Assassin’s Creed Unity challenges what we’ve come to know about the series. Ubisoft did some major feature changes while only adjusting the core mechanics that have made the series famous. However, the final product still feels like your typical Assassin’s Creed.

Video Game Inception

If you’ve played previous Assassin’s Creed games, you were Desmond Miles, a modern day Assassin who used the Animus to read his DNA and replay his ancestor’s lives in order to find artifacts. Through Desmond you became Altaïr, Ezio and Connor, each time trying to get your hands on the Pieces of Eden before the Templars. In Black Flag, you played a face-less game developer employee who was recently hired by Abstergo Entertainment (spoiler: they are the Templars) to create historical games by reading your DNA and reliving your ancestors lives. While you play Edward the Pirate, Assassins con you into leaking them valuable data. In ACU, you play a gamer who just booted Abstergo’s Helix console (read: mass market Animus) to chill and play some games when Assassins hack their way into your game. Turns out, you have the right DNA to sync with Arno and they need your help. You agree and your game takes on a whole new quest.

Does this all matter? Eh. I think it’s mostly an excuse for Assassin’s Creed titles to distance themselves from simulation and get back to a more video game type setting. You’ll notice this when looking at the menus, the character customization option, how the tutorial pop up and how the mysterious Assassin who hacked your game interacts with you. Let’s face it, the bulk of the AC experience is in the historical setting anyway. So let’s go to Paris, shall we? I hear it’s a riot in this time period.

Them graphics though

Assassin’s Creed Unity is an Xbox One, PS4 and PC only release which means they went balls to the walls with the graphics. I could tell you how great they are, but you can see for yourself (click on the image to zoom in):

Anro and Elise - Assassin's Creed Unity Screenshot © Ubisoft

Anro and Elise – Assassin’s Creed Unity Screenshot © Ubisoft

That’s an in-game screenshot! Look at the leather texture on her should pad. Look at her facial expression. LOOK AT IT! Add to that a great performance from the actors and I’m sold! This is not only the best looking Assassin’s Creed yet, it’s one of the best looking games out right now.

Play your way

Although this game remains true to the Assassin’s Creed experience, ACU is by far the most open gaming experience in the series. First, there’s now a skill tree. Although the skills are nothing we haven’t seen in previous titles, you can invest in those you actually use. Every piece of equipment now has stats like boots that have noise reduction for better sneaking. I went with a stealth and ranged build, investing in skills like lockpicking and and buffing my ghost blade and gear with noise reduction, improved eagle vision range and duration and a large carrying capacity for consumables. I must admit, I was expecting a much more sophisticated skill and equipment system like we’ve seen in other Ubisoft franchises (Far Cry 3, for example) but it’s a good start. I appreciated being able to chose which skill I can unlock first rather than waiting for the game to give it to me.

Customization - Assassin's Creed Unity Screenshot © Ubisoft

Customization – Assassin’s Creed Unity Screenshot © Ubisoft

Missions aren’t as linear anymore. The game will suggest to you different courses of action but which avenue you actually take, is up to you. Will you hunt for a secret entrance? Will you pick open a locked window or gate? Will you pickpocket the key from guard? Do you have the opportunity to create a diversion? Will you kill the guards or avoid them? It’s all up to you.

12 guards? No problem.. OH GOD I’M DEAD!

Crowd control just got much harder. Short of chain dropping smoke bombs, you’ll find yourself quickly overwhelmed by enemies and a depleted health bar. Remember, what you wear matters now! So if you’re still early in the game and you’re running around in a white cotton shirt, a single bullet will kill you. Upgrade your equipment, spend your skill points, manage the crowd and for the love of god, sneak. If you want to go balls to the walls melee, you’ll need to invest in the right gear and abilities as you progress in the game.

I can crouch? FINALLY!

You’d think this is a must have for any stealth game but nope, this is the first time this feature is implemented in the franchise. Before, you had to rely on your character automatically crouching when entering a bush or automatically covering when approaching a wall. I’ve sometimes struggled with such mechanics, unwillingly leaving or entering cover. Now, you hold a trigger to crouch and move about silently and press a button to enter, leave and swap cover. Amazing right? Meh. Although I feel I have better control over my Assassin, the cover mechanics feel clunky and aren’t nearly as good as in Splinter’s Cell. Just Swapping cover can be a pain. I personally rarely use it and get by mostly by crouching.

Another late newcomer to the franchise is lockpicking. Again, this feature is quite simple and almost random, but it’s nice thought. I’m really hoping to see it improved in future games.

Assassin's Creed Unity Lockpicking - Gif made with in-game footage

Assassin’s Creed Unity Lockpicking – Gif made with in-game footage

Parkour to you!

Free running sees yet another tweak in order to become true parkour: hold down the trigger to free run as usual but hold a button (A on Xbox) to go over objects or do a long distance jump or hold another (B on Xbox) to slide under objects or do a controlled descent. Once I got used to the new controls, I found my free run sequences to be much smoother and organic. After an hour of gameplay, I was running through Paris like I was in a Bourne movie. Speaking of which…

Paris is your playground. All of it!

Holy gigantic map, Batman! ACU’s Paris is larger than all the land masses in Black Flag put together. Unlock those fast travel points folks, you’re gonna need them! The best part is that you can finally go inside and out of buildings. Not an automatic run sequence like in AC3, but actual open buildings you can walk in and out of, freely. In fact, interiors are an intricate part of the gameplay. Use Eagle Vision to find your target. If he’s inside a building, on which floor is he? Where are the guards and how are they patrolling? How do I get in? Through the window, through the balcony door or even the front entrance? You’ll find a lot of missions will require some reckon.

Paris Rooftop - Assassin's Creed Unity Screenshot © Ubisoft

Paris Rooftop – Assassin’s Creed Unity Screenshot © Ubisoft

And what would a visit to Paris be without seeing it’s famous Catacombs? There’s a whole system of underground tunnels for you to explore and who knows, maybe you’ll find a secret entrance that will give you an edge for a future mission. This is a step away from previous AC titles and the recently released Watch Dogs which felt more like a facade, not in an actual city.

Goodbye Multiplayer, hello co-op!

The challenging but repetitive multiplayer has been replaced by a co-op mode. Form your club, invite your friends and tackle the 7 hours of co-op missions. I honestly much prefer cooperative online play versus competitive so I’ll definitely be tackling those with my Girls on Games crew.

Friends who stick together, Air Assassinate together - Gif made with in-game footage

Friends who stick together, Air Assassinate together – Gif made with in-game footage

The return of the load screen

As vast and sophisticated is ACU’s Paris, it comes at a price: a long load… Not just an initial load on launch, but in game as well. Black Flag spoiled us with minimal in-game loading. I just don’t have the patience to stare at an animated logo loop for more than a few seconds.

So? Should I get it?

If you’re expecting a different experience from previous AC titles, this isn’t for you. If you’re a fan of the series like me and just want to keep evolving in that universe, you’ll love it. For me, Assassin’s Creed Unity is a solid contender for best in the series but is not quite there yet. I think Ubisoft does a great job of balancing new features without compromising what fans love about these games. However, it’s still has ways to go to compete with full blown stealth games like Deus Ex and Splinter’s Cell. I like what I saw in ACU but a lot of it felt incomplete or too toned down. I really hope to see these features improved in the next one.

Hey Ubisoft, on the top of my wishlist for the next AC is online co-op seamlessly integrated in the main campaign. Please and thank you 🙂

Assassin’s Creed Unity is available now for Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and PC.