I’ve started playing Assassin’s Creed: Unity, and oh boy do I love it. There’s a lot to say – I’m only really seven or eight hours in, and I’ve already got three articles to write, so buckle up for a buttload of Unity. There’s a long list of things that I’m specifically not going to talk about, and we’ll get to those in a minute. But first, my very subjective opinion: Assassin’s Creed: Unity feels like the first true Creed game since AC: Brotherhood in 2010. And I think I know why.
If you’re a fan of the series, you’ll be familiar with the progression from AC1 through Brotherhood. AC1 is the flawed originator, AC2 is the more cinematic successor, and Brotherhood is where the series really starts to spread its wings. But then Revelations happened. Personally, Revelations felt like a lacklustre repackaging of Brotherhood. There weren’t really any major advances, unless you count the hook that let you climb higher up buildings (and I mean what the fuck was that, seriously). Then AC3, which was generally badly received; AC4: Black Flag, which was well received but kinda in the same way that Kanye’s Yeezus was well received. It’s a good album, but if you’re used to gospel-Kanye, used to “Gold Digger” or “Stronger” or “Good Life” Kanye, it’s a bit of a shock to discover Nine-Inch-Nails-inspired minimalist electro Kanye. It’s good, but you’re also like what the fuck is going on. And then AC: Rogue, which was built in a year and feels like the worst parts of AC4 strung together, and AC: Unity, which… shit, it’s just really good.
There’s a graph linked to me by a friend, and it goes a fair way towards explaining some of these feelings. It’s a simplified representation of the design process, but in broad strokes it shows how different AC games were built by different core teams.
We can see immediately why AC1 through Brotherhood feel like one developing core team – they pretty much are. Revelations was built in a year by a team largely new to the project, which makes sense; AC3 was made in complete isolation from both of those teams (also makes sense); and Black Flag is where the series starts to pick up again – although as noted, it seems to have no relationship to the original three games. This again makes sense – as it turns out, there’s not a fuck of a lot of connection with the core team for the first three games. And then Rogue, which was pumped out in a year and feels like DLC, and… Unity. Six years of development (four from the original trilogy team, two from a secondary team), and we’re back on track with a game that feels like a real return to the series. I’ve suggested from my few hours playing that Unity might be the best game since Brotherhood. I’ve also suggested that if it keeps up the pace it started with, it might even be the best to date. Well, best at the time of release, I mean. I haven’t played Syndicate or Origins, but you’ll notice that Origins has been well received and also took several years to develop. Who’d have thought it.
Anyway, so that’s my subjective opinion out of the way. I’m obviously coming to this game four years late – it came out in 2014, and I’ve only just started it now. The timing means that my opinions will also be slanted in a few ways. I never had to deal with the bugs on release, the huge patches, the ridiculous faces – none of that existed in my sphere at the time, and it doesn’t impact my gameplay now. There are a few little silly glitches I’ve seen – a woman walking straight into, up, over, and down the other side of a carriage, for instance – but by and large I haven’t seen anything like this:
Oh, Ubisoft. I’m also familiar with the stoush about female character models, and again, not really going to talk about it. Old story, nothing new for me to add. There are a couple notes I’d like to make quickly on improvements that I’ve noticed and things that are stupid, and then we’re going to move on to actual topics next week.
- The combat system has been cleaned up a bunch. They got rid of the counter-kill (at least in my early stage of the game), so you can parry a bitch, but then you have to hit him with your sword to make him die. It’s not a one-click wonder – it’s much more similar to the Arkham or Shadow of Mordor systems, in that sense.
- Dodging is also more important. This was always one of the worst things about the original trilogy – you were basically unkillable from the very start. Here, hoes will shoot at you, and you need to dodge out the way or get shot. To that end, the dodge has been turned into a roll, which makes it great for maneuvering between enemies – again, similar to Arkham or Shadow of Mordor, although it hasn’t gone full vault-over-your-enemies. At least not yet.
- The zoom out when you synchronize holy moly never knew I could feel like this. Actually, here’s a funny point of reference – compare the zoom-out-and-around sync reward photo from above with this comparison in AC3:
Things That Are Stupid:
- The game is still engulfed in corporate culture. I don’t want to rate your missions, and I don’t want to see my gamer tag on-screen for the entire game. I don’t care about Abstergo Entertainment. Stop comparing your parent company to the villains of your game.
- Similarly, there’s sometimes too much of the interface popping up on the screen. It’s all very well having little bits and pieces – maybe a minimap, and a health bar, okay – but Unity has pop-ups literally climbing over each other to get your attention (see image below).
- Lastly, and this is a very minor gripe – why is the crossbow rebranded as the ‘Phantom Blade’? It’s stupid and it makes me think of Metal Gear Solid. That’s anachronistic, because this came out a year earlier, but fuck it, this is how reception theory works. You have to anticipate things that haven’t happened yet.
More to come on Unity next week. Thanks for slogging through the warm-up.