Sunday 27 September 2015

Assassin's Creed Unity (PS4)

The latest Assassins Creed game, Unity, is the first PS4 game to be reviewed for this site and continues Ubisoft’s series, this time switching the location to Paris during the French Revolution.

The Assassin’s Creed franchise is probably my favourite video game franchise, full stop. Brotherhood was one of my first games that I got when I first brought an Xbox 360, and now, having upgraded to current gen consoles, Unity is the first game that I’ve completed for PS4, and whilst the results are not quite as perfect as I would have liked, the game is still a solid experience and worth playing if you’re a fan of the franchise. There’s a lot of work needed to make this game a great one, but at the same time, I still had fun playing it and was not disappointed.

The location this time is Paris, during the French Revolution, a topic that I had recently studied as part of my History with English Foundation Degree, so many of the events that were explored here I already had a fair amount of idea what was going to happen history wise. The fun was though in seeing the Templars and Assassins battle it out behind the scenes, as Unity marked the transition into the current generation of video games for the franchise, with a bang. It follows the adventures of the protagonist Arno Dorian, who’s one of the more charming and Ezio-esque Assassins that we’ve had in the franchise, coming from a similar background and is forced to endure a similar fate as he joins the Assassins when the man who raised him, a Templar, is killed fairly early on in the game. We then see Arno hack and slash his way through the French Revolution as he uncovers a conspiracy from the Templars that could end the Monarchy for good.

The graphics, as I was hoping for a current generation-only game, are absolutely superb. The visuals are jaw-dropping and the game is arguably the best looking Assassins Creed yet. Paris is brought to life in incredible detail and the setting is amazing. Picking off where Assassins Creed Rogue left off (It’s not necessary to have played that game, but it is recommended that you do so), you are drawn over a complex narrative that doesn’t unfortunately have as much firepower as the previous games in the series when it comes to story development. At the moment, Rogue and II are my favourite stories in the franchise, but Unity is probably near the bottom, following a simple revenge story that never takes full advantage of the various historical figures and potential that comes with the French Revolution. For example, we don’t spend any time with the King at all, and only briefly with Napoleon. And what’s worse is that the historical characters, apart from one or two that we do meet, aren’t really fleshed out well enough to make it interesting, with the decision instead to mainly focus on the struggles between the Assassins and their Internal divisions in France. At the heart of Unity there is also a love story, between Arno and the main female protagonist, Elise, his childhood friend turned Templar. But the game never decides what it wants to be in terms of story, jumping between a revenge-motivated quest, the unearthing of a conspiracy and the aforementioned love story and never really has a satisfying conclusion at all, which is a shame.

The gameplay is also another problem that Unity suffers from. The freerunning, whilst improved, is fantastic when it works, but there are plenty of times that it doesn’t quite have that effect. The combat is frustrating as well, even moreso than previous Assassins Creed games, and it makes you wonder why they don’t just adopt the Arkham combat system going forward. There is cooperative multiplayer that has been praised, but it’s worth mentioning that due to a lack of decent internet connection I have been unable to explore it for myself.

The stories in the present day have been a divisive part of Assassins Creed Unity. Sometimes they’ve been great, but often they’ll be boring, particularly in the last two entries of the franchise when you play a bland character without a name through a first person narrative (the historical part of the game is in the traditional third person narrative). Unity is more or less the same as Black Flag/Rogue in this approach, but instead limits time that we spend with the character to hardly anything at all, instead opting to pull Arno into various interesting situations out of his own timeline at various points in the game. We spend time in the Middle Ages (both in a prologue and later in the game), and also in the closest to the present that the historical sections of Assassins Creed have got, when we see Arno climbing the Eiffel Tower in Nazi occupied Paris, which is one of the most spectacular features of the game. These are called Rift missions, and they offer a welcome diversion from the main narrative.

Unity at times can also feel like a step back for the franchise. I loved the huge open world, and sea-based gameplay of Black Flag and Rogue which felt so fresh and exciting. There’s none of it in Unity, with the action entirely landlocked, aside from a river for you to swim across. It’s a real shame because the game feels more confined and doesn’t quite work, feeling overly familiar and despite the improved graphics, doesn’t really bring anything new to the franchise as you’re still playing with a similar weapons-based system.

However, despite the many issues presented in Unity, it remains a decent game and there are fun elements that keep it entertaining throughout and even if the story is weak, there are some missions here and there that were enjoyable and it was fun to watch Arno move his way through the French Revolution. With Syndicate on the horizon things look as though they can only get better, so hopefully this is a sign of greater things to come. There’s enough potential here to inject new life into the yearly Assassins Creed series.


Assassin’s Creed Series in Order: Assassin’s Creed, Assassin’s Creed II, Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood, Assassin’s Creed Revelations, Assassin’s Creed III, Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, Assassin’s Creed Rogue, Assassin’s Creed Unity

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