Its easy for me to say that Assassins Creed lost its way with the third instalment in the series, and while Black Flag did enough to win back many of the series fans, it was still a miss step in my opinion, choosing to ‘wow’ with the addition of naval combat as appose to fixing the limping franchises ailments and injuries, just barely covering the cracks and scars with random new features.
Now fully rid of that ‘I’M ON A BOAT’ novelty, AC Unity is ready to burst onto consoles, and PC if you’ve got the money to run the required beastly machine, with serious gusto that I have no doubt will prove that, not only is this the best Assassins Creed game since AC2, but its also the definitive Assassins Creed experience.
So whats changed and why is it so good, you’re no doubt shouting through a mouth full of croissant and other stereotypical french pastry delights.
Well, the first big success which is so key to your guaranteed immersion and addiction, is that despite what you may believe, the true main character of AC Unity is the city of Paris itself.
Faithfully recreated from every dusty cobble right down to the perfectly coifed hair pieces of the aristocracy, the city is simply stunning.
This isn't a well done back drop situation either, the city fully functions, it lives and it breathes. Climb a tower and look around, for everything the sun touches is yours my son and like Simba before you, its yours to explore for as long as you should so wish, something that I can without shame tell you kept me busy for a ridiculous amount of hours.
The hours you’ll waste wandering the streets of Paris, watching the street fights, helping fellow citizens in need and listening to taverns full of french men joyfully roaring shanties about bread, will pail in significance when you feast your eyes upon the games map which is literally flooded beyond all recognition with icons boasting missions of all sorts, shapes, sizes and colours. In fact, until you clear a fair chunk, the zoom button will be your best friend as you try to dig out the icon you were looking for.
There’s so much to do and clearly so much time free to do it in, that you’ll find yourself playing until the wee hours of the morning, exhausted, shaken, perhaps even delirious but obviously feeling like a don for having experienced so much (or a pillock..who knows)
For starters theres the endless brain teasers from Nostradamus himself, who took it upon himself to lock the most bad ass armour set in a cage deep within the city, that can only be unlocked with metal shards which form a super special, secret key. Oh and the catch is, to find each shard you must solve a selection of ever increasingly difficult riddles, which will have you blindly running around the map (thats right, no guiding arrow! SHUDDER!) and scratching your noggin’ as you desperately try to remember everything you can about Parisian architecture from GCSE history.
If your business acumen is up to snuff, you can always invest in the Cafe Theatre which not only provides an endless source of hilarious commentary, 18th century karaoke and waypoints around the city as you branch out, but more importantly become a pretty important source of income for all those shiny new upgrades and precious ammo restocks. Of course theres a plentiful source of fetch quests and quick murders to aid the aggressive expansion of your new venture, but hey, even Alan Sugar has a few dozen bodies in his closet right? At least his apprentice cast offs, thats for sure!
As if that wasn't enough and lets face it, in an Ubisoft game when is enough ever enough, You've still got to contend with the likes of Paris Stories, a sizeable list of missions revolving around historical figures such as Saint Just and the Marque De Sade to name but a few, which will task you with a surprisingly wide variety of objectives. Sure you’ll still encounter the usual, find x person and go nuts with a blade but not always. They're a nice way to break up your day and experience some important characters without the Forest Gumping your way into the limelight.
Perhaps the newest and most welcome addition however, comes in the form of a slew of murder mysteries that will have you throwing on your detectives hat as well as your eagle vision as you comb crime scenes for evidence and grill witnesses suspects and local nutters, all in a bid for the truth. Accusation must be undertaken lightly though as pointing the finger at the wrong perp will affect your pride at the end.
They're not without their flaws or the obvious irony of your hannibal-esque killer hunting killer ethos, but they're such a charming idea that genuinely offer a lot of fun and yet more variation to the games tone, throwing in genius bursts of humour where ever possible.
It goes without saying that the games real meat and potatoes lies with the origin story of Arno Dorian, a cocky yet undeniably charming and talented orphan come murderer who will no doubt remind some of the series favourite Ezio Auditore. A story of revenge intertwined with love and more confusion than the ending of Lost, Arnos journey is a fairly riveting romp, filled with stunning set pieces and fight that would make any movie studio proud. It’ll keep you entertained and pretty enthralled for the most part, only really beginning to come unstuck in the final quarter, as characters begin to appear, seemingly without introduction, while being held in as high a regard as main cast members all before speeding off to an abrupt end.
Thankfully, unlike the ridiculous story of ACIII, Ubisoft have resisted the urge to write Arno into every major historical event in his fair city. In fact, despite being set during the French revolution, Arno really doesn't pick a side or involve himself too much in his worlds surroundings. This could be seen as poor writing but I felt it not only allowed Arnos own story a chance to breathe, it actually made the whole concept a lot more believable. You know, in that mad, Fringe style sci-fi kind of way.
As you plough through the campaign you’ll encounter rifts in time, most notably the World War II section which was teased some weeks back, that offer not only a stark break in the gameplay you’ll have been swimming in for hours but a glimpse into just how transferrable the AC universe is into different timelines. War torn Paris not only looked beautiful, with the cities lights sparkling like fire flies from the atop the Eiffel Tower, but the addition of fighter planes surrounding the tower as I tried to clamber my way to the top without being seen by a spotlight was joyous to experience. It immediately made me yearn for a steam punk AC game to arrive, just think what Ubisoft could do when there Arno limits! (too soon?)
With Naval combat completely out of the picture, Ubisoft took it upon themselves to beef up its counter-kill spam fest, opting to push the challenge up a notch, forcing you to use all the moves at your disposal. The challenge is so much greater in fact, that you’d be far better advised to hoof it away from group confrontation until you’re better equipped.
This is of course where the spirit of the Jack Daw lives on, with Arno fully upgradable from his sword right down to his leather belts and boot straps. Each new piece of luxurious armour and artillery will level you up some, adding boosts to your stealth, fire arms range, health and more finally giving you a real chance to craft the perfect Assassins for your own personal play style.
You’ll also notice a diamond gauge above your health bar that moves into higher numbers as you upgrade, giving you a better idea of your rank and the missions you can tackle as each will offer a diamond rating for difficulty.
Personally I spent hours upgrading Arno into the 18th century embodiment of the Riddler, all dressed in a brash green suit of the tightest leather, the likes of which hasn't been seen since the 60’s, or at the height of Russell Brands fading career.
Thankfully, while you’re starting your career in the world of wet work, stealth is on your side, something that AC Unity has really kicked up a notch, taking clear cues from splinter Cell with its last known location feature and the ability to FINALLY take cover behind tables and chairs etc.
While I have no doubt, this is the ultimate Assassins Creed experience, Its unfortunately far from a perfect one, as AC Unity is riddled with some frustrating performance issues which mar the experience somewhat. With a framerate that drops out on occasion, tarnishing the look of what is essentially an absolutely stunning city, to obscene loading times, despite most transitions from indoors to outdoors being seamless, when they happen to appear you’ll want to grab a book.
Movement, while greatly improved with the revelation that simply holding B/O will allow you to glide over and under tables or through windows and control your descent from great heights, is still subject to familiar frustrations. With scenery sometimes catching Arno at an odd angle leaving him unable to navigate around it or over it and instead brining him to a complete stand still.
Despite all these issues, I never once during my 42 hour journey felt let down, or like these issues were ruining the experience. This is by far the definitive Assassins Creed experience, there is so much to do you’ll want to quit your day job just to sink your teeth into the game and with such a vast list of different jobs, collectables and stories to unfold, I would dare anyone not to find something that they'll love!
IT'S CO-OP TIME!
Surprisingly, especially for myself, co-op isn't just a loosely tacked on after thought, thrown in there to follow trends. Instead whats on offer is a fully intertwined experience, you and up to three of your mates can sink your teeth into, with a plethora of missions, falling under two main types.
Heist missions, which are hardcore stealth affairs, tasking you with breaking into extremely secure locations, all in a bid to grab that precious loot from behind locked doors or hidden chests. Your personal reward is lowered piece by piece, each time you are detected or cause unnecessary commotion. Then you have a selection of story missions which work a long side the main campaigns tasks, giving you a deeper insight into some of the stories star players and those famous faces in Paris.
Playing with random strangers can be a bit difficult if no ones willing to talk, so this could be something thats better experienced with friends, as co-op will require you to really communicate and work together if you want those big rewards and to be fair even just survive the mission itself.
Along with your standard upgradeable skills, there are a selection reserved for co-op which work to specialise your assassin, from an improved eagle vision which can be shared with your brothers, to having the option to restock your whole teams supplies. What skill you prefer are entirely up to you and how your team works. If you fancy charging in head first, you could always bolster your heart tho high heaven and unlock all the execution styles possible, or you could always go ultra covert and stock up on smoke bombs, upgrade your lock picking skills and buy armour to boost your silent movement.
Some may miss PvP I'm sure but for me, this felt like the perfect way to include multiplayer within an AC game, moving the concept of brotherhood to you and your team mates, as opposed to NPCs.
Assassins Creed Unity is everything you could want from an Assassins Creed game, in one stunningly gorgeous, next gen package. Just ignore those hiccups eh?