chance against more that four enemies at a time. Unity tries to force stealth on the player by making death loom much closer, but escaping combat and becoming incognito is easier than ever due to extremely poor enemy AI. Enemies will no longer search nearby hiding spots, so breaking line of sight and jumping in to the nearest hay bale will guarantee escape.
Unity takes cues from the original Assassin’s Creed, only allowing assassinations on important targets with the hidden blade. This forces Arno to find the most advantageous point of attack on his target. Taking a page from the Hitman series, Arno makes his own opportunities by using the world around him to his advantage. Within every sequence-ending assassination mission there are two optional objectives that can help Arno bring his blade down on the target. In one mission Arno may bribe a window cleaner to open a specific window, granting easier access to a heavily guarded area, or maybe Arno will eavesdrop on a conversation between a wine salesman and a taste tester, finding out that some wine bottles are poisonous. It would be a shame if someone planted that and poisoned the target, but who could do such a thing?
Arno can. Because Unity tells him exactly how to do it with step by step instructions. Therein lies the problem with this “open ended” mission design: by providing the player with instructions for every option, any sense of ingenuity is lost and instead it feels like running down a checklist. The broad approach to mission design is a step up from past entries, or a lateral step from Rogue. There are 12 sequences taking up the main story of Assassin’s Creed Unity each made up of two to four memories. This streamlined sequence to the story trims any fat and results in the best pacing since Brotherhood, while keeping the tailing missions to a minimum.
Usually this is where I would talk about the metanarrative in Unity, but there is no metanarrative in Unity. Well, there is about twenty to thirty minutes worth of voice over, but the story presented is completely pointless. Instead I will take these last few words to discuss the best part of this years Assassin’s Creed game.
Co-operative multiplayer is divided into three sections: self-explanatory free roam, missions, and heists. The missions in multiplayer follow a story of their own that is completely dismissible, but some of the missions provide the most interesting and dynamic goals in recent memory for the series. Heists are the highlight of the multiplayer, though. Every heist is designed around infiltration, forcing players to value stealth if they want the highest reward possible. They need to grab the correct piece of art or treasure and escaping sight unseen. Communication and cooperation are key for success in this mode and when it all comes together it feels so good.
“Good” is the highest praise Unity deserves. Even then, Unity rarely deserves that. The most interesting it gets is either when it harkens back to the very first of its kind or when it throws in a long overdue cooperative mode. While similar games achieve much more, Unity doesn’t even attempt to innovate and becomes the most boring Assassin’s Creed has been in seven years.