Assassin’s Creed: Unity – Is it Doing Enough?

by on June 24, 2014

I hate to be negative, I really do. For me, games are about fun before anything else. I love the industry and I love getting excited over flashy trailers, AAA reveals and innovative indie upstarts. I can’t stand naysayers, haters and trolls who set out to ruin another person’s day, or put something down just because it’s an easy target or they’re having a bad day.

But, that being said, I have to be totally honest about something. I may have to whisper it, or draw it in the sand and brush it away afterwards, or deliver it via a self-destructing ear-piece a la Mission Impossible, because it’s bound to upset someone.

I’m not entirely blown away by Assassin’s Creed: Unity.

Please, don’t aim for the face!

Jokes aside, I do have my reasons, and they are perfectly sound. I’ve been a fan of Assassin’s Creed since the original release in 2007 and have since owned and played every successive console title. I haven’t finished them all (I didn’t particularly enjoy III), but I’ve played more than my share of Assassin’s Creed games in the last seven years, it’s safe to say.

For me, the only one that really broke the mould was Black Flag. More a pirate game with assassins than the other way around, Edward Kenway’s seafaring adventure was thrilling and expansive and downright gorgeous all at once, and the ship-to-ship battles and huge, open world elevated it far above what had gone before; in my opinion, even farther than fan-favourite Assassin’s Creed II.

However, if there was one strong negative over which to criticise Black Flag (and many did, myself included) it’s that the mechanics have barely changed since Altair’s odyssey marked the beginning of Desmond Miles’ story in the first game. The huge technical and visual leap between the first and second game was considered close enough to innovation for some, but for others this was simply the beginning of the end of Ubisoft’s true creativity – because this is the point where the French outfit started to recycle their own ideas without prejudice.

Which brings me to the Assassin’s Creed: Unity gameplay reveal. There just isn’t that much that looks new. Aside the obvious inclusion of four-player co-op, the mechanics are largely unchanged. The addition of a dedicated stealth mode is a no-brainer that should have been included from day one, but judging by the gameplay videos I’ve seen, it doesn’t look like it makes all that much difference. You’ve always been able to sneak around in the Assassin’s Creed games, but it still looks like you don’t have the option to plan and execute an assassination without causing collateral damage and noise. If the new stealth mode amounts to nothing more than a new way to eavesdrop before every single mission, I’d rather do without it.

The assassination of the target in the four-player demo is as sloppily improvised as they always are in Assassin’s Creed. We see the lead player stealthily approaching a group of guardsmen in the upper corridor of a huge mansion. Soon he is joined by three other players, all dressed in slightly varying clothing, and they proceed to make their way to an upper gallery, silently murdering all the guards they meet along the way. Having spotted the target, instead of opting to use stealth mode and dropping down to blend in with the crowd, they instead decide it would be best to leap into the middle of it all and start murdering everyone but their target. Obviously it makes the stage demo more exciting, but is it actually indicative of how Unity will play? I hope not.

Once again, there seems to be very little planning and finesse involved. With four players in tandem, it should be possible to fully orchestrate a completely inconspicuous murder, perhaps with one player responsible for the kill and the other players providing cover or distractions elsewhere. While it’s fun to improvise when a failed attempt at stealth descends into pandemonium, it would be even cooler if, just once, Assassin’s Creed would let you be the silent badass it pretends you can be.

I have concerns over the setting, too. A romanticised European city in the midst of rebellion is hardly new ground for the franchise, and it’s going to have to work bloody hard, even as a current-gen exclusive, to topple Black Flag as the most beautiful Creed game ever seen. Ubisoft have teased ancient China and feudal Japan in the past, and the community has always been vocal about where they’d like to see a game set to move away from the familiar, yet here we are in revolutionary France.

Adding a four-player co-op mode is great, sure, and would be even greater if it didn’t detract from what makes the franchise so enjoyable for many (the lone wolf mentality of the assassins). Also, those people who struggle to find four people on their friends list who want to play co-op will either have to play with strangers, or miss out altogether on the new major selling point, because really, outside the co-operative play, there doesn’t appear to be a lot of new stuff at all.

As for the new parkour elements like targeted falling, I have to ask: is it really necessary? Did anyone play the other games and think “it would be really cool if I could fall off stuff in a more stylized way?” Maybe I’m being facetious, but it seems like the best way to do something really new with this franchise is to take it away from flouncy European and American history, away from muskets and flintlocks and revolutions and aim for a whole new look, a whole new approach. Why does every assassin move the same, dress the same, use the same weapons? Why not jump forward to Victorian London and introduce vehicles and era-specific technology? Why not go back even further and explore China and Japan, Dark Ages Britain, the Viking conquest – something that presents a world different to the frilly-sleeved pomp of every game since the first one?

It begs the question: Is Ubisoft really doing enough to make Assassin’s Creed: Unity stand out this year, not only among other franchises but among other games within its own franchise? To me, there simply isn’t enough there besides a smattering of new mechanics and a lick of new-gen paint. Black Flag at least innovated with its ship-battles and gorgeous Caribbean setting, but Unity just isn’t showing enough to get me truly excited yet.

Assassin’s Creed: Unity will be available on October 21st for PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC.