Love and War
Assassin’s Creed is a series which has gone through its fair share of praise, criticism and discussion. Being a fan of the series since the original Assassin’s Creed hit in 2007, Assassin’s Creed Unity provided a point of contention for me; on one hand it does a lot of things right, but on the other, it has some serious changes and issues.
Unity centres around a relationship between Arno Dorian and Elise De La Serre, a pair stuck between the shadow war of Assassins and Templars. Against the backdrop of the French Revolution in the late 1700’s we see them grow from young children playing together to adults shaped by the woes of their two families’ allegiances. This setting is quite rich and presents the opportunity to craft a strong political and historical narrative, but Unity starts to diverge from the usual Assassin’s Creed tale by telling a story of people in history rather than one of people influencing it (for the most part). You will still become involved in several major historical moments between the eve of revolution to their own story’s climax in 1794, but these events really take a sidebar in favour of the complicated love story.
It was this relationship between Arno and Elise that made me genuinely enjoy my time in the game, creating some memorable moments between the two. One of my favourite sections of the game sees the two of you making an escape from pursuing guards, leading into a high octane chase across the rooftops after Elise in a runaway hot air balloon. In the moments like these I found myself thinking back to similar style moments I enjoyed in Assassin’s Creed 2 and Brotherhood, but it’s also when the story is at its most evocative and interesting.
Any veteran of the franchise will not have a hard time working out the way the Assassins vs Templar narrative plays out in Unity. After Arno’s Assassin father is murdered in the introduction he is taken in by Elise’s father, Francois De La Serre. When Francois is killed and Arno is falsely indicted for his murder, he sets off on a journey of revenge that leads him into the arms of the assassins and adds to the complicated nature of his involvement with Elise.
While the core story is quite a good, if not a little overdone, as a longtime fan of the series I feel a bit let down at how Unity is slotted into the continuity of the universe. There are no modern day sections where you exit the animus – the only part that connects this with the grand scheme of things is through several short cutscenes, in which a woman in the assassin order explains what you’re doing and vaguely hints at previous events. Now, I get that this is likely to make the game more accessible to new fans, I feel it tried to do this at the cost of us who’ve been following the now somewhat convoluted modern day tale.
The modern day tie in did however generate some of the best moments dotted about the story – when you must ‘jump’ servers as Abstergo security sweeps for the Assassins infiltration. In these moments Arno dives through a portal to Paris in another time, with the best of these throwing you into a Nazi occupied, pre D-Day world. Climbing the Eiffel Tower while dodging gunfire and spotlights was one of the most memorable and exciting moments the series has ever put us in.
In terms of gameplay, the new adjustments to the movement and combat make the gameplay experience smoother than ever. Down parkour makes traversals much more controllable and aids in control, helping to create a much neater system with which to move around the world. The game still has the minor problems with movement that will have you occasionally jumping off something accidentally, getting stuck while climbing or running up an un-climbable wall, but for me these moments only served to create momentary frustrations.
One of the strongest additions to Unity is the ‘black box’ assassinations – giving you a target and a few leads for unique kills or infiltration opportunities, but otherwise letting you tackle the assassination in any way you see fit. Not only were these assassinations varied and challenging, they got better as the game went on. Rather than barrelling in and making decisions on the fly like in previous, more linear segments, I found myself sitting back, surveying the areas and planning out my movements. This was really one of the best aspects of the title and the biggest advance in formula the series has seen in recent times.
Customisation takes on a new form in Unity as well, allowing you to build your assassin for specific scenarios and roles across both single player and cooperative play. It was also really useful to be able to buy and change my weapons and armour wherever in the world I was, allowing much greater experimentation with item stats and weapon types.
One of my biggest gripes with the title also stems from the customisation too, with several pieces of armour needed to complete sets locked off, only unlockable by playing the Assassin’s Creed Unity companion app and through the Recruits program. I’d be much less annoyed if these pieces were additional DLC or extra items, but locking off content that is a basic part of the game was one aspect of the title that rubbed me the wrong way. There’s been no shortage of complaints over this and the microtransactions since launch, so hopefully we’ll see a change or a friendlier implementation of app connectivity in future titles.
For the first time in the franchise cooperative play has been introduced, allowing four players to jump in and explore Paris in free roam or embark upon specific side missions. These missions feel a lo more in sync with the history of the Revolution, expanding world around Arno’s core adventure. The cooperative sections are quite difficult and require genuine teamwork, it was great to get on mic and plan out strategies based around people’s builds to complete the objectives. When your plans come together you can pull off some really impressive synchronised attacks and have quite a bit of fun. The cooperative experience is quite a welcome and fresh addition to the franchise that works well to add and expand upon the historical backdrop.
Unfortunately, the player vs player multiplayer did not make a return in this entry. As something I rather enjoyed I hope it’s not the end for that aspect of the series, it would be great to see it return in future titles!
Assassin’s Creed Unity is a solid entry to the franchise that I really had a lot of fun with. Regardless of moments with a choppy frame rate or the occasional bug I loved exploring France with a new hero in a long over due landlocked Assassin’s Creed. Managing to recall the best aspects of the series finest with new moves, upgrades and a fun coop system make this game one of my favourites of the year. With majority of the issues patched, this game is definitely worth picking up to satisfy your desire to jump, climb and stab your way through history.
Assassin’s Creed Unity is a game both very similar to previous entries yet also quite unique. It’s new gameplay and co-op are great additions to the series, but the game leaves a little wanting in it’s connection to the larger series.
A review code was provided by the publisher.