Imagine you have the recipe for an amazing cake. You’ve made cakes before and they turned out pretty good. But this time, you put the cake in the oven and then take it out way before it’s done. You coat it with frosting and dash on some sprinkles so it looks pretty, but in the end it should have stayed in the oven for longer.
That’s pretty much “Assassin’s Creed Unity”.
“Unity” is the first release of the yearly franchise to come out exclusively on the new-gen consoles. Seeing as last year’s “Black Flag” was arguably one of the best in the series (which now totals eight games including “Unity” and the old-gen only “Rogue”) and having the ability to harness all that the new hardware is capable of, “Unity” could have, and should have, been fantastic. Instead it is a pretty good game that is beautiful to look at, but often frustrating to play.
Let’s start with the campaign. Set in the midst of the French Revolution, you play as Arno Dorian. Like pretty much every other Assassin in the series, Arno joins the Assassin Brotherhood because his father figure is murdered and the Assassins take him in. Arno is a pretty fun character; he is sarcastic and witty, and at the same time charming. There were a few lines he has throughout the story that actually made me laugh. All the historical characters you meet along the way, including Napoleon and Robespierre, are as fun and interesting as usual.
The campaign itself is pretty standard AC stuff. In true “Forrest Gump” style, you are almost always in the right place at the right time to experience a major historical event (oh, how convenient Arno gets imprisoned just a few weeks before the Storming of the Bastille!). However, unlike previous games, the Revolution setting takes a backseat to Arno’s quest for revenge and his (borderline creepy) romance with his adoptive sister. I wasn’t a fan of this as the whole reason we play Assassin’s Creed games is to visit in another time period, not watch the life of a single person who lived during it.
“Unity” is more customizable and less hand-holding that any other AC game, and it really works. On top of simply buying better weapons or outfits, you can now mix and match what you’re going to run around the streets of Paris in, and every outfit gives your different abilities and skills.
Main assassination missions are now a sandbox; the game simply gives you the target and that’s it. By doing various side tasks (such as stealing keys or starting a riot) you change what kind of opportunities you have to make the kill. I loved this aspect, and it increases the game’s replay value.
The combat system has changed from the previous two installments, and is now similar to that of ACII and Brotherhood, with the addition of a parry button. For the most part, this works. In previous AC games, no matter how many enemies surrounded you, you knew you were going to win because you could just wait to counter them all. In “Unity” the parrying system makes it more difficult to take on big crowds because you actually have to time your button mashing.
Online has changed and no longer has team deathmatch or player-versus-player modes. Instead you do missions, which is sometimes fun, at other times annoying; it’s pretty much “GTA V” online just set in Paris and with less team-killing. You carry over all the weapons and skills from the campaign, so you rely on your teammates to accomplish different things. Trouble occurs when one player in the game doesn’t have a mic, or no one in you group has a skill needed to complete an objective. The game doesn’t alert you prior as to what skills are needed, so in one instance I played through 20 minutes of a mission only having to end up quitting because no one in my game had the proper lockpick skill. Still, many of the missions are fun and a change of pace from single player.
The biggest problem with “Unity” is nothing to do with the gameplay or story, but with its design. Never before have I seen a game go from beautiful and life-like in one frame to nausea-inducing and glitchy in the next. I’m going to be honest: I have no idea how this game got greenlit for release. There were countless times I fell through the map, couldn’t make my way through the crowds of people, or saw a man on a roof shining the shoe of a guy who was on the street sitting in a chair that wasn’t there. One time I hit a guard with my pitchfork and he flew a hundred feet. Now I’m not an expert, but I don’t think any human possesses that much upper body strength.
“Assassin’s Creed Unity” is arguably among the weakest of the franchise, but I would be lying if I said I didn’t have a blast while playing it. It is for the most part a gorgeous game, with stunning recreations of real world events and structures, like the Notre Dame Cathedral. The game’s biggest flaw is that they forced the release of a product that never should have seen the light of day in its current state. The glitches and drops in frame rate really can get annoying, and at times directly affect your enjoyment of the game. “Unity” is in no way a bad game, and at times it is a great game in both scale and execution, but it is a bit of a letdown considering its historical setting and new generation capabilities.