Assassin’s Creed Unity Review – One Step Forward, Two Steps Back, Now Stuck in Cover

Finished?: Yes
Play date: January, 2015
Note: I put this off for a while because of uni, so I forgot to record play time and specific dates, my bad.

 

I know I’m late to the party, but I didn’t get a next-gen (hate that word, but nobody uses the actual generation numbers) console until January, so sue me. But because of that, I think I can go into Unity judging it on its merits. I’d heard about all the bugs, the frame rate and the unfortunate implications concerning gender. I knew the problems, but hey, as long as I got new mocap for the protagonist and the fluid gameplay from previous games, I could look past those problems, right? No.

The key to the Assassin’s Creed series, for me, has always been the sense of fluidity. This was at its best in Black Flag, wherein you could seamlessly move around the environment, kill people, and loot chests very quickly and cleanly. III should’ve been even better at this, but the new engine just couldn’t handle it. Still, the evolution was clear – players had more freedom. You could assassinate your targets with any weapon, you could quickly dash up the side of buildings, every kind of assassination was quick and prioritised maintaining Connor’s momentum. It all just worked so well…

acu-gi-02_147186
This is the game at its best – Standing still and not moving

Gameplay


Unity says ‘fuck you’ to all of that, with Arno taking his sweet time with any kind of assassination. Oh, and he’s a picky bastard as well. since an assassination only counts if you use the Hidden Blade… for some reason. Seriously, I stabbed a lady in the head with a spear and she just got knocked to the ground until I could defeat the guards (you can’t assassinate if anyone is ‘red’). Seriously, why? Hell, air and double assassinations are now upgrades… Guys, Edward just knew how to do those… Seriously? The skill system overall, while nice to have for a sense of progression, is just bad. Arno is so stupid that he needs a skill in order to blend between two people on a bench… I could do that. So much for our badass assassin. The air and double assassinations are also picky, since you have to be in just the right position for them to even work. It somehow feels worse than II, which was the first game that had double assassinations. Seriously, III was lenient about this, letting me double assassinate easily. Here, just stupid.

Hell, everything is finnicky. The cover system now… exists. Instead of just dynamically entering cover, you now stick to it, and can even crouch… Except now stalking zones are gone (wouldn’t make much sense in the setting, but gameplay wise, I miss them) and the cover system is too sticky, with Arno taking too long to enter and exit. Hell, he can’t even cover-turn, you have to exit and re-enter just to get around a corner! Gears of War fixed that years ago! How are you getting it wrong?!

The combat is incredibly sluggish as well, and for some reason it feels like a bad version of The
Witcher 2
. And there’s an odd glitch that has enemy health bars (yay, those nonsensical things return…) disappear. And it happens frequently enough to be really noticeable. There’s also a frequent glitch where Arno won’t be able to attack. But the combat overall feels slow and not efficient in any way.

Enemies in general are wildly different in terms of intelligence. When ti comes to combat, they are pretty difficult at higher levels and if you’re not well-equipped… but in stealth, they will completely derp out the instant you enter cover, allowing you to cover kill them. Messing with them with the ‘last known location’ mechanic is fun however.

Another new addition is a lockpicking minigame that’s just… bad. Why? Hell, chests in general suck. So much for momentum, Arno takes his sweet-ass time looting them, because we have to show people we have teh budgets! And the benefit of opening chests just isn’t there, since the good chests are tied to the companion app (requirements have since been removed).

Oh, and yes, the microtransactions are horrible and I swear they altered the feed of new gear to make them more enticing. The companion app chests are annoying as well. I mean, if you absolutely had to use this system, could you at least make the chests not appear unless I unlocked them?

The enigma riddles are nice, but they aren’t as fun as the riddles in the Arkham series. I dunno, there are too many for how difficult they are. They’re decently challenging until they really amp up, but I like the idea. The downside is the reward you get is essentially a skin. It looks cool, but it’s just not worth it. IF this waqs a Batman game and it unlocked some uber skin, that would be better, but that’s because it’d probably be more awesome. Like, Damian Wayne Batman or something… Or Jason Todd Batman… how about all of the Batmen on the covers for Battle for the Cowl?

The murder mysteries are also interesting, and I’d like to see these continue. Essentially you become Batman (hint hint, Rocksteady, put this in Arkham Knight) and solve crimes and stuff. However, the first one you do has a very obvious solution and I kept thinking it was too obvious… no, it was just really obvious. Not much to say, they’re interesting, but I wouldn’t mind them being gone. I dunno, I kinda want more movement…

Which is why Ubi put in these “rifts”, essentially an excuse to visit different settings. They’re there just for you to grind money, which you probably will need to do, but they’re fun. Particularly because there aren’t any crowds in these rifts, so the frame rate generally holds up. I just wish there was more variety in them. I think there are about three different maps, and they are fun, I just want more.

Performance note: It seems that Unity was designed to look good and nothing else. Being in-motion tanks the frame rate, ruining any sense of fluidity and freedom. God forbid you aren’t on a roof, because those giant crowds, while adding to the setting, take a huge toll on the game engine. This game was made for screenshots.

Story

ACU_Arno_Dorian_render
The most boring, committee-designed fucker I’ve ever played!

Speaking of Arno, the guy is absolutely dull. He’s so commitee-designed it’s astounding. Pretty boy

nobleman with dead assassin daddy? Yeah, Ezio’s rolling in his grave. Alcoholic you even play drunk for a scene? Eeward did it better. His love interest, the Templar Elise, is about a million times more interesting and likeable, but we’re stuck with this douche, who never learned to keep his priorities straight.

Oh, and quick point – All the French people sound fucking English, because… Well, Ubi says it’s because the Animus thingie is converting it or something… then why didn’t it do that with anything else? Why does Arno still use some French phrases that my Xbone can translate yet the Animus can’t? I think, with the benefit of hindsight, that it’s more likely so that they can re-use a lot of the assets for Assassin’s Creed: Victory. Also, because Americans seemingly hate French people with a passion, and you could lose some buyers. Not much I’d wager, but still.

Graphics

Unity‘s character models look a lot better than those in previous games, particularly actual named characters.

hqdefault
Elise be pretty (also, why the fuck is it so hard to find a good picture of her? Look at the resolution!)

The city looks better, especially the lighting, but there is a load of pop-in, literally right in front of you sometimes. Still, without the crowds, it does look nice, and is a good recreation of Revolutionary Paris. But trade-off between graphics and performance just isn’t worth it to me.

In the end, it feels like Unity had zero QA. On paper, it sounds fucking amazing, but in practice it makes so many missteps that the good is vastly outweighed by the bad. Every design choice has some kind of negative result. Crowds add to immersion and story but ruin performance which in turn ruins gameplay. Cover makes things more tactical, which means it’s worse when it fails to work well. Fighting is amde deeper, but glitches and framerate drops make it absurdly difficult at times.

Originally published here on the 12th of April, 2015

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