Part 1: Assassin’s Creed Unity
To sum it up simply, Unity is just NOT fun and a total step backward for the series. Lets break it down though. It’s beautiful to look at and hopefully a sign of things to come for future games as far as lighting, facial expression, and world detail. However, Ubisoft removed a lot of basic features from previous titles that made them more fun and more streamlined to play.
The controls just don’t work well making you feel like you really don’t have a feel for what your character is going to do. The AC series has always had trouble getting free running to work right and feel natural but Unity seems to have far more trouble than they used to. Trying to jump from a pillar to another or jump into a window rather than jumping past it are unpredictable at best. Getting caught on geometry and breaking the free running flow complete negates the cool parkour animations they added.
Ubisoft said combat was made harder since they wanted you to avoid it. All that means is there’s less you can actually do now in combat so you’re at the mercy of being killed by cheap shots. Maybe I have been spoiled by the amazing combat from Shadow or Morder, but it’s just no longer fun to fight anyone. There are no quick kill chains which felt awesome in the last games and you can’t use people as a human shield when being shot at so get used to being shot ALL the time and not being able to do anything to stop it. You can’t pick up enemy weapons Which is something you could do as far back as AC2.
There are what appears to be a thousand side missions and collectables almost all of which end up being mind numbingly boring and add nothing to the story or characters. There are so many icons on the map screen it looks like someone vomited on it (thank god for filters at least). A “Murder Mystery Mission” always comes down to go to area, use eagle vision to find highlighted object, click on all objects, accuse person who is obviously guilty of murder (who is usually right in that area).
Basic tools are withheld behind a terrible upgrade system for arbitrary reasons. One example, eagle vision (being able to spot guards and targets) has a time limit of like 3 seconds and a cool down of 3 more which makes you just mash the button as soon as it turns off just waiting for it to turn back on so you can spot stuff. Why do that now when you had no time limit in previous titles? It just adds frustration of having to wait. Other assassination tools that have been available in the series from the early points of the game like the Air Double Kill are locked until you progress further in the story. It feels like you are playing with an arm tied behind your back because you know what you “could” do in a situation, but you just can’t because the game doesn’t think you should yet. Games that give you more freedom to play out a scenario the way you want with a variety of tools and options are much more satisfying to play if you ask me.
You’ll see loot chests all over your map with red ones needing a lock pick skill and lock picks to open. These locked chests have 3 levels of skill needed to unlock them. If you don’t have the right level, it’s nigh impossible to open. However, you have no way of knowing if it’s a box you have the skill to open until you have gone to the trouble of tracking it down, killing the guards, and trying to open it. Another waste of time. The 3 levels of lock picking required aren’t even an option to upgrade until late in the story. Why even bother with chests if you can’t be assured you’ll be able to open any of them until the end-game?
Mission difficulty is all over the map. I was doing missions underspeced for a long time with no problem and I don’t consider myself particular good at games. When you finally do need to upgrade your stats to take on higher difficulty missions, you just need to spend money on better equipment. You can break the economy pretty quickly by doing the Theater Missions so you’ll never have to worry about money. Oh except that to get that money you have to physically visit a single box in the whole world to collect it. Oh and by the way, once that box fills up to it’s very small limit, it no longer accumulates money so get used to visiting it over and over breaking any flow you might have in the story. Fast traveling there is the obvious thing to do but load times are usually a minute-plus long so also get used to starting at a black screen for hours.
I liked the present day story intrigue and mystery from the past games but there’s basically none of that in this game. What they do put in are 3 quick story missions having you traverse glitched out versions of Paris in different time periods for no real reason. It feels more like they felt obligated to show off the Eiffel Tower and the Statue of Liberty because hey we’re in Paris and we can’t fit those into the French revolution any other way.
I did like the voice acting and the cut-scenes look great, but it did weird me out that everyone in Paris has an English accent occasionally throwing in a phrase or two in French. Assassin’s Creed as a series has never been consistent with accents but it still seems really weird given how much attention they gave to the world.
The most fun I had with it were the missions infiltrating a mansion or palace and working my way toward the final target. I found stabbing guards in plane sight of party goers never seemed to bother anyone when you would expect it to cause quite a disturbance though. For those missions you usually have some side objective that will supposedly help you finish the mission. However it’s never made clear how doing those side objectives will help or when they will come into play. If you manage to get one of them to actually work, it can provide a cool twist to the mission (helping you escape, making it easier to get to your target) but it just doesn’t pay off enough to bother doing them when stealthing your way in and shoot/stabbing your target works just as well. If you’re looking for a good game with multiple ways to deal with assassinating a target, check out Dishonored or Hitman.
Lastly for Unity is a buggy broken mess that feels like they rushed it out the door for the holidays. I had it hard crash 4 times and my character got stuck in geometry numerous times requiring a restart or fast traveling to get him out. The frame rate issues make it almost unplayable when it dips into what feels like the low 20′s or even teens. Trying to time a parry and free running just feels laggy and I think I took more hits than I otherwise would have had the frame rate been better.
Part 2: Assassin’s Creed Rogue
I liked Assassin’s Creed 4 Black Flag a lot and to put it simply, Rogue is more of 4 with newer, snowier, locals. All the good things from 4 are here. The boats are fun (if you were into that), the combat feels good (if you were into that as well). The open maps and stealth mechanics work fine though guards are as dumb as usual. There’s an added element of hidden assassin’s that will jump out and shank you if you ignore their presence indicator. This actually did a good job of keeping me on edge looking out for them once the screen starts showing one is near. The characters are all pretty believable and well acted except for one ally who sounds like he’s doing his best Captain Laserbeam impression from the Thrilling Adventure Hour podcast (kind of hilariously out of place).
Rogue also brings together Assassin’s Creed 3 and 4 in a very satisfying way reintroducing characters from both and tying up loose ends. The present day storyline has you in the same Abstergo Entertainment game studio finding emails and computer terminals strewn about, but it at least gives you more to chew on than the nothing that Unity offered. The story as a whole isn’t earth shattering but it’s far from the worst video game story I have played.
My only wish is that this came out on the PS4 and looked as good as last years Assassin’s Creed 4. The water in that game looked incredible and it’s a sad reminder that you’re on an Xbox 360 every time you look at the relatively flat featureless ocean. It doesn’t look bad especially for a 360 game though and actually runs at a better consistent frame rate that Unity.
Assassin’s Creed Unity is a huge step back despite how pretty its visuals are. Maybe given another year they could have made this a “fun” game to play and ironed out all the bugs. It felt very much like Watch Dogs, another super hyped Ubisoft release this year, in that there was a lot of promise but the game itself is just boring and a let down.
Assassin’s Creed Rogue proves that Assassin’s Creed 4 Black Flag had a good formula and was taking the series in a fun direction. It’s pretty much the same game with a different story and pallet swapped locations, but if you’re looking for more of what 4 offered, then there’s nothing wrong with that. If you’re wanting to get your Assassin’s Creed fix and you enjoyed 4 even a little, go with Rogue this year and forget Unity. Your time is better spent having fun than fighting frustration and boredom. While I think they need to stop annualizing this series, maybe next year we’ll get a better game.