Saturday, November 14, 2015

Assassin's Creed: Unity (Playstation 4, 2014)

Today I'm looking at a modern game that has pleasantly surprised me. Assassin's Creed: Unity was released around six months ago and was poorly-received as a glitchy mess. After numerous patches and some free DLC, the game is a lot better off now than it was at release. This game takes place in scenic Paris, and it has never looked better in a video game.

Originally Posted March 18th 2015

We begin in Versailles circa 1776. This game runs concurrently with Assassin's Creed III in the timeline, but they don't relate to each other in any way.

Here's our hero, Arno. I like when games start off with the main character as a kid, then move forward to adulthood (skipping the awkward puberty years).

Fallout 3 starting you off as a BABY is still one of my favorite design choices.

Arno's dad leaves him alone in the palace while he conducts business. More importantly... OMG THESE PS4 GRAPHICS

Arno is a bit rambunctious, and meets another rambunctious child. This is Elise, and she's a damn apple-thief. The two of them ended up being friends for many many years after this.

Arno's dad is assassinated by mysterious assailants, and we get to sympathize with the poor guy right off the bat. In my humble opinion, this is probably the best opening to a 'Creed game since Assassin's Creed II.

In any case, Elise's wealthy father ends up adopting Arno after this tragic event. Arno then becomes sort of a houseboy for their family, brushing the horses and whatnot.

FAST FORWARD, and Arno still has the watch his dad gave him that day. Now the game can begin for real.

 Arno is a fun guy, still rambunctious as an adult. He constantly runs afoul of authority figures and...well...everyone. I'd say he's the best series hero since Ezio; he's miles more likeable than Connor.

As for Elise, well, she grew up too. Arno admires a portrait of her at the outset and lets us know that they've been a couple on and off for years now. They're "off" during the time of this game, but that doesn't stop them from having a little bit of hanky-panky.

The first chapter consists of a lot of Paris high-life, as Arno deals with snooty nobles and congressmen. The French Revolution happens during the course of the game, and it's interesting seeing the difference between the early-game peacetime Paris and the late-game riotous Paris.

Arno hears that Elise is in town for one day only, and wants to see her. She's at a ball that he wasn't invited to. In the modern era, he'd probably sit at home depressed and post passive-aggressive Facebook statuses about how SOME people can't be bothered to reach out. He'd then play Candy Crush and watch Netflix.

Instead, he decides to break into the ball in TRUE SWASHBUCKLING STYLE.

Since I'm replaying these early missions with my endgame equipment, he sees something different in the mirror. I just like that I can bring my endgame equipment into early chapters at all.

Arno scales buildings while fireworks go off! So far the biggest advancement over the PS3 'Creeds is a higher framerate. Every motion is so fluid.

The gate-guard realizes that Arno got in, and quickly goes about trying to get Arno arrested. In the meantime, he saunters around without a care in the world.

As he infiltrates the ball, women flirt with him. Sadly, this isn't a regular occurrence in the game. He doesn't get as much action as Ezio, but at least he has a specific woman he cares about.

The ball is really impressive. This would be a cutscene in previous console generations, but here the gameplay is seamlessly integrated.

He finds Elise and she makes him chase her around the building, because she's awesome.

The feisty redhead is also a badass assassin (...sort of, not going to spoil more than the first bit of the game). Though right now, she's happy to see Arno and a furious make-out session is had.

I just want to say that Elise's hair is very well-rendered by the PS4. Oh Yeahhhh.

But wait! Soon after, Elise's father is murdered, and Arno is framed for it. What's with all the fathers getting murdered in this game? Is this Ubisoft's way of symbolically saying that Unity is the first of the new generation of 'Creeding, and to forget the past?

...I bet this unattractive guy did it, by Front Mission: Gun Hazard logic.

Thus concludes the intro. Suffice to say, Arno escapes from prison, and the open-world game as we know it begins.

The best thing about this game is Paris itself. It's very well-designed and has all kinds of character. You could spend hours upon hours traversing the rooftops, doing side-quests, and seeing the sights without actually doing anything with the main story.

Arno takes a moment to reflect. The best thing about this? Everything you can see is explorable world. There are plenty of buildings with explorable interiors, even, which I think might be a first for the series.

I'm not sure, but it seems like synchronizing sends the camera spinning higher than ever.

Fans of Highlander: The Series should love this game. It prominently features the Seine, where Duncan parked his barge. I looked around for Darius' church, but I'm not sure where exactly it is.

The interior of the Sainte-Chapelle is remarkable.

The amount of detail on the churches is astounding in and of itself. These carvings depicting the layers of Heaven are the kind of thing you constantly want to stop and look at while playing.

Things get foggy and Londonesque as Arno swims around in the Seine. Where did I park that barge?

About halfway through the game, I found the costume of Ezio Auditore. From that point on I enjoyed the game more; this costume is a joy to look at in action.

Unity actually features the costumes of every other Creed hero (except Aveline from Liberation). Need to find them all, though.

Prowling. This feels like ACII now. So far it seems like I'm just raving about the game, but it does have problems. The controls are a little bit limited compared to past entries (some abilities were omitted from this one to balance the gameplay out). The battle system is also more frustrating in this one for one main reason: Guns. Lots of enemies carry them, and you don't have any real defense against getting shot. In past 'Creed games, you could grab other enemies and use them as shields against gunfire. That ability got inexplicably removed, and I think that one change is the biggest problem with this game.

The weather effects are one of the high points of the game. Weather comes and goes, changing as you play. You can actually see the sun rise and move across the sky if you're watching for it.

 It also uses rainstorms effectively during the main story, like when you have to fight a former comrade to the death in the middle of a thunderstorm. I'm looking forward to seeing what Assassin's Creed: Victory (the next game) can do, given even more time for the developers to work with the PS4 engine.

 There are so many beautiful statues in this game, and for the most part they're unique-looking. You don't see too many instances of cut+pasting, except when it makes sense (lines of statues).

It took me a while to realize that this game can show an INSANE amount of NPCs onscreen at once. I've never seen a game with crowds of unique NPCs like this onscreen at once, and I'm pretty sure that previous console generations couldn't have pulled this off.

Hey, I think THAT might be Darius' church...

Here's my single favorite shot from the game. The Pantheon is an ancient-looking Paris structure, and the pillars provide a great showcase of the PS4's light/shadow capabilities.

One chapter sends you to the past; the middle ages, specifically. It's a quick chapter, unfortunately, where you bum-rush a castle. Wouldn't mind seeing an entire 'Creed game in this era. There's another time-jump that puts you in Nazi-occupied Paris, which is a dark and chilling chapter (but again, a bit too short).

I like Arno a lot, but I like Elise more. She's a great character, and she's everything I'd like to see in a major female game character. She's independent, super-hot, a good fighter, and elegant. She also has her own damn life rather than revolving around Arno.

She's always off doing her own thing, only occasionally teaming up with him when she has to... even though she's quite fond of him. Together, they solve the mystery of who murdered their fathers.

Even her character figurine is gorgeous. First figurine I've seen in like twenty years that I want.

  The chemistry just EXUDES from these two at all times, even when they merely walk past each other.

So yeah, Elise. Great character, and I wish she were playable. That'd catapult this game even higher for me. Just the fact that she has her own life and doesn't orbit Arno as a love interest is a big step forward for female game characters. When they get together, it's equal-opportunity shagging between two adults, as opposed to him "winning the girl".

 Also noteworthy is that as the game moves along, so does the French Revolution. By the endgame it's in full swing, with the beheading of the king and lots of burning effigies.

Regardless, I finished the game and enjoyed it quite a bit, though the final sequence is probably the most frustratingly difficult in the entire 'Creed series.

Moving on, there's a DLC for the game called Dead Kings. It's a full-on expansion pack, and costs nothing, so I checked it out. It's about one-third the length of the main story and it's decent for being free. Wouldn't particularly recommend it otherwise.

This DLC transpires in a new town, and rather than having changing light/weather patterns like the rest of the game, Dead Kings has a constant oppressive gloom hanging over it.

The world's creepiest windmill looms. The name of this DLC is appropriate, because everything feels vaguely undead-ish about this. I half-expected to get assaulted by animated skeletons or something.

Dead Kings may have its own surface city, but most of the mission content transpires underground. Not my favorite design choice, as the underground locations are very dark and bland. In essence, the complete opposite of most of the game.

Here's a shot of the endgame sword. Arno lifts it from the cold, dead hands of the final boss. Said final boss was able to fire lightning bolts with it, but alas I haven't figured out how to do that myself. It's still a powerful weapon that looks great, regardless. I might try to 100% the game now that I'm equipped with this badass weapon.

In closing, this is a gorgeous game with a decent amount of fun time to be had. People who tried it early-on and gave up due to the glitches might want to revisit it.


  1. White robes certainly do give it a more recognizable AC look.

    Out of curiosity, since eventually there has to be a wall, how does the game handle the "boundaries" of Paris?

    I remember reading that lighting effects were going to be a big thing in the next gen, looks like this has some of that.

    Well, you know what they say, nothing burns like an effigy!

    Hey, did you ever check out the George Washington DLC for AC3? I was curious about that.

    I hope you're not walking on a T-1000 in that last shot.

    1. The boundaries of Paris are a big wrought-iron wall, I believe. But I don't know for sure, because... the city is so big that I've never actually reached the edge.

      I never checked out the Washington DLC, nope. This and AC2 are the only ones that I've played DLC for. I've become curious about the other old game DLCs, but it's too late now. Looking forward to AC Victory.

  2. You've showed us this in the past and I'm happy to see more of it. The game just looks terrific, and even more importantly the two protagonists are awesome like you said. We don't usually imagine women like this existing back then but I'm sure they were around. I enjoyed the views of Paris a lot too.It's kind of weird that AC has simplified the gameplay in recent titles rather than leveled it up.

    1. The next AC is going to be in London circa 1890 so I'm going to try to do something with that too. It should be awesome, but the bad news is that guns will probably be everywhere. The further along in time AC games are, the more enemies have guns, and guns suck during AC gameplay. Much better when you can stick to swordplay without worrying about who is lining up a shot at you nearby.

      I'm hoping for something really good out of it though. 1890 London is an intriguing location and I've always been interested in seeing a game take place there. It also has two playable main characters, one male and one female. I wish Unity had done that, since Elise was RIGHT THERE.