Assassin’s Creed Unity is the first title in the series built specifically for the more advanced hardware of this generation’s consoles rather than upgraded a bit from the version released on the PS3 and Xbox 360. As happens with console transitions, this game drops some of the fun diversions from last year’s game in favor of focusing on the franchise’s core gameplay mechanics, providing plenty of satisfying stealth and action sequences in a lively rendition of Paris during the French Revolution.
Like most Assassin’s Creed games, the story and characters in Unity serve as a thin setup for assassinating the game’s villains in cool set piece events at the end of each chapter. Relationships aren’t given enough time to connect, so betrayal and intrigue don’t come as a shock. The protagonist is roguish but not particularly charming or great at justifying his actions, giving off some serious Anakin Skywalker vibes when he disagrees with the leaders of the Assassins.
In between short cut scenes of Assassins and Templars plotting against each other in ways somewhat related to what’s going on in Paris, Unity has you kill lots of baddies. Sometimes you do so stealthily, plotting out well-timed routes to sneak up on enemies from behind. Other times, you kind of just stab and shoot your way through crowds until you escape an area or survive for a set amount of time.
While not quite as quick and responsive the recent Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor, combat in Unity gets points for variety. You can buy a fairly wide range of short and long physical weapons that can swing quick or hard; the same is true for the selection of guns. I found fighting rather difficult with the weapons available early in the game, but I suspect that’s why healing medicine is a common drop from enemies.
The free-running and stealth portions are fun but can become extremely frustrating when your character catches on something that generally doesn’t slow you down.
Paris in Unity is sprawling and densely populated. Running around the city on the streets or the rooftops, you see many famous landmarks as well as differentiated shops and homes. The randomly generated pedestrians are varied enough in behavior that you usually don’t see two characters doing the same thing in crowds of dozens. Thanks to extra horsepower in more recent consoles, you can also see more detail at greater distances than in previous games.
Parents of twelve-year-olds begging for this on the grounds that it will teach them history: nope. The game hits all the right notes (people rioting outside palace gates, lots of flag-waving, and a young Napolean) but like the rest of the story, the connections to the French Revolution are sparse. Characters are mostly voiced by actors using a vaguely British accent, because that’s how all European people sound I guess. Hey, what do you want, they have to make one of these every year!
In addition to the main story, there are also plenty of side missions as well as cooperative online multiplayer assassinations you can play with friends or strangers. These skip the cut scenes altogether, putting you on quick fetch quests or short assassinations. You don’t need to play through them to enjoy the game, though they do make it a lot easier to unlock more powerful weapons. If you’re seriously into Assassin’s Creed, you can also connect your smartphone to Ubisoft’s Uplay service to unlock content in the main game.
Assassin’s Creed Unity is a solid step onto the newer generations of consoles. Fans of the series who just want more of the same thing should enjoy their new sandbox, but those who have never found the series to be their cup of tea probably won’t find much to change their mind.