Sometimes it only takes a day, a day, for all your hard work to fall apart. You work for years to craft something perfect, and within a day it lies in tatters on the floor, tainted for the rest of its lifetime. That is probably how the developers of Assassin’s Creed Unity felt.
Beginning development in 2010, Unity was going to be the first Assassin’s Creed game built specifically for the next gen systems. It also heralded the return to the single city-based games where parkour was the main form of movement across a vast city. In this case, Paris.
Unfortunately, all that hard work went south in the eyes of jaded players and critics when Unity was released with a litany of bugs that gave players the excuse to move away from the flagging series. It led to Unity being the worst received Assassin’s Creed game by critics–just 70 on Metacritic–and fans ignoring it, concluding in a slump in sales for the series.
The thing is, now removed from the bugs that plagued it early on, Unity actually brought some interesting ideas and tweaks to the series and is actually a better game than people give it credit for.
First and foremost, Unity must be given credit for being the best looking game in the series. The game’s rendition of Revolutionary Paris is absolutely stunning, something the following game, Syndicate, could not match. Buildings like Notre Dame are incredibly detailed both inside and out, really giving the impression that you could actually be running or climbing for your life in the midst of one of the most important revolutions in history. This is also expanded to the NPC’s, who seemingly had more life than in previous games, giving the city the feeling of a revolution and immersing the player even more. It truly was a revolution for the series regarding looks and spectacle.
Though Paris looked exceptional, the fact it was a main part of the game meant the series returned to the one city open world. Where AC3, and in particular, Black Flag, saw a number of smaller cities connected by a frontier or the open seas, Unity was set almost exclusively in Paris.
While it was a breath of fresh air and beautifully rendered, it was still an Ubisoft open-world with markers all over the map showing all manner of collectables to collect, but no real depth outside of the story. While other open-worlds had deep side quests, Unity just had collectables to keep you away from the main story. In that respect, Paris felt hollow–beautiful on the outside, but nothing on the inside.
While, ultimately, it could be seen as a regression for the series, Unity’s setting actually saw one of the series’ proper reinventions: the parkour.
Unity’s parkour is still the best, most fluid of the series. Even though control of the character was still not perfect, movement going up and down was fluid and responsive. The new parkour down, allowing the player to safely scale down, was a much needed and well-received addition. One of the reasons AC3 and Black Flag were not set in major cities, was that the movement mechanics had become stale. However, the lack of major city movement in those games hid those problems. But, by the time Unity came around, the technology was available to update it adequately, which is what they did.
Another area where the game saw a revolution befitting of the era was in stealth. When the series initially started, it was meant to be a stealth based game. As the series progressed, it was badly overtaken by many other games in the department of said stealth–they were stealthily outmanoeuvred in the art of stealth if you will. It was so bad that the series never incorporated a crouch and cover system (amateurs!). That all changed with Unity, and it was all the better for it. Finally, it felt like a game about assassins that actually had you playing like an assassin. This opened up a litany of options when trying to assassinate a target. The game truly felt open to players, rather than funnelled down a single path.
This continued with the black box assassinations, where major assassinations in the game gave the players options in how they could kill their target. It was a brilliant addition that made players earn their kills rather than walking straight up to the guy and shanking him in the chest.
Where Unity didn’t revolutionise, though, was the story or the Assassin himself. Arno felt like Ezio 2.0, and while that wasn’t terrible, coming off the back of the unique Edward, Arno seemed like a step in the wrong direction. He certainly was better than many people gave him credit for, and unlike Connor, he worked extremely well within the setting of the French Revolution, but players needed something different and having an Ezio-lite didn’t fit the bill.
The story didn’t pull up any trees either. Rather, it reverted to the standard revenge tale. While it did introduce a romance angle, it wasn’t anything we hadn’t seen before. Which was a shame, because Unity had a distinct setting and era and to just chuck in a by-the-numbers assassin and story, Ubisoft ruined what they had created. It further added to the idea that the game was pushed out too early.
Ubisoft would further irritate fans by introducing microtransactions, and the less said about that, the better. But, suffice it to say, if you want a quick way to squander all the good will the previous game in the series generated, microtransactions is just the ticket!
Is Assassin’s Creed Unity the worst in the series? If you include the launch debacle in your assessment, then yes. If you launch a game with enough bugs to make an entomologist scream, then you can’t expect your audience to look past that. However, when you look at what Unity brought to the series and tried to achieve, the fact it is rank last in the AC pantheon is a little unfair.