Wot I Think – Assassin’s Creed Unity

stop crowding me. My processor's agoraphobic

Assassin’s Creed Unity is the latest in Ubisoft’s series of historical-set open world action-adventure games. It stars a French nobleman named Arno Dorian, who becomes an Assassin (stealthy free-running dude battling against an evil conspiracy theory) in 18th century Paris, around the time of the French revolution. It adds co-op and gear customisation to the seven-year-old formula. It’s been out for three days now, and I’ve been playing it for much of that time.

“How come you wound up being RPS’s Assassin’s Creed guy?”, asked a friend when I mentioned I was tackling Unity, his tone that of someone asking a miserable-looking soldier why he’s on latrine duty.

There’s much to unpick there.

For starters, has this series become so stodgy that it’s now looked upon with contempt rather than, as was the case for at least the first three games, one that was always on the verge of greatness? How did that happen? How many of my peers think that of it, and wonder why the hell I’d spend my time with these games year after year? And how representative is their weariness with Assassin’s Creed of the general public’s? Do they also find the barrage of trailers exhausting, do they worry that feature creep has given the elbow to invention, are they annoyed that the free running controls are still regularly flinging them to the wrong places after all this time?

Perhaps more importantly (at least from a navel-gazing perspective, which is why you’re on this site, right?), why do I choose to play Assassin’s Creed games for RPS, year-after-year? Is it because no-one else does, so I default to it from a sense of duty? Not really. This isn’t a particularly Assassin’s Creedy site, after all.

The answer is Doctor Who. I have always watched Doctor Who. I will probably always watch Doctor Who. Doctor Who is mostly not great, for reasons I will not divert into now for fearing of generating 3000 words about Saturday evening television that nobody wants when they’re trying to decide whether to buy an Assassin’s Creed game. Sometimes, though, Doctor Who is great. Really, really great. Because that potential is always there – in any given episode, the right idea, the right writer, the right director, the right cast member could result in an hour of brilliant and/or hilarious science fiction rather than a string of rubber masks and emotionally manipulative deus ex machinas – I keep watching.

That’s what I do with Assassin’s Creed games. 1 was a mess, but something sparkled beneath its dreary mini-games. II ditched some of the better ideas but laid solid foundations. Brotherhood was a party. Revelations was rinse and repeat. III had less personality than SEO. IV: Black Flag was A PARTY – one of my favourite games of last year. The potential is always there, because like Doctor Who and anything goes time/space travel, Assassin’s Creed has any city from human history (and beyond) and anything goes movement to call from. That’s why I continue to be RPS’s Assassin’s Creed guy.

After months of promotion, I hadn’t seen anything of Unity to make me suspect it was in the Even-Numbered Star Trek Movie category. It looked to be as vanilla as Assassin’s Creed gets – man in hood, European city a couple of centuries ago, climbing, chasing, collecting. I won’t get into the politics of the controversy around the developer’s initial claim that women weren’t included as avatars in co-op mode for animation workload reasons, but while I accept that the real intention was that everyone was playing as ACU lead Arno in an outfit of their choosing, that in itself reveals a lack of verve or ambition.

Stick to the familiar even when doing something as ostensibly surreal as having four to all intents and purposes identical men playing hopscotch across 18th Century Paris’ rooftops together. It is simply boring for everyone to be the same (not particularly interesting) character, and the fundamental trouble with ACU, as with Revelations and III, is that it doesn’t seem to mind being boring. Assassin’s Creed is repeating itself knowing full well that it’s repeating itself.

The same chase missions and the same escort missions. The same ‘desynchronisation imminent’ if you fall too far out of range of your target or leave the immediate mission area. The same stealth-that-isn’t-really-stealth. The same getting stuck on small walls or randomly hurled off the side of a tall building. The same map full of endless icons. The same lavishly-detailed but exposition-droning supporting cast/mission-givers. The same placing of genuine historical drama on a backseat to the endless war of attrition (and exposition) between the Assassins and the Templars. The same faintly twisted focus on earning and spending filthy lucre more than saving the day.

No boats, no forests, but oh well. Black Flag always seemed like a beautiful accident. I didn’t expect Unity to rip up the rule book in any meaningful way, but I did have plenty of hope that it would have flow and zest, in the way that Brotherhood did despite not doing much that II didn’t already. That’s why I continue to be RPS’s Assassin’s Creed guy.

The good news is that Unity isn’t III. It doesn’t have that oppressively dour tone, it doesn’t front-load itself with hours of tutorial, and its city is probably the best (by which I mean, enjoyable to look at and climb around) city Assassin’s Creed has done yet. I’ll come back to that shortly.

The bad news is that it’s not Brotherhood either. Its conservatism runs deep, it doesn’t imbue the familiar with much spirit, and it tries to mask this with the most egregious amount of feature creep this series has yet seen. In other words, its closest analogue is Revelations.

As that comparison suggests, it’s by no means a disaster, despite what internet screeching might claim, nor is it quite a damp squib. Its greatest sin is to be uninspired, and its second greatest sin is to try and distract from that with a skein of ugly Skinner box mechanics designed to keep players pressing its levers. Some of these rely on playing a mobile companion app, and there are options to short-cut with real money. I’ll come back to that shortly too.

The city is its redemption, but only just. 18th century Paris might on paper sound like it would offer a similar experience to II’s 15th century Florence or Brotherhood’s 16th century Rome, but in practice the texture of the terrain is all different. The city’s topography undulates enormously, raising to the huge peaks of Notre Dame and dropping to street-level markets. It’s a far more disorientating and to some extent spectacular place to cross, and its heightened irregularity lends a great deal more life to the setting.

I know, to a degree, this is a case of the engine and no doubt the budget reaching new heights now AssCreed’s development focus is on Xbone and PS4. This is particularly true of the vast and impressive crowds; sure, smoke and mirrors are in abundance, but the overall effect is successful – lots and lots of people. Bustle. A city, not a theme park. Even without them, this would be a better city, a more architecturally organic-feeling one, and one whose major landmarks require some thought about the approach to scaling them, rather than relying on the AssCreed tradition of arbitrary handhold placements in order to force you the long way round.

There are more indoor spaces too, and a big drop in loading screens, though these improvements are laid low by the enduring irritations of the broadly unchanged movement system, and its tendency to stick you to things you don’t want to stick to, or hurl you away from things you want to reach. Sometimes scaling a tall building, ducking through a window, sprinting through a busy kitchen then vaulting into a tree or onto a rooftop beyond Just Works, and it looks and feels slick – that satisfying middleground of the game responding to your actions and correctly second-guessing your intentions. Sometimes – too often – it’s like trying to reverse a milk float around Milton Keynes.

This becomes particularly apparent in the co-op missions, when you’ve got up to four people resolutely failing to move as the fluid flock trailers suggest. Everyone’s everywhere, stuck to things, falling off things, landing in front of the guy you were about to air assassinate… Combine that with the still-rudimentary stealth system, and most of the time these (optional) missions devolve into a street brawl rather than a Parkour-fuelled heist. (And, yeah, everyone looks the same bar superficial costume colouring and frills, which means you can’t really glean any personality from anyone you play with). Co-op has its moments, and the mere presence of others does remix the familiar to some extent, but expect a mad free-for-all rather than Arno’s 11.

My next point has been levelled at the series for many games now, and I can’t know what has and hasn’t changed under the hood, but the movement system feels as though it needs a ground-up reworking. There are fancy new animations aplenty, making it look more athletic and changeable, but bar a new button intended for quicker downward climbing and ducking under low obstacles while running, the practice is broadly unchanged since its 2007 origins.

Of course, no-one argues that Call of Duty needs to change the way you fire a gun after a dozen-odd iterations, but Assassin’s Creed has always been about so much more than making other men fall over. It is supposed to be about the sheer joy of movement and exploration, and for as long as that is undermined by archaic and sometimes chaotic systems, it’s hiding its own light under a bushel. A bushel that you’ll probably get stuck to for three seconds while trying to climb over it.

Much more in its favour is that ACU gets the hell on with it far more quickly than the majority of its predecessors. While a number of its major toys, both new and returning, are locked off into the later chapters of the main campaign, it offers you the freedom of the city and the majority of its side-quests around half an hour in – a far cry from the miserable hours of waiting and repeated tuition of the last few games. It has far more confidence that its players have played at least one AssCreed previously – perhaps a little excessively so, as figuring out a couple of the movement and weapon tweaks took me a little while.

Even so, if you’re coming to this from a cold start it’s both less weighed down by its own garbled continuity and more focused on the business of making merry in the old world than Assassin’s Creed has been for quite some time. The much-maligned future meta-plot is mercifully more backgrounded than ever before, and while most of what is there is primarily loreballs cutscenes, there’s some real flair when it sees you temporarily playing in Paris in other time periods – essentially as an excuse to show the Eiffel tower, the Moulin Rouge era, the metro… So much art for perhaps so little purpose, but if it’s laying the seeds of a true time-hopping AssCreed, I remain resolute that the series retains its potential for greatness.

Unity is by no means a fresh start, but it is shorn of some of the series’ traditional baggage. It’s not a bad jumping on point, but I’m still going to say that last year’s Black Flag is the better place to start. It’s a better game, a fresher game, and it isn’t drowning in quite so many needless features.

Which brings me to what’s really been the nail in an unspectacular but fairly solid coffin. Feature creep ad nauseum. There are four separate ‘currencies’ with which to purchase assorted character and gear upgrades in Unity; three different types of rank to strive for; dozens of weapons, each with their own upgrade; permanent skill boosts; purchasable temporary skill boosts; passive skills; active, recharging skills; dozens of armours, each with their own upgrade; a glut of interlinked side-missions with unique items to unlock; chests which can only be unlocked if you’ve performed the requisite actions in the companion app; chests which can only be opened if you’ve performed the requisite actions in Uplay; chests which can only be unlocked if you’ve poured enough points into your lockpicking ability; options to spend real cash on currency with which to shortcut your way to better kit and abilities; icons, icons, everywhere, and surprisingly few to simply visit and be able to do a thing.

It’s confusing at first, but that’s not the issue. While I quickly learned to recognise what each icon meant, the game map remained an ugly Pollock of overlapping shapes and dots, while the gear and costume tweaks were too minor or muted to feel at all meaningful. It’s sprawl for sprawl’s sake.

On top of that, particularly in my first few hours with Unity, so often I’d head towards a tempting icon only be told “no, not now” or “go outside the game and do a bunch of stuff there so that you can open this box or equip this thing.” No, I don’t want to. I just want to play my game, thanks. In time, I learned to filter out what was in the game and what was trying to snare me within the large Ubisoft network and possibly even part with some cash. I simply stopped seeing blue and gold chests, for instance. Better that way. If only the priority had been on truly freshening up Assassin’s Creed rather than turning it into a shopping centre.

In the end, I looked at that map and felt weary. So much to do, so much of it bitty and unsatisfying – hoovering up crumbs. Some missions do have a spark to them, especially those which require you to figure out where something is in the city as opposed to simply pointing you at it, but in the main it’s following or brawling, as we’ve been doing for seven years now.

Not a disaster then, but Unity is Assassin’s Creed reverting to type despite its glitzy surface. For that reason, and not for the belly-aching about performance and paygating, Unity is probably one to skip. Despite this, I willingly remain RPS’ Assassin’s Creed guy. Maybe the next one will be a Blink or Midnight.

Assassin’s Creed Unity is out now. Its standard edition (there are a number of more expensive ones, plus a season pass) costs £50/$59, requires Uplay and isn’t available on Steam in a number of territories, including the UK.

_____________

A note on performance, put aside from the main piece as PC players’ experiences seem wildly inconsistent. While in the main I’m able to maintain at least 30 frames per second at 1080p/Very High on a Radeon 290x (with Unity-specific beta driver) and Core i7 980x, I can’t get it to be consistently much higher than that at any setting. It will shoot up to 60 on very rare occasion, but equally it will drop down to around 17 on rare occasion. The average is in the mid-40s, but that doesn’t really convey how it feels in practice. At all times, the frame rate spikes wildly, and this noticeably effects how the game feels to play. Despite the speculation of some that this relates to crowd/AI over-taxing the CPU, the drops happen as often in cutscenes, NPC-minimal indoor locations and random bits of rooftop as they do when the streets or buildings are filled with people. In my earlier post about these issues, some felt my relatively old processor was to blame; given it’s a six-core chip overclocked to 4Ghz (and that Speedfan shows that none of its core are ever anything like maxed out while running ACU) this seems somewhat unlikely. However, it is possible that its lack of the AVX instruction set featured in later Core chips is causing issues. I can’t give you a definitive answer without laying hands on another, highish-end PC (and I simply don’t have the cash to upgrade), so I simply relate my own experiences for you to use as you will. For the record, I haven’t seen any major glitches.

111 Comments

  1. PopeRatzo says:

    it’s like trying to reverse a milk float around Milton Keynes.

    That was worth reading the whole thing for.

    • pepperfez says:

      Never have I felt Yankier than when I read that phrase.

      • Spider Jerusalem says:

        I feel you.

        I thought milk float was a beverage and Milton Keynes was a person. Was thoroughly confused.

        • Mitthrawn says:

          I am still super confused. At first I thought he was making an economic reference (Milton Friedman and John Maynard Keynes). I still have no idea what any of that is about.

          • CookPassBabtridge says:

            I shall translate.
            “backing a milk truck up around a small boring town”

          • Heliocentric says:

            So he’d recommend it is ETDS2 fans!

          • Mathos says:

            @cookpass That would be a poor translation.

            ‘Driving a small awkward vehicle around a place with infinite turns’ I imagine is what was going for. Milton Keynes is not small, and not ‘particularly’ boring.

          • CookPassBabtridge says:

            I was sanitising for our american cousins. Though fun, I didn’t want to mention the hookers and crack shops.

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            Neurotic says:

            Just call it the pseudo-New York from Superman IV: The Quest for Peace and be done with it.

  2. Eight Rooks says:

    Good review, mister Meer. Pretty fair, for the most part, based on my limited experience with the game so far. I like the series much more than you, I think, even when it’s rinse and repeat – I will insist to my dying day that AC III showed more flair, soul and personality, offered more genuine fun, than Far Cry 3 could ever dream of (I’d be skipping Far Cry 4 even if I wasn’t currently poor) – but yeah, there’s nothing here I can really outright disagree with. It’s a stunning city, a tremendous artistic achievement, but it’s been rushed out of the door and the game they’ve woven around it (and over it, and under it) is bloated and treading water.

    (FWIW, I’m on an FX8350 at stock 4GHz, with 8GB of DDR2 and a 4GB R9 290. At 1080 I get performance similar to you, I think, with almost everything on max except FXAA and shadows down a notch. No severe or game-breaking bugs yet, but multiple minor glitches, some rare but severe slowdown and nasty LOD popping.)

    • CmdrCrunchy says:

      I’ll insist against you til my own last breaths sir, AC3 is a bad game in a good series that just didn’t get anything right in my book. I ran through the story as quickly as I could just to get Connor to shut his mouth.

      • hemmer says:

        While I was really underwhelmed by AC3, I couldn’t say it did NOTHING right. Combat in particular was a lot smoother than its predecessors and it offered the first instance of ship combat, probably the best part of a largely unnecessary game.

        Nothing makes up for the boring terrain, characters and story though. Didn’t register a smidge of ‘flair’ either.

        • Heliocentric says:

          Being Haytham was worth the price of admission and the Pugilist mission chain was good. Making your team mates city only and frequently not for missions was such a rubbish move.

  3. draglikepull says:

    So we all agree that AC2 is the height of the series, right? It felt like Desilets had finally perfected what he started with Prince of Persia: Sands of Time.

    • Eight Rooks says:

      Nope! Black Flag > Brotherhood > III > 2 > AC, for me. Never finished Revelations (got fed up with the antiquated mechanics in that one), haven’t played Liberation.

    • Bradamantium says:

      IV is top of my list. I got bored of ACII about three quarters of the way through and never went back, skipped the followups, yawned my way through III, and finally thought the series realized its potential with IV. I think, as a result, the series’ problem is ultimately the samey-ness of its gameplay throughout such diverse settings. Turns out stabbing a guy during the Crusades is the same as stabbing a guy during the Renaissance is the same as stabbing a guy in the Amreican/French Revolution. IV seemed to alleviate some of that with significant gameplay specific to the period it took place in.

    • Henchimus says:

      4 is a better game than 2, but 2 is probably the best example of what the game’s about.

      • Zenicetus says:

        That’s a good way to put it. Black Flag was a fun romp (except for the AC mechanics I hate, like scripted stealth and eavesdropping missions). But it lacked the historical atmosphere that is the main draw of the series, I think.

        I’ll pass on this new one, because it sounds like it’s just gone overboard with all the things I don’t like about the series. I’d like to see what they’ve done with the Paris setting, but not enough to put up with the crap mentioned in this W.I.T.

        • Reefpirate says:

          Black Flag was surprisingly historical to me… It just wasn’t ‘grand history’. Black Beard was pretty small potatoes when compared to the Medici family or George Washington.

    • Dilapinated says:

      For me it’s Revelations. It felt like a satisfying endpoint to Ezio’s story, wrapping things up compellingly in the narrative (those tomb scenes with the torches were the first time I really felt emotion for the character/plot) and with all the features/etc from II/Brotherhood, placed in a new setting that was genuinely-different enough from the previous ones to feel like a new space and culture and not just a reskin.

      Add to that old-man-Ezio’s animations and the scifi-puzzle sections that go in-depth into present-guy (Darren, Dale, Derrick?) having an actually pretty messed up background that made him more than the boring narrative-necessity cardboard character he always was in the past.

    • phuzz says:

      Did AC2 have sea shanties? No? then it wasn’t the best one then was it.
      Now, all together lads, “As I was going to Derby, ’twas on a market day…”

    • Jimbo says:

      Brotherhood > 2 > Black Flag > 1 >>>>>>> Revelations >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>> AC3.

      Brotherhood just about trumps 2 for me. How this mission plays out (from like ~5:40 onwards) is why. This will forever be the highlight of the series for me. I’m not even certain if it was intentional, but they will never again create a moment as perfectly Assassin’s Creed as the end of this mission.

    • Spider Jerusalem says:

      I…I liked the first one.

      • Kempston Wiggler says:

        No you didn’t. That’s simply not possible.

        • mouton says:

          I loved the death speeches of 1. Many of them were deliciously morally relativist, often conducted by a sad, conflicted person.

          From 2 on, though, they were mostly AM EBUL TEMPLAR BLARGHRABLG

        • iainl says:

          With the possible exception of Black Flag, I’ve enjoyed the first Assassin’s Creed more than any of the sequels. It has far fewer things to do in it, sure. But every one of the mandatory things was fun (the only part of the game I couldn’t be bothered with was the feather collection). Every sequel adds more variety, but many of those changes are making you do dull or frustrating rubbish.

    • malkav11 says:

      Absolutely not. I could see an argument for Brotherhood, but ACII, especially in later hours, piled annoyance on annoyance and while some of those annoyances seem to be perennial in the series (movement glitches, like Alec mentions, for example), a heaping helping were fixed in Brotherhood, which also expanded on most of what was good about II. Revelations made a few more improvements but was definitely not as interesting as Brotherhood on the whole, and things like bombs and the den defense were pretty much pointless.

      I’ve recently hit III on my quest to finish all of the games in the series, so I can’t comment on Liberation, Black Flag, or Black Flag’s DLC (much less Unity), but as of Chapter 6 III seems like another big improvement over the entirety of the prior series. I quite liked those opening hours and I really appreciate the increased level of detail and variety, the improved control scheme and combat, etc. And so much more story. Too early to be sure whether it’s better story, but it’s promising so far, particularly in that early twist, and I generally am a very narrative-driven gamer so more narrative is -usually- a good thing. More than the sparse fare in the earlier games, at least.

  4. Amatyr says:

    “go outside the game and do a bunch of stuff there so that you can open this box or equip this thing.”

    What.

    • Eight Rooks says:

      The companion app is every bit as daft as Alec makes it sound. The timers on it are ludicrous – they’re not stopping you from doing anything, mind, but it very quickly becomes, essentially, “Wait four hours to be able to open this chest which will give you perhaps the same amount of money you could earn from ten minutes’ stabbing random thugs being naughty on the street”. I say again, you are completely free to ignore this stuff. It is not locking off some vital part of the game. It’s still ridiculous, though.

      • TacticalNuclearPenguin says:

        If it’s only locking money away, then fine, i will ignore it.

        But is it also locking cool items and random stuff that can only be obtained there? Because if that’s the case, my compulsory nature makes it a mandatory feature that i NEED to use.

        Hopefully it’s not the case.

      • GiantPotato says:

        Wait, what timers? You mean like F2P-style “Wait before you can do this” type of timers? And what do you have to do in UPlay?

        • Eight Rooks says:

          The companion app is basically the “send assassins off on missions” schtick with a couple of extra bells and whistles and stuck on a portable device. It opens a particular type of chest in the main game (if you’ve synced your Uplay account, otherwise it… ultimately does nothing, I guess). It’s very slick and everything, and seems pretty optional, it’s just it has timers – obviously the missions used to take time to complete before, but now they’re in a separate app. The thing is those timers seem to go up very, very quickly – I had one early stage, of a three-stage level, require four hours to finish – this level was like the second proper mission in the app – and while that did not stop me playing the main game in any way, shape or form, it still seemed ludicrous given the reward was going to be just a few hundred livres or whatever. As far as I can tell it’s a fancy eggtimer you have to keep checking every so often for very little reward, and the idea Ubi thought this would be a big draw for anyone just… puzzles me.

          • suibhne says:

            So it’s basically a reskinned version of the companion app from Black Flag, except that it gates a bit more game content behind it?

    • rayo153 says:

      Are in-world purchases now a thing in single player games?! I think I should get back to my cave…

      • Rizlar says:

        It sounds like a capitalist nightmare made real. Never complained about microtransactions in F2P games like everyone else, even bought some silly hats for Planetside 2, now I regret everything!

  5. Myrdinn says:

    Are we talking about Search Engine Optimization? I’m confuzzled.

  6. reticulate says:

    What makes this all the more interesting is that by all accounts, the red-headed stepchild in Rogue has better writing, a better protagonist and also gets to be Black Flag 2.

    I’m not saying there’s something to be said about broken things and not fixing them, but I want to put money down on a PC version of Rogue a lot more than I do Unity right now.

    • Mitthrawn says:

      Yeah, same. Hopefully it will be cheaper as well, cause of the delay (40$? I can hope).

  7. Orija says:

    Unrelated to the article, but when can we expect a Wot I Think of Dragon Age: Inquisition?

  8. check engine says:

    18th Century Paris rooftops actually.

    Sorry.

  9. Laurentius says:

    AC:Black Flag (which i’ve bought) has cured me from AC games and this year Watch_Dogs (which I fortunately didn’t buy) has cured me from Ubisoft AAA games. These games are most soulless, skinner box and hollow games experience I had in recent years. There is alwayas a promise, a glimmering surface, but when couple hours went by it left me with an empty shell of a monotonous diorama and a question “You created this beautiful world but why haven’t you created a game: outside all this skinner box mechanisms and clogged mini map with items to tick ?”

    • Arren says:

      Haven’t played Black Flag, but this echoes precisely my sentiments on the first two AssCreeds.

    • Zenicetus says:

      Black Flag was one of those games like the recent Wolfenstein TNO that works best if you just give in to the premise and roll with it, not expecting too much depth. It’s all surface, and the sailing mechanics are laughable, but I had fun with it.

      It takes itself a bit less seriously than the other games in the series too, which made it easier to grit my teeth through the mechanics I dislike in the series, like the scripted follow-that-person missions.

      • Laurentius says:

        Like I can honestly say that I have my money worth with AC:BF and for quite some time, sailing, naval combat, shanties was a pure joy but there is this point when I realized that there is nothing to it, sinking n (n>30) spanish friagte is not going change anything, that there are is nothing to do on these beautiful island except ticking off mini map icons, And who knows maybe in a couple of years I will feel a longing for this kind of experience (though I consider it unlikely since for example I don’t feel the need to play WoW since 2007) but right now I fell totally burn out of it.

  10. Doubler says:

    Assassins Creed to me is like an experiment to see how long you can milk an original idea before it stops being original, that’s gone completely out of control and can no longer be stopped. Ever growing and infecting every game around it with its increasingly stale mechanics and ideas :P

    Of course it did spawn the beautiful mutant that was Black Flag, so I guess some good still comes out of it.

    • Vandelay says:

      Isn’t that what all of Ubisoft’s output seems to be? There games actually all have interesting, original ideas to them, but they all end up playing exactly the same way. A couple of years ago I would have said Ubisoft was the most interesting publisher of games around (despite there seeming hatred for the PC platform,) but as they seem intend on releasing the same game over and over, without improving on the obvious flaws I am far less interested in getting their games then I used to be.

      In AC’s case, the main flaw for me is the incredibly simple combat and the fact that going on an assassination seems to entail diving on top of your victim whilst they are in the middle of a big crowd and then running away. At least they seem to have solved the old issue of the never ending tutorial sections. To be honest, I’ve not played an AC game since the second one, which I enjoyed, but wasn’t sure I would want to go through all of that again. I do own Brotherhood, which I got at the same time as 2, but only managed to build enough interest to play the multiplayer (which is truly awesome – has it been entirely ditched now?) This article has made me go and download it again and actually give it a whirl though, as I do agree with Alec that AC always looks like it has potential to be something special.

    • malkav11 says:

      I’d say rather that it’s an excellent example of a company understanding how to iterate on a successful gameplay formula. Not every game has to be innovative. Sometimes I want more of essentially the same thing I enjoyed previously, only given a new narrative context and a spitshine. Ubisoft is great at doing that. Hell, I’d maintain that that’s essentially what sequels, expansions and DLC -should- be most of the time – more of the same, tweaked a bit, and with an upgrade or two. Innovation and new ideas are great…but they fit much more comfortably in new IP. Change things up too much midstream and you’re leaving behind your existing fans in search of people who want that different thing but probably aren’t expecting it or looking for it in your particular franchise. This has been one of Bioware’s primary sins in my book, lately.

      • Doubler says:

        That’s fair enough actually, but I do have a major problem with them lifting mechanics from the AC games and then putting them into every single other game they make. Ubisoft’s a bit of a one-trick pony these days.

        • malkav11 says:

          That’s certainly fair to an extent (although I think that games like Child of Light and Valiant Heart evidence that Ubi is willing to give other sorts of game a go), but I personally can’t complain too much because it’s a single trick that keeps on working for me.

  11. Dawngreeter says:

    “Feature creep ad nauseum.”

    I haven’t played Unity yet, though I will by the end of the year. I’m a fan of the series so, yeah. I’m still excited about Unity. The quoted sentence, however, is something I wanted to comment on. AssCreed is, in essence, singleplayer MMO. It’s been evolving in that direction and I don’t expect it to stop. This has probably been clear for at least two previous installments and it’s likely that interested parties enjoy that sort of stuff. I know I do.

    I mean, it’s fine for people not to like it. Just sayin’. Normally one wouldn’t say that the latest FPS focuses too much on shooting people. Or bemoan that a point and click adventure unrealistically throws puzzles at you for no reason. Single player MMO completionist stuff is just AssCreed.

    • TacticalNuclearPenguin says:

      I might actually agree with that, afterall it’s not like you need ANY of these side activities to enjoy the story. Not a single AC game i played ever even required you to buy armor or weapons.

      Sure, i tend to hoard a lot of money with huge incomes and stuff, buy everything there is to buy, but that’s just me, and i always managed to stop doing all this nonsense once i was bored and felt ready to proceed with the main story, so yeah, this stuff can stay for all i care.

      One could argue that with less stupid features we could maybe get a better crafted and focused game, but at the end of the day nothing like that will ever happen until they realise they can’t just put 83 studios working in parallel with the same game to achieve such a result, in which case we might just stick with the million side activities that are actually the only good thing that can come from such huge manpower.

    • Laurentius says:

      True but AC recent games also give impressions that thay are something more or different.

    • Eight Rooks says:

      You say that, but trust me, as a fan of the series myself who’s enjoying Unity so far – it’s bloated. Sure, you don’t have to touch the companion app if you don’t want to or don’t have a portable device but the Nomad chests are still there, and the sense that someone actually thought they ought to be there just permeates through the rest of the game – can’t just have chests, we’ve got to have four different types of chest, for no reason at all other than to make sure people are using the character progression, going to the Initiates web site, using the app… it’s too much. I don’t see how anyone can not look at it and think “But why can’t I just open all of them, like I used to be able to? Or why aren’t they just locked or unlocked? What good, solid design principle lies behind this?” And it’s the same with the multiple mission types and pointless collectibles and everything else cluttering up the map screen – I still enjoy ticking these things off one by one, but the critic in my head can’t help but think “Yeah, these are just in here lying all over the place because someone thought the game just didn’t have enough stuff”. Black Flag suffered from this to some extent – what does it really add to the game to land on every last featureless beach or near identical desert island to grab treasure chests you don’t need? But Unity just goes absolutely mad with it, and in the absence of anything actually mechanically new it’s that much easier to notice.

      (Though as a fan of the series, jeez, I suspect “freerun down” may be more of a shakeup for the series than people are crediting. It’s hard to imagine going back to anything other than Black Flag when I know I won’t be able to quickly and easily climb down off nearly any building on the map.)

      • suibhne says:

        My time with Black Flag became much less irritating when I realized all those chests were useless (because of the glut of money in the game) and all of the Animus fragments only affected multiplayer. I typically cleared out the chests and such at every land-based location, partly due to completionist idiocy and partly so the map would clearly indicate which locations were “finished”, but I didn’t bother going ashore at any of the umpteen stupid cookie-cutter beaches for another 300 coins.

      • Dawngreeter says:

        Sure, I believe you. I might feel the same way. I thought AssCreed 3 was sort of bloated, so I can imagine there’s a possibility for something similar going on in Unity. However, the biggest problem isn’t that AssCreed 3 had too much stuff. It’s that a lot of stuff wasn’t well tied together (homestead stuff felt like entering a completely different game most of the time, for example). Arguably Black Flag had even more stuff, but better connected. So, there’s that.

        My main impression here, though, isn’t the bloat itself is an issue so much as the fact that there seems to be a lot of stuff that partially or completely lies outside of the game (my understanding is that chests ask you to do things unrelated to playing the game proper?). That does bring up red flags. I’ll have to see if it’s something I’m fine with or if it’ll annoy me to no end.

    • P.Funk says:

      Yes but at any point are you asking the most important question: is this valid and satisfying as a gameplay conceit? I would say that MMO grinding is satisfying because its ultimately social, even if you do some solo things.

      Me personally I never played AssCreed for the single player MMO stuff. I played it to parkour around great cities in their historic contexts while enjoying some of the story (not the modern bit), enjoying some of the killing, and greatly enjoying the flashbacks to the good old days of Prince of Persia.

      So to me the MMO stuff is bloated because its furthest from the things that make me like these games. When you look at the combat and movement systems being basically unrefined from their earliest iterations I feel as if its strongest feature is stuck in the mud while they lay enormous amounts of the budget on adding the scattered debris of a game I don’t really want to play.

      Perhaps this is why I’ve gravitated so far from the AssCreed series.

      I want to end with the point that just becuase they are trying to make it into a certain type of game doesn’t necessarily validate the approach. It doesn’t mean its a better game and with Ubi you’re always looking at the design being influenced by non gameplay related things, such as microtransactions and jacking people into their ever more important external support model, ie. Uplay.

      • Dawngreeter says:

        I’m not saying you are wrong. You’re allowed and encouraged to not like what you don’t like. But I like the singleplayer MMO stuff in addition to jumping and climbing. So if you’re asking (and you are) is this valid and satisfying as a gameplay conceit, my response is yes, yes it is. I enjoy it a lot.

  12. Guvornator says:

    I think my biggest bugbear is the utterly ridiculous sci-fi nonsense that has been shoehorned in from the beginning. Every AC game I’ played has had 2/3rds of a really great game and 1/3rds boring, self important claptrap that I ended up dreading. I ended up only playing a snippet of Black Flag because, even though I had a lot of fun in the first two levels, I couldn’t face traipsing around that sodding TV studio*. And now i’ve got Shadow Of Mordor, which, with its depth of mechanics and Nemesis system, will probably fill my explory stealthy stabby needs for quite some time. It can’t be emphasised enough how thoroughly Monolith beat Ubisoft at their own game.

    *it should be noted that I’m a video editor by trade, so it was a little like going back to work for me.

    • Eight Rooks says:

      And just for the hell of it, I cannot emphasise enough how wonderful it was going back to an AC game after the utter tedium, soulless world-building and pretentious smoke-and-mirrors in Shadow of Mordor. :)

      • Guvornator says:

        Hmmm, I’m not sure one can accuse Shadow Of Mordor of being pretentious, when your go to game is AC. It’s a bit like saying Billy Corgan has annoying singing voice if you’re a Mercury Rev fan. But I think you misunderstand where I’m coming from. What I’m not saying is AC is a bad game. AC2 provided me with some of the best gaming experiences. Running around renaissance Florence, climbing recognizable landmarks purely to jump off them, stealing treasure undetected – that’s all wonderful stuff. All the cities are vibrant, full of life and incredibly believable. Which is why it’s incredibly frustrating to be repeatedly dragged out to some dreadful sci-fi nonsense. Answer honestly – is that why you play Assassins Creed? Hell is that why ANYONE plays Assassin’s Creed?

        • Eight Rooks says:

          I like the sci-fi elements to Assassin’s Creed, yes. Are they the reason why I play the games? No. But they’re a large part of why I enjoyed 2 and Brotherhood so much. They’re like Dan Brown if he was actually fun.

          And Shadows of Mordor is pretentious because the Nemesis system isn’t deep, doesn’t have any great effect on the way the game is played and can’t even handle its own rules and logic properly. I couldn’t tell you a single one of the random bosses in my game beyond “Dude with a funny hat and a big axe”, “little dude who giggles”, “archer dude with poison” etc., etc. and those are essentially (even literally) no different to what thousands upon thousands of other players will have seen. It’s a random generator with a fairly limited pool of resources and people are talking it up because they want something “different” and they don’t much care what that is. SoM is still fun to play, but like I’ve said on the forums here, it’s every bit as formulaic and uninspired as AC gets accused (with some justification, obviously) of being. Talion’s a dick, Mordor is boring, the Nemesis system is all mouth and no trousers, the game is nothing but a creative murder sim – GTA’s rampages writ large with a fantasy skin and some silly padding.

          • Guvornator says:

            [SPOILERS (sort of)]

            How far have you got? Because killing the War Chiefs isn’t the only thing you can do with them…

            To be honest, I’d love to see a similar system in an AC game (not least because it makes more sense thematically) tactical murder to get your guys to the top of the tree? Plonk that back in Florence with, say, the Borgias/Templers trying to do the same thing to your guys. That’d be a great game.

  13. melnificent says:

    “Some of these rely on playing a mobile companion app, and there are options to short-cut with real money. I’ll come back to that shortly too.”

    I hear the Macrotransaction are quite painful in this one.

  14. Brosepholis says:

    I have honestly yet to see AVX improve performance for any kind of game-like code, so anyone who told you that lacking it was causing performance problems is probably either pulling your leg or ill-informed.

    • SuicideKing says:

      And Total Biscuit’s complaining of the same wonky performance on a 5930K and 2 GTX 980s.

  15. Meneldil says:

    One things to notice, is that there’s some politico-weirdo-debate going on in France right now, regarding ACU. And for once, it’s not about violence.

    A famous far left politician (Mélenchon, Front de Gauche) has been taking shots at the game, calling it reactionary propaganda.
    Arguably, he bases his rant on the trailer only, which I too found (as a historian) ridiculous. Robespierre is a monster and an emo templar? Check. Napoléon appears as a nice democrat? Check.
    The game seems to pretty much serve us the traditionnal north american view of the Revolution, ie: terrible proto-commies kill innocents by brainwashing this disgusting and highly suspicious mob.

    I find it lame, as the French Revolution was just so much more than that. But overall, I think Mélenchon misses the point: the History in AC is, and always was, just a background. Macchiavelli works against the Borgia while he actually served them for a long while IRL. Knightly orders are all united for a new world orders while they spent their time bickering. So on and so on.
    What’s different this time is that the Revolution is still a touchy subject in France, unlike the War of Independance in the US: while more and more people reject the Revolution (mostly in a weird branch of our far right movements) those days, it’s still largely considered as the birth of the modern french nation. Making a game about it is about as touchy as making a game about the mutineers of 1917 or the Vichy regime.

    • Haplo says:

      So out of curiosity (if you know), does Unity itself make Napoleon into a nice democrat? Is it aiming for a King Washington reinterpretation?

    • pepperfez says:

      Isn’t Ubi a French company? t’s weird that they would muff it so badly on something like that.

      • Skhalt says:

        Well they did manage to name their character Arno when the actual French spelling is Arnaud…

        • AXAXAXAS MLO II: MLO HARDER says:

          Maybe they were fishing for a tie-in with the home appliances manufacturer.

        • zapatapon says:

          Not systematically, as evidenced by the french lawyer Arno Klarsfeld (only known in France where he loves to appear in the media)

      • Reefpirate says:

        It’s Ubi Montreal, so a North American take wouldn’t be surprising.

        Personally I wouldn’t call Robespierre a commie, but certainly the mob and the guillotines and all of that kind of left the door wide open for someone like Napoleon. I don’t think a whole lot of political progress was being made in France until a long time after the Revolution burned out.

    • suibhne says:

      I’ll be interested to see how this plays out, considering that AC3 presented a far more nuanced view of the American Revolution, and the Founding Fathers, than I ever would’ve expected from Ubi.

  16. jonfitt says:

    One of the things that bugged me in AC3 (which is the latest I’ve played) was that the weapons were pointless (ha!). It didn’t matter which sword, or dagger, or hidden dagger I was carrying because I would counter kill every enemy. You insta-kill everybody if you do it right, and brawling instead is just not sensible.
    Did AC4 or Unity do anything to address this? There just isn’t any reason to upgrade weapons otherwise.

    • Zenicetus says:

      I remember the weapons in Black Flag (swords and pistols) as having at least some progression in effectiveness. Nothing major, but still noticeable in number of sword hits to kill a guy, or pistol shots to drop a heavy. Counter-kills may have been nerfed a bit, but I don’t remember. Maybe I’m not that good at it.

      The problem in my playthrough was that the best weapons and the ship upgrades maxed out way too early in the game. It was either my semi-completionist playing style, or just too much money too early in the game.

      Edit to add: Oh yeah, and there’s a blowdart that you get fairly early in the game that’s seriously overpowered and makes many of the side quest assassination missions a cakewalk. I couldn’t restrain myself from using it, but it would have been a better game without that particular gadget.

    • malkav11 says:

      The different weapons have different counter-kill animations. That was enough reason for me.

  17. Humble_Beest says:

    I’ve never been a big AC fan. Tried Revelations and got bored with it pretty quickly. That said, I do look forward to trying Black Flag (when I’m done with the excellent Shadows of Mordor). But I can safely say that I’ll also be skipping this iteration.

  18. redredredguy says:

    “icons, icons, everywhere, and surprisingly few to simply visit and be able to do a thing.”

    I love you Alec.

  19. Hatseflatsh2 says:

    Snagged myself a copy from here.

    link to gamescoon.net

  20. Arglebargle says:

    As always with the Assassin’s Creed series, they look like very interesting environments with these crappy games forcibly attached.

    Fortunately, I only blew my money on one of their number. Watching subsequent play videos has only further convinced me that I saved money and time by resisting the whole thing.

  21. zapatapon says:

    This review reminds me that I should someday finish the first AC, and possibly try the second which has been rotting on my steam library for ages.

    • Zekiel says:

      Don’t do it! At least not the first one. If you’ve done the first 3 assassinations you’ve seen all the game has to offer. The final sequence has some frustratingly hard combat and the ending isn’t worth it.

      However I hugely enjoyed the second and felt it fixed almost all the problems of the first one, so would recommend that. Although the plot gets a bit silly towards the end.

  22. jkkj says:

    I’ve been loving my time playing Unity, and I think it’s the best of the series yet.

    For the first time since AC1, the focus in this game is back on stealth and assassinations. The new sandbox (or “killbox” as I believe they called it during marketing) mission structure is far more fitting of the open-world and allows for a lot more experimentation and replay value. In fact, these have probably been the most memorable story missions in an AC game since AC1. Plus, the added stealth mechanics, while by no means solid, are definitely a step in the right direction. I also enjoy the added difficulty which adds some consequence to the combat.

    Also, I have to disagree with the feature creep comment. While there is a ton of stuff in there, and even a bit of bloat (with the microtransaction and companion app fluff being particularly annoying), it still feels lighter to me than Revelations, AC3, or Black Flag. At least, nothing is as tacked on as brotherhood missions, tower defense, or trade routes. In fact, one of the first things I noticed when playing was the number of missing features: hand-to-hand combat, using hidden blade as a weapon, using enemies as human shields, rope darts, trade routes, brotherhood missions (though those may have been missing from 4 as well), contract missions, crafting, timed traversal missions, faction missions, and the list goes on.

    Lastly, after seven years, the series was finally able to get one of its core mechanics right. While being chased by several guards for something or other, I turned a corner and found myself in the square out front of the Palais de Justice. I would estimate between one and two hundred NPCs occupy this tiny space. I was actually able to lose the guards in the crowd. Not stand in the middle of a group of four people and magically disappear, but literally put a hundred bodies between their sight lines and me. It was a great feeling.

    • KenTWOu says:

      Thank you for writing this.

    • Zenicetus says:

      Thanks, that’s the one comment here that might make me try the game, eventually.

      I’ve always thought the “Assassin” title wasn’t a good fit, after the first game. Partly because it’s more like “Heavily armed Killer Creed” as far as the main missions go, and also the way the protagonist dresses in the most flamboyant attire and exposed weapons, instead of trying to fit into the crowd.

    • malkav11 says:

      Sounds like the brotherhood missions got offloaded to a mobile app for Unity and maybe Black Flag as well.

  23. Fry says:

    Thank you for mentioning Doctor Who in an Assassin’s Creed review. It gives me the opportunity to hate on two awful things with half the effort.

    Stop buying these terrible games and stop watching that terrible show.

    • Scurra says:

      On the other hand (since I profoundly disagree with you regarding Doctor Who), there was also that line about even-numbered Star Trek movies, which are, of course, the ones that aren’t actually Star Trek (which is probably why they were successful with a mass audience.) But that’s an even more geeky argument than the one about Who.

  24. benjamin says:

    Thank you Mr Meer for summarising why I continue to watch and love Doctor Who despite how much it can try my patience.

  25. BooleanBob says:

    “In time, I learned to filter out what was in the game and what was trying to snare me within the large Ubisoft network and possibly even part with some cash.”

    That you had to learn anything of the sort would suggest to me that this is a game from which you should run screaming, and quite possibly never stop.

  26. Shaftoe says:

    I don’t know why this is a mystery for so many reviewers: I’ll tell you what’s obvious to me. AC1 had seriously flawed gameplay, but had the gleam of a gem underneath it AND it had a very compelling story. AC2 continued that story with one of the most interesting characters (protagonist anyway) in a video game – Enzo. Enzo took a good game and made it an incredible game, and then kept it going in two more sequels. Additionally, those games wove into the story the hidden level/puzzles, which by themselves were simple – nothing unto themselves – but gave the game a feeling of delving into a world of deep underlying mystery that was really compelling.

    That was what made those games great. Then Ubi went along and f’ed up the entire formula with AC3. They took away the mystery / illuminati / devling into places where you were meant to go with a bunch of ‘collect the glitch on the rooftop’ bits. They removed a great character and replaced him with one of the most bland protaganists in the history of gaming. To top it off, they took away the majesty of the roman cities and replaced it with a bunch of forest and a colonial town in the mud. And then they wondered why people went meh! They tried to save it with AC black flag, and it was certainly better – but without Enzo or the mystery, the pirate stuff was just OK.

    So, I haven’t played AC4 yet, and i’m wondering if I should hold out for a steam sale or not. It really all hinges for me on finding out if they actually put a good story back in. Because from a gameplay perspective, AC has always been a pretty repetitive stabby stabby mediocre game. It was brilliant when it had a great story. I wish the reviewer was more focused on that.

    Anyway, thats my take.

    • Jimbo says:

      Enzo?

      • Shaftoe says:

        Laughs! Ezio i mean of course. I have a friend named Enzo and I always joked with him about this game and now the two names are entwined in my head.

  27. MojaveMusic says:

    This sort of confirms what I’ve long suspected about AC, which is that it started out as a mildly interesting series that got gradually ground down into a very bland and bad one.

  28. Borodin says:

    No one seems to have mentioned what I consider to be very odd graphics. To me it looks like the character images have been blurred to look more photo-realistic, and the end result looks like bad Polaroid cut-outs stuck on a pretty background, but moving. Somehow I linked that into the jerkiness off the animation and I was generally put off the whole thing. I haven’t installed the new Nvidia driver yet that is supposed to improve specifically this game, but I can’t see it affecting the strange blurriness of the characters. I will update if I do find a change.

  29. Chaz says:

    I’ve been having a good laugh at some of the pictures and videos of all the bugs. The skinless face pictures are hilarious, as is the video of the NPCs interrupting a cut scene. link to youtube.com

    Keep up the good work Ubi, very entertaining and I haven’t even bought the game.

  30. Turkey says:

    It’s kind of a shame that Ubisoft are the only big developers who’ve figured out how to exploit historical settings other than WW2 for video games. Things would be more interesting if they had some competition.

  31. DXN says:

    There’s much to unpick there.

    […]

    Its standard edition (there are a number of more expensive ones, plus a season pass) costs £50/$59, requires Uplay and isn’t available on Steam in a number of territories, including the UK.

    That’s plenty to tamp out my interest.

  32. HisDivineOrder says:

    Everyone pining for Black Flag even with Unity is probably why Rogue 1) didn’t have press copies sent out, 2) had its PC version delayed until next year, and 3) is the redheaded stepchild of the series atm.

    Rogue looks to be everything people really wanted: moar piracy, moar island hopping, and more adventure.

    I remember six months ago Ubisoft was fielding inquiries to see if people would like a pirate series based around similar gameplay to Black Flag. I think they might well do it. You don’t need assassins and templars for every game involving the Animus. Especially when they’re doing the whole meta game motif. You could even make a game of making the game by emphasizing how none of this Pirate game akin to Black Flag is actually the way it really was.

    Make it arcadey. That lets you do all sorts of things you can’t do in something a little more serious.

  33. Syra says:

    Oh Alec I so often agree with you but I wonder now if the hive mind and I are in some kind of confluence. The way you spoke of Doctor Who was a mirror of my own feelings to the letter. And Blink and Midnight. Oh you beauty you know exactly how I feel. It’s like the whole space hulk sequence of events all over again.

  34. Nereus says:

    Huh. This is the first I have heard about microtransactions. I am suprised that is not getting more hate – have we become so desensitised that microtransactions in a single player game are business as usual?

    For me, that’s a giant “No. Nein. Nyet. Nao. Non. Kao. Nee. Tidak. Không. Nei.” I already disliked Ubisoft, but that makes me want to take it from actively refusing to buy their products, to actively ensuring others do not.

    • malkav11 says:

      To me it depends on whether the game design expects you to spend money on them, and whether they are anything that I would ever spend money on. I have no trouble ignoring the option to pay real money to deprive myself of the enjoyment of play, nor any real trouble ignoring, say, the option to spend money on temporary in-game consumables or single additions to some vast collection of weapons or whatnot that don’t make any meaningful difference to my experience. So generally microtransactions don’t bother me. If, on the other hand, the game is clearly set up so that I either have to do something monotonous and frustrating frequently or for an extended period of time; or I can spend real money to bypass it? Then I will not play that game because that is terrible, cynical design.

  35. heyhellowhatsnew says:

    Assassin’s Creed 3 was bad because I wasn’t a white male. Also we don’t even mention the Assassin’s Creed where I was a black female because, I wasn’t a white male. – Every White Male Reviewer who Reviews Assassin’s Creed.

  36. clorex says:

    Your CPU is old though. For games, IPC matters more than having >4 cores.

  37. beakel says:

    Good review, mister Meer. Pretty fair, for the most part, based on my limited experience with the game so far. I love this game series. I remember how I played in the first part. I was delighted :)

  38. Ghinbi says:

    I wouldn’t worry too much about the fps since the game, just like black flag, is locked at 63 anyway.

    Otherwise I didnt play Black Flag but Im enjoyin this one. It feel like a proper stealth game. Not a very elaborate one but it’s still pretty enjoyable to play overall