For years Ubisoft has been providing gamers with beautiful historic cities to explore, visually stunning combat maneuvers to execute, and an intriguing narrative blend of history and sci-fi with their signature Assassins Creed series. However, there have also been many gameplay quirks that have plagued the series since Altair’s adventure in Jerusalem and, after almost 8 years of iterations, they’ve become more than just a minor annoyance.
But then E3 2014 came around, and Ubisoft debuted their first Assassin’s Creed game built exclusively for the impressive capabilities of the now-current generation of consoles: Assassins Creed Unity. With a 1:1 scale of French Revolution Paris and a crowd density of about 5,000 NPC on the screen at any given time, this game certainly takes advantage of its new hardware. Angry mobs have never been as massive and as player-responsive. That, and the new assassin — Arno — will be scaling buildings larger than in any previous game. After clearly listening to all the gripes and concerns disgruntled fans had with the previous titles, Unity is shaping to be the Assassin’s Creed game we’ve all been waiting for.
Apart from the blood soaked streets of the turmoil-ridden new city of Paris and the quick-witted, dapper looking new protagonist Arno, Assassin’s Creed Unity has many new tricks and improvements up its sleeve to give players the immersive feeling of truly being a blade in the crowd. First off, combat in Unity has been re-worked from the ground up to be more difficult and actually require a layer of strategy. Enemies have health bars now, and Arno does not have the over-powered counter kill maneuver that his ancestors did. Instead of just button mashing and waiting for the glorious but incredibly easy counter kill, Arno has to rely on quick combinations of his new moves, all unlockable in a separate skill tree. The half French, half Prussian assassin is bringing a fancy and elegant combat style that’s basically fencing. This means that in order for Arno to gain an advantage he has to strike first and quickly, with combinations of his attack, heavy attack, parry, dodge, and secondary parry moves. But if guards aren’t dispatched quickly and reinforcements arrive, Arno won’t be able to just continue a kill streak be a one-man army like the others. He’ll have to use some of his various tools, including the awesome looking new signature weapon — the Phantom Blade — and then run away, like a real assassin would have.
From the looks of the gorgeous E3 single-player demo, Arno now has several new parkour and navigation moves that add a much needed upgrade to player movement and fluidity. Gone are the days that the only route down from a rooftop is to either fall into a hay bale, or in the absence of one, leap off of a ledge clumsily and hope for the best on the way down. Ubisoft showcased a new parkour move called ‘controlled descent’. It looks so epic, I might be climbing rooftops just to leap, spin and Prince-of-Persia my way down them again. In controlled descent you can push a separate button to “parkour down” and Arno will find a route down in the flashiest, yet most efficient way possible. One of the moves includes a parachute like jump, that starts with Arno and his arms outstretched and ends with him grabbing onto a pole and swinging upwards like Spiderman. Arno looks like the fastest and most agile assassin yet.
Another simple, yet immensely gratifying navigation feature is the addition of the crouch button, that has been surprisingly absent in all other Assassin’s Creed games. This is exciting because it puts the stealth strategy completely in the players hands, because now you can crouch at any time to help avoid detection or take cover behind any obstacle. Before, stealth was only possible in areas where Ubisoft developers put tall grass, bushes, or hay bales, which made figuring out which stealth route to take depressingly obvious. Now it’s up to us to find our own cover and carve our own path of infiltration in a cover-to-cover system that looks a bit borrowed from Watch Dogs. But that’s perfectly ok.
Another frustrating aspect of the previous Assassin’s Creed games was that almost every building was inaccessible. The ones that weren’t were preceded by an obnoxiously long loading screen that, at least for me, totally killed the immersion. You’ve got this whole, beautifully recreated city, but an entire layer of it is off bounds. Now, according to developers, Paris will have one explorable interior space for every four buildings in the city that Arno can enter seamlessly without a loading screen. The thought of escaping into a blacksmith’s shop and hiding behind an anvil, while your pursuers run past the door during a chase, is very satisfying. Not to mention sneaking around the luxurious mansions of France’s rich and noble will reveal an interesting dichotomy in contrast to the explorable indoor slums and catacombs of the poor and sick.
It seems like the game designers were listening to all those “one star ratings” gamers awarded Black Flag’s incredibly boring tailing missions. Now there are none of them! Well sort of. You just now have more options to complete a mission. If slowly tailing a target through the city isn’t your thing, just run up and kill him, loot the document and you’ve completed the mission. Or gather intel from another character and meet your unsuspecting target at the location he’s heading to. According to Unity’s creative director Alex Amancio, there will be many ways and outcomes for the player to choose in a mission, so the tactics are completely up to you.
Assassin’s Creed Unity releases this October 28th for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC.