Assassin's Creed

Dr. Guillotin or: How I Learned to Stop Fighting and Enjoy AC: Unity

It was during one of the challenge/co-op missions that I realized how to play AC: Unity. I was playing slow, deliberate, and thoughtful – I was playing like an assassin. I was also really enjoying the game despite the previous dozen or so hours of frustration. This frustration was because I kept trying to play Unity like the more recent games (and my memory of the first few games where countering an opponent’s attack was always the way to win a melee). Unity is not a game where you can rush forward while killing everything in your path. Smoke bombs are still pretty op, however. It is not a perfect game by any stretch, but Unity was able to elicit from me every possible emotion which is quite an accomplishment.

I will begin with the good. AC Unity is set during the most important years for the modern world. The French Revolution called into question a lot of long-standing traditions and asked fundamental questions about what it means to be a citizen instead of a subject, what constitutes acceptance into a nationality, as well as the ability for political change to supersede the human ability to keep up with said change. The Revolution provides an interesting backdrop for the game and adopts the usual AC trope of important historical characters being side characters. That being said, meeting young Napoleon is awesome. For an older game, I was still impressed by the graphical fidelity and the crowd density. I remember the first AC game’s big selling point was urban density with large crowds being possible avenues of escape for the player. Unity keeps that tradition up with large crowds and packed streets being extremely common. This comes at a price, however, as my baseline PS4 routinely struggled to keep a steady framerate in large crowds. There’s also a great deal of player customization with numerous articles of clothing being interchangeable which can cater to specific playstyles (though the sans culotte hood’s floppy end always looked silly). The enjoyment with the gameplay comes from the harder missions where a slow methodical approach must be adopted to remove potential threats such as snipers or particularly inquisitive guards. The tools at your disposal are useful and limited which forces the player to think outside the box at times and to plan your route. A smoke bomb here obscures your flight across an open courtyard, a flash bomb there to distracts some guards, a berserk dart in the neck of some guard causes all hell to break loose allowing you to leisurely enter your target’s residence. Like older AC games, Unity allows you to loot the corpses of dead opponents if you are low on supplies, but this is not a tactic to be relied on entirely. When I finally accepted what Unity was, a stealth game, I found that I really enjoyed the experience. This was not an easy conclusion to reach, however.

While Unity is a good game, it does have a number of blemishes. I have seen a number of people claim that the movement and parkour systems in Unity are the best in the series. I find this statement to be entirely false. The movement is clunky, I had so many experiences where Arno did not do what I wanted him to do. Climbing through windows almost never made sense to me as Arno would move all over the exterior the window without actually entering the building. Some comments I have seen state that the movement system is “deliberate.” This is a polite way of saying “clunky.” I found myself just running from place to place instead of climbing buildings because I found the parkour system so clunky. The combat system feels to be deliberately gimped where counter spam does not work (that the camera is less than perfect, this is especially noticeable inside buildings where the camera gets stuck on level geometry, certainly does not help). Looking back at how easy the combat was in earlier games, I understand why the combat system would be changed in Unity. This does force the player to actually act like an assassin where one-on-one fights are stupidly easy but getting bogged down by guards is almost certain death. That being said, this de-emphasis on combat does deflate a lot of the progression you feel as a player. All the shiny and new weapons instantly lose their appeal when getting into combat is the last thing you want to do. Since the game takes place during the French Revolution in the late 18th century guns are extremely commonplace. The free aiming in Unity is one of the worst I have ever experienced. The reticule is miniscule, the camera zooms in way too far, and sometimes Arno just does not shoot when you push in the trigger. This system is only ever useful before combat has been engaged which, again, leads the player down a certain playstyle. The main story is okay with two young lovers reuniting in a turbulent time, but I found that Arno lost all his character right after the tutorial. I was hoping for an Aladdin-esque character, but all his humor and zest is sucked out immediately upon entering the Bastille. I understand that Arno has a reason to be taciturn, but he has zero character throughout the majority of the game adopting a very early aughts Batman type character of gruffness.

There is a good game in Unity, but it is a diamond in the rough. I enjoyed Origins and Odyssey quite a bit despite their bloat. Both these games are also fundamentally different from the older games. I have not played Syndicate, but Unity feels like the last hurrah of AC to be a stealth game instead of the action-rpgs they have become. If you give yourself over to Unity’s demand for stealth and quiet assassinations than Unity is a solid recommendation.

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