Assassin’s Creed Unity, the seventh main entry in the series, and the first developed exclusively for the latest generation of consoles, showcases some great next-generation graphics, a compelling story, and engaging missions in one of the most immersive sandboxes in the business. But can the core gameplay do them justice?
Set against the backdrop of The French Revolution, Unity follows a new Assassin, Arno Dorian, and his Templar love interest, Elise, as they attempt to resolve a murder mystery, unravel a Templar conspiracy, and try to get over each others’ major ideological hangups. The story is full of unique characters and great writing, and is bolstered by excellent acting and animation. Characters’ faces are more lifelike than ever before, and every detail is fully realized, even their eyes (which avoid looking too glassy or dead-eyed) and their hair, which is among the best yet seen in a videogame.
While exploring a massive and densely packed version of 1780s Paris, Arno can choose to follow the storyline or attempt a myriad of side missions, many of which include online cooperative multiplayer. Co-op allows up to four players (though many are limited to two) to tackle certain missions as a team. These excursions are just as varied as any of the single player offerings, though the “mission control” narration both streamlines the narrative and shuttles the players to their objectives for more expedient pacing.
Despite the immersive city, great story, and fun multiplayer, the major crack in the Assassin’s Creed armor has always been its gameplay, which, while serviceable, always took a backseat to the atmosphere and story. This time around, the failure to fix those cracks for its debut on PS4 serves to greatly exacerbate them. Freerunning feels the same as always, but there were simply too many times when I’d jump in the wrong direction, or when Arno would refuse to jump at all, preferring to stand on a waist-high fence in broad daylight so that every guard could see him.
The game’s other, far more damaging weakness, was supposed to be its greatest strength: the emphasis on stealth. Older AC titles were ultimately more about hacking and slashing your way through missions, which was fine. Combat was fast and fun, and stealth was a pretense, but rarely necessary or encouraged. This time around, an attempt is made to flip the script; combat is made the less attractive option by way of making it extremely difficult, which would be fine, if stealth was as fun as combat used to be in previous games. In theory, all the tools of effective stealth gameplay are there: the ability to see enemies through walls and move silently, to manually aim silenced projectile weapons, and, at long last, a crouch button. Unfortunately, the unpolished, often frustrating movement and tactical mechanics and occasional hyper-intelligence of enemies leads to detection by no fault of your own, as well as a camera that too often gets in the way, especially when indoors. These problems aren’t as crippling online, where you and your buddies can coordinate smoke bombs for a quick escape or fight your way out, but by yourself, it simply gets annoying. Basically, despite sharing a publisher, Unity can’t hold a candle to Splinter Cell: Blacklist.
Assassin’s Creed Unity’s focus on a dense and realistic open world sandbox is a resounding success, but it ultimately fails at refining its aging mechanics, many of which feel less functional than in previous games. It’s still a solid entry for fans of the series and its mythology, and the cooperative missions dilute many of the game’s problems, but it’s much more of a baby step for the franchise than the giant next-gen leap we were hoping for.
Final score: 7/10.