Not only is Assassin’s Creed an annual franchise, not only is it Ubisoft’s flagship game series, it’s an interesting take on history in video games that has you exploring a whole range of historical eras in ways you may never have seen or imagined.
This year’s installment, Assassin’s Creed Unity, has you joining forces with the French public during the iconic 18th Century revolution, leading your allies against the powerful and corrupt. The setting was almost tailor made for Assassin’s Creed, albeit 300 years before video gaming was even a concept, with revolting Assassin’s taking the fight to the Templar hiding under the guise of politicians and Royals. It’s just as interesting as previous games set during the American Revolution, the Golden Age of Piracy and even the 11th century Crusades.
The game opens with dramatic and emotional heft giving real purpose for protagonist Arno to join the Assassins. Revenge is perhaps the easiest way to sympathise towards the lead but has become a well overused trope in this series. The motive in almost every game so far has come down to the death of a close friend or family member and it’s becoming a little predictable. Following the opening, the story becomes extremely forgettable with a collection of dull characters bumbling their way through a story that even the most credible scholars would struggle to understand. On more than one occasion it’s easy to get lost among thoughts such as ‘Who’s that?’ or ‘Why have I got to kill this person’?
Plotting constraints aside, Paris is a gorgeous and vibrant setting and possibly one of the most accurate representations of a real city you’ll see in any video game. Populated with thousands of NPCs, whether standing on top of Notre Dame or outside the Palace of Versailles it doesn’t take much to become enthralled with the detail and finesse that has gone into creating this world. It really is a treat to be able to explore 18th Century Paris in all its Revolutionary glory and the representation really highlights the power of next-gen consoles.
With all the visual style and flare it would be easy to see Unity as a simple continuation of the series for the latest hardware (and it is) but that isn’t quite as positive as you would imagine. Assassin’s Creed as a series has gotten to a stage where its controls still feel clunky and outdated. There is still no dedicated stealth button, climbing feels hollow and unrealistic while combat is still as simple as accurately timing your button presses. For fans of the series the lack of progression has become something resembling Stockholm syndrome and for newcomers it can be infuriating. Unity has tried to change several elements of its controls, for instance the new downward parkour feature now allows for descents from buildings as easily as climbing them and the new cover system makes stealth sections more tense but the problems still remain; unless the characters are perfectly lined up, the new additions refuse to work. It still feels like a series that is in its infancy, not one that has just celebrated its seventh birthday.
It isn’t all doom and gloom however. Where the frustrating controls and story fall short Unity has introduced a brand new RPG upgrade system which will look to carry the series forward to improve Arno’s armour, weapons and cloaks, all of which can affect his stats. For instance, stronger armour can affect how quietly Arno sneaks or a set of new boots might increase his overall running speed whilst hindering how much fall damage you can take. It all adds up to make leveling up a head scratching endeavour.
Despite its leap onto shiny new and more powerful hardware, Unity still suffers from the frailties of its predecessors, most of all an agonisingly clunky control scheme and a dull and instantly forgettable story. It’s more of the same, and for those who are wound up in the Assassin’s Creed series it’s ideal. While it may not be the best or most interesting installment of the series, it certainly is the most beautiful.
Not quite a death sentence for the franchise but a far cry from the highest peaks of the series so far, the latest Assassin’s Creed will provide exactly what you’re expecting but little more.
Assassin’s Creed Unity is available now for PS4, Xbox One and PC