Unity paints a beautiful (if maudlin and a little bit shallow) picture.
Revolutionary France. Disgruntled peasants choke both narrow streets and sprawling plazas with burning effigies and rousing chants. Scenery ranges from gorgeous, plush architecture to the dirty, dark depths of poverty, and it’s hard not to be taken in by the sheer scale. Wander through the streets and you’ll see a painstakingly recreated Paris that, in terms of appearance at least, is more alive than any locale the franchise has visited so far. Take to the rooftops, and you’ll see the map spread all around you in all its decaying glory, with a vast expanse of urban territory to be explored and plundered. Synchronising has never felt so impressive – scaling a 1:1 representation of Notre Dame only to plunge headfirst into the yawning streets below as the waiting haystack waits to swallow you induces just as much excitement as it does vertigo. One of my favourite moments was early on in the story; when new Assassin Arno and his mentor make a dramatic escape during the storming of the Bastille – Arno remarks on the impossibility of surviving a jump and his mentor replies “Impossible is a perk of being an assassin”.
This is easily the most cinematic entry in the series thus far – and the darkest. Even Unity’s overarching love story is a doomed one (Boy meets girl, girl becomes a Templar, boy is indirectly responsible for her father’s death, becomes an asssassin, that old chestnut) and ultimately any theme of hope and love is stomped over by the incessant need for revenge. Arno initially has a lot of promise – he’s much in the vein of Ezio in his early days, full of mischief, a little brash, a little stupid, but a keen killer who doesn’t always act according to the titular creed. He dangerously flouts the rules of the brotherhood, picking his own targets, killing without permission, and works side by side with a Templar for most of the game. There was a lot of room for growth with him that Ubisoft sadly never fully explore, and Arno, much like the city he roams, is an incredibly promising prospect at first that quickly becomes shallow and faceless. Most of what makes Arno interesting is just left completely and utterly untouched.
You’ve heard all about the bugs by now, and yes, in my time with the game leading up to launch, there were plenty. Abnormally long loading times, faceless characters, infinitely falling through the floor, and even one or two total system crashes. A few patches have dropped since which seems to have stemmed the tide, but the framerate still remains a prevalent issue. It frequently drops into an unpleasant speed, and occasionally drops right into downright unplayable, damaging and downgrading some otherwise breathtaking moments. This generation of consoles is still new territory and it’s entirely understandable that Ubisoft have bitten off more than they could chew. One of Unity’s most impressive moments, without a shadow of a doubt, is hunting out a single target in a crowd of literally thousands of people, spreading off in every direction. The amount of NPCs gathered is astonishing, but as you weave through the crowd and the framerate stutters, it becomes painfully obvious that the scale might not be worth the accompanying performance issues.
Much of the game is visually stunning and intensely stylish, with a level of brutality and viciousness that most of the other assassins have stayed their blades from, but the story missions boil down to fetch quests spotted with the odd assassination mission (which have, refreshingly, been revamped). The assassinations now allow you to scout the area beforehand, creating opportunities for yourself and discovering ways to infiltrate and distract. I loved being able to explore unique murder opportunities like poisoning wine or covering chimney grates to smoke out guards, but there isn’t a spectacular amount of choice on offer. It’s satisfying, but not quite as developed as it could be – which is true for the game as a whole, really.
Side activities are an endless procession of collectibles, giving you a very large space with lots of meaningless crap dotted around and no real reason to go and get any of it. Sure, you can unlock new gear, but most of it requires successful connectivity with the Unity companion app – which has had an equally troubled launch, rendering a decent portion of its content inaccessible. There are several chests and items you just can’t access without the app which seems like a brutal way of keeping content hidden behind a paywall. Which brings me onto my largest gripe with Unity.
From the very start you’re constantly reminded that you can ‘hack’ upgrades and purchases with Helix Points – which can, conveniently enough, be purchased for real money. Earning in-game money is excruciating and upgrades and gear purchases make massive dents in your wallet. It seems like a cheap shot at monetising a triple AAA game which really has no place for it. It’s an underhanded move and doesn’t speak volumes of promise for future entries into the series.
As for the much-hyped co-op, it’s nothing to write home about. There’s not much joy to be found in the co-op missions and the most entertaining part of the new mode are the heist missions which actively reward stealth – the more you’re seen, the less you get paid at the end. I didn’t get to play as much of the multiplayer as I would have liked due to one of Unity’s launch bugs being some extreme matchmaking issues – but it doesn’t look likely to keep me away from my other multiplayer mainstays just yet.
Ultimately, Unity is very shiny, and extremely technically promising, but there are some grievous issues plaguing that promise. A beautiful, vast environment filled with stuff and yet not one good reason to explore it. It breaks my heart.
If you’re on the fence about it, I would recommend waiting a few months until the bugs are hopefully ironed out and it can deliver a more fluid AC experience. If not… well, see you next year, Ubisoft.
Disclaimer:All scores given within our reviews are based on the artist’s personal opinion; this should in no way impede your decision to purchase the game.