Friday, 28 November 2014

Assassin's Creed: Unity Xbox One Review

For a long time now Assassin's Creed has promised fans three things: a disappointing modern day story, an acceptable historical story and great gameplay. The only deviation since the second game being the diabolical third game. So, to sum up Unity, I'd say it has a disappointing modern day story, a satisfactory historical story and great gameplay. Oh and the graphics are also stunning. 

Unity sees you play as Arno and takes place during the French Revolution. After a swift set up you join the Assassin's and take part in the usual Templar/Assassin conflict. The story is good and moves forward at a decent pace but it relies on tired cliches to push the narrative forward, cliches seen in many of the series' entries. The setting the story takes place in is at least impeccably done. The French Revolution, in all its bloody glory, is a near constant presence through the game and it makes for a great setting. Citizens riot in the streets, people die everywhere and you, as always, are the blade in the crowd. The only thing is for a large part of the story the revolution isn't present, it's a constant throughout the game that isn't mentioned or involved in many of the story segments. To be honest it's kind of weird. 

The only good thing I will say about the modern story is that although the modern story is predictably dull, it does throw up some really cool set pieces which are actually a pleasant surprise for the series. But I won't spoil those here. 

Gameplay wise the series is pretty much as it always has been but with a few notable tweaks. First off there's downwards parkour. No more do you have to blindly jump from the rooftops to the ground, now you simply climb down, with a speed and agility beyond any character the series has seen. Arno is fast and nimble and climbing up or down is better than ever but still far from perfect. The same old climbing issues that have plagued the series since the start are present and wrestling to get Arno to climb how you want him to is frustrating. In a next gen game I expect to see none of these last gen problems. 

Another new addition is a sense of freedom during missions. You are told where your target is but how you get to him is up to you. There are then small objectives within the mission, enabling you to open up new routes to the target and of course opening up stealthy or violent options. In some missions these optional objectives are very enjoyable and have a tangible effect on the mission but sadly there are too many missions where the optional objectives either don't help or simply seem to have no effect whatsoever. Again this sort of thing is disappointing especially where player freedom seems to be such a big part of current gen gaming - Far Cry, GTA, Metal Gear etc. 

There's also change in the fighting system, gone are the easy counters and endless kill chains; in their place is a parry system. You can parry or perfect parry - with the perfect ones having a better effect - and this opens up your enemy for attack. Combining this with the enemies' increased strength and the prevalence of guns has resulted in far harder combat. This is not necessarily bad in and of itself but the problem is inputs for parries, pistol shots and bombs have to be timed annoyingly precisely or Arno will not do the action, this makes combat stunted and frustrating rather than flowing and fun. Again, an issue I would not expect in such a big budget, current gen game. 

Changes have also to been made to the acquirement of skills, weapons and armour. To learn skills or buy weapons and armour you simply open up a menu and spend points for skills or cash for equipment. Gone are the story based tutorials or weapon discoveries and in their place is this lazy replacement. It works well enough but I miss the days of a mentor showing you a new move or visiting a weapons dealer to buy a gun. Oh and the fancy armour sets you can unlock? Well one of them has the usual find the items and you can unlock the assassin's place where it's stored but the others, like Ezio's set, require signing up either for Assassin's Creed Initiates or the Unity Companion App. This is a big no no, I should never be yanked out of my game by advertising of related products. This same advertising also blocks certain treasure chests. So to 100% the game you have to sign up for what Ubisoft tells you to sign up for. No. No. No. 

Fortunately the side missions aren't blocked by such things and are a good way of earning money, alongside the returning develop buildings to make money meta-game the series so dearly loves. The problem is the side missions are usually little more than fetch quests or simple chases. They are dull and lifeless, lazily designed and boring to play. A means to an end and a dull one at that. 

Then there's the co-op. The co-op missions are standard fare but are designed to incorporate more players. The missions are of about the same quality as the other missions, in other words a real mixed bag. Honestly it's fun if it all works seamlessly with your other players but it's only really as fun as your friends are good. I've never been a fan of Assassin's Creed multiplayer and I'm not really a fan of this but at least the VS. modes in the old games were of a consistently high quality. 

The one thing I can confidently say is really good is the presentation. Graphically and sonically the game is stunning, one of the best looking I've ever seen and its complimented by a great soundtrack. The soundtrack does occasionally borrow copyright infringingly close from Pirates of the Caribbean but it's catchy and fits the game well. The only weird thing, and it's not really a criticism its just weird, is that everyone speaks in English. Not even French accented English, just English. It's really weird and often hilariously funny, especially when someone calls you a pillock before saying something in French. 

And no I'm not forgetting the countless glitches as they are truly appalling and it's maddening the game was released before it was finished but I've only experienced two in my time with the game: one was when I got stuck climbing a wall and the other was when a side mission would not load it's next objective. Neither were that frustrating and I can  only review the game based on what I experienced plus their patching the crap out of it as we speak so hopefully these glitches will be gone soon. The only issue I did notice that is a really big problem is the long loading times, dying sucks because you have to wait ages to get back to playing and I hope this is sorted out soon. 

It's a shame, Assassin's Creed Unity is agonisingly close to being a great game. It's largely enjoyable and I would urge fans of the series to see it through to completion but it's not a keeper. There is no one huge flaw with it but the myriad of tiny niggles add up to make the game more frustrating than it is fun and for that reason it's a hard sell. If, like me and my girlfriend, you're a hardcore Assassin's Creed fan then buy it and beat it, it's worth that because it is an enjoyable game. If you aren't though then I'd spend your money on one of the great holiday season games like GTA V or Far Cry 4. 

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