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Vive la revolution!

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    Assassin’s Creed Unity

    Rating: 3.5 – Good

    Vive la revolution!

    The Assassin’s Creed series has been a bit interesting since they entered the gaming scene back in 2007. While the first game had its share of problems it still showed an interesting concept and a really intriguing story while also accommodating the gamers who prefer history above satire or just plain mindlessness. The second game in 2009 pushed it a bit more towards a Grand Theft Auto-like open world concept and had a bit more freedom and variety in the missions than the first one had, but in turn it still retained a lot of the good things to make the game stand out and set it on the path to superstardom.

    Since that second game there has been at least one game a year released for the major consoles, and in 2014 Unity was released and was the first Assassin’s Creed game to appear exclusively on the PS4 and Xbox One systems. Now the thing with yearly releases like that can be viewed from different angles; it could be called milking a series, but it could also be seen as a way to fine-tune and make every installment better than the last, while keeping the good things from previous games but removing things that didn’t work. Would any gamer complain if there were a couple of more Super Mario 64 games on the Nintendo 64? Sure it’d most likely be more of the same but as long as that same is good there’s no use to complain. The Assassin’s Creed games so far has certainly been this way; but with Unity it for some reason feels like something has changed, since even though some parts of it still holds a high quality there are several things that drags it down more than it should have to.

    Graphics

    One of the best ways to notice when a series moves over to a new console generation is – of course – the graphics. Unity is certainly no exception; pretty much everything when it comes to the visuals is incredibly impressive. The characters move really smoothly and the faces and expressions are really detailed, and the areas are really nice too. Most of the game take place in Paris and the city is really big and very detailed, and there has been a lot of attention to small details when making the buildings and areas, and especially when climbing high up to a viewpoint and activating it you can see how the camera zooms out and spin around you to give you an overview of the area you’re in; it’s seamless and still very sharp so that’s really one of the things to showcase the new console generation.

    The thing that was most mentioned in trailers of the game and such was the power to handle big crowds though; with the processing power of the new consoles Unity can handle a few thousand NPC characters on screen at once. Moving through a crowd sometimes feels a bit too stiff; if you move through a sea of people you’d probably try to slide between them – and that sometimes work but not always – and not just chestbump your way through, but when just watching them go on with their revolution or react to a fired gun or such it’s a joy to watch.

    Everything can’t be fine and dandy though, and there are some problems with the graphics of Unity too. While the horrible glitches with faceless people that seems to have been pretty common at launch now are gone thanks to a patch there are still instances where a person in the crowd might be seen floating instead of walking towards his or her goal and then there’s the fact that Paris is a pretty boring showcase; considering what has been seen in the earlier Assassin’s Creed games with nature environments and differing cities is traded here to be just one big city that’s very nicely done; it makes sense with the story not to have big forests or seas, but it surely feels like a missed opportunity for the game. But the things we get DO look really nice most of the time.

    Sound effects and music

    The sounds in Unity is basically what you’d come to expect from an Assassin’s Creed games; it’s not mindblowingly epic and good but in the same time it certainly isn’t bad either; it just exists and work well together with the gameplay and story. It sounds a lot like something you’d expect to hear in a movie of the same genre, a lot of strings and orchestral pieces, but it never becomes too much so it gets on your nerves. Just as with the nature environments, getting rid of the sailing parts also means that the sea chanteys are gone, which of course is a bit of a regression; while there are buskers singing in various parts of the city they just doesn’t feel like the same thing. Especially not since the songs are, understandably though, in French.

    Sound effects are good too; it still has the same almost cliched "sound of sharp" when pulling a sword and they cling a lot when fighting but overall that feels like it enhances the experience more than it distracts from it. The voice acting is overall good too and nobody sounds out of place. So the sounds, while not being a masterpiece on any level, certainly does its job well and provides for a nice experience during gameplay.

    Story

    As familiar to anyone who has played or looked up an earlier game in the series, pretty much every Assassin’s Creed game tells two separate stories; one that’s usually a bit more self-contained and take place in the past and one continuous and overarching that takes place in modern day. The link between these are the ancient constant struggles between the groups known as Templars and Assassins and how it’s progressed through the ages, and the fact that in the AC universe there has been a scientific breakthrough that lets people experience their ancestors memories through various devices.

    When it comes to the modern-day story not only is it brilliant because it explains game-overs as "desynchronizations" from the ancestor memories, but it also gives the games a great sense of connection that would’ve been a bit harder to follow if it just had been the past segments. However, since the gradual buildup of Desmond Miles that went on from Assassin’s Creed 1 and culminated in AC3 (worth noting is that Brotherhood and Revelations are very important too so it went on for a total of five games) it feels like it’s stagnated a bit. In AC4 and Rogue you instead were playing as a memory researcher for the company Abstergo and the segments where you played in the modern day mostly involved hacking computers through minigames and looking for dropped tablets. What it had to redeem itself a bit though is that it was all played in first person, making it feel like you were the researcher. In Unity this is taken even further with basically no modern gameplay at all but rather that you – as a person – takes on the role as someone experiencing the media that Abstergo has made from memories and published as a game; it’s incredibly meta. However, after playing an introduction your videogame stream – the fictitious Helix device streams the game and player data back to Abstergo – is hijacked by the Assassins who want you to play a different memory instead, the one of Arno Dorian.

    Arno’s origin story feels a bit like it combines a few elements from earlier Assassin’s Creed games; when just a child he sees his father murdered, but he is adopted by Francois De La Serre who’s a friend of the family. However these two families, including his childhood friend, adoptive sister and lover (yes that’s all three-in-one) Elise are on opposing sides of the assassin vs templar conflict, something Arno does not have any knowledge of. When trying to sneak into a party he isn’t invited to to meet Elise, Arno becomes witness to the murder or De La Serre, but as fate has it he’s instead accused of being the murderer and thrown in jail at the Bastille. Due to the situation at the moment, with the French Revolution starting to boil up, he gets an opportunity to escape and takes it. When he gets out there are a few things he wants to do; explain to Elise that he wasn’t the one who killed her father, track down and get revenge against those who actually did it plus find out more about the whole assassins and templars thing.

    The Arno part of the story works pretty well; Paris during the revolution is an interesting time period to tell stories from, and Arno as a character at first feels a bit like they tried to make him an expy of Ezio but as you get further into the game and his personality develops he comes across as a unique and interesting in his own right. The only part where it feels like the games story doesn’t really hold up against the earlier parts of the series, and that’s only if you compare them, is the modern-day one. It seems to have declined from game to game since AC3 and it’s a bit sad since it gave the series a nice sense of connection.

    Controls

    While the PS4 is a new console, not that much has happened to the controller; sure start and select has been replaced with options and the touchpad, but the amount of and overall layout of the buttons are the same. Still for every Assassin’s Creed game released there has been some minor tweaks here and there, but for Unity it feels like it’s got quite the overhaul, and interestingly enough this isn’t entirely for the better.

    Just like most other games played in third person view you’ll control the main character with the left stick and move the camera with the right one. However with a game such as this where you’re not really moving around in a limited set area but rather involves a lot of climbing and freerunning that’s not all you do to just get around; if holding in R2 while moving you’ll enter the high-profile mode which lets you go a little faster and also climb and scale objects, however this sacrifices some stealth so enemies are more likely to pay attention to you if they see you. Now if you’re running along the rooftops you might want to head either further up or try to get down to street level again; this is done with the X and Circle buttons respectively – if you want to get further up while climbing you hold X and R2 while moving while if you want to go downwards you’ll have to use Circle and R2. This sounds like a great idea in theory, since it should make it smoother to descend while still maintaining some speed; in the older games you still used circle but it was more to go down and hang from a ledge, then press it again to drop. Here it’s meant to be more fluent, but for some reason the freerunning feels clunkier than ever in Unity. Even when keeping on moving, Arno feels a lot slower than previous Assassin’s Creed protagonists, and it also feels like there are more areas now where you feel you should be able to climb or drop down but you’re not. That certainly doesn’t feel like progression from the earlier games, and for such as an integral part of the series as freerunning that’s not good news.

    Fighting works a bit better though, and even though it’s hard to de-learn that Triangle isn’t used for tools but rather eagle vision nowadays it still works fine. The tools like smoke bombs have been changed to the R1 button, while you can use firearms and other ranged weapons by aiming with L1 and firing with R2. If you sneak up behind an enemy or you are in hiding and he comes close by you can use Square to assassinate him; as long as you won’t let any other enemies see this you won’t be discovered. However if you are busted killing enemies or trying to sneak into somewhere you shouldn’t be you’ll enter open conflict, and here it’s more of a classical swordfight (or whatever weapon you decide to equip Arno with) – you’ll still use Square to swing your sword and attack, but since enemies often gang up on you you’ll have to dodge attacks with X and parry with the Circle button to be able to get out alive. One thing that feels a bit annoying with the controls when dealing with enemies is that it’s actually been downgraded a bit; when facing enemies with pistols or rifles in the older games you could grab an enemy to use as a human shield whenever they had their gun ready, meaning you got rid of an opponent and got off damage-less. That command is gone now, and instead all you can hope for is to be able to pull off a successful dodge roll which might be hard if there are multiple enemies around you. Also when you’re in hiding it’s often desirable to make the enemies come to you; earlier games let you whistle to trick an enemy to come closer, but that’s also been removed here. Instead you’re supposed to use a cherry bomb tool to lure the enemies to come to you, and it would’ve been acceptable if you were able to throw it from a hiding spot but instead you have to throw it and then hide, and if you’re not careful it might land so that the enemy is just out of reach from you. While both the whistling and human shield probably aren’t the most realistic things in the series (the grabbed shield enemies never objected against being grabbed), they were surely things that made the combat and stealth gameplay a bit more fun and varied, so it’s sad to see them removed. But without thinking of what wasn’t kept for the game and instead looking at what it is, the game has a neat and balanced fight system; it’s not as butterslicing as the Ezio games were but it’s not too reliant on the dodge-dodge-dodge-opening of AC3 either.

    For the first time in the series, which might come as a bit of a surprise considering how one of the main basics of the series is about how to kill people as silently as possible, we’ve got a sneaking button! Since this is the counterpart of high-profile it’s only logical to have it set to L2. When holding it down Arno will crouch and move more slowly, making less sound and therefore making him harder to detect, and it also lets shorter objects like tables and sofas act like cover. If you tap X when you’re sneaking and undetected Arno will press up against the wall or closest object, which works well if you need to sneak over to a door opening or similar and take out an enemy from a corner. However this feature is a bit finicky, since it doesn’t always register and sometimes it’s hard to tell if it did or did not until you move or try to assassinate someone and it turns out to be a normal and not a cover assassination ending with you out in the open. The idea of more stealth in these stealth games is certainly not a bad one, but it could use some more fine polishing.

    Now it might sound like the controls are really bad, but they surely aren’t; when judged by themselves or when compared to many other third person action games they still work like a charm, it’s just when compared to the earlier games in the series that the freerunning feels a bit clunky and that you notice that some thing’s actually been removed. It might happen a few times every time you play the game that the ascent/descents feel a bit weird or that you miss those commands, but it’s nothing that affects the game so much it makes you not want to play it.

    Gameplay

    The general gameplay haven’t changed too much over the course of the series since the formula they found for the second game; the game presents you with a big world where you’re free to run around and scale buildings as you please. When you’re ready to progress the story you head to a marker on the map to start a new mission, and between that there are a lot of side missions to do and collectibles to pick up. While this game might feel a bit scaled back when it comes to variety in environments and not having several cities to explore it tries to make it up by making that sole city in the game feel really interesting instead; Paris is the biggest and most detailed city in Assassin’s Creed history (there is a small Versailles map too, but it’s too small to call it an additional city).

    When going to a mission marker you can get some info about the mission such as a small introductory text, estimated difficulty and what rewards you’ll get upon completion, and then you can choose whether to begin the mission or save it for later. Most of the mission types will feel pretty familiar to fans of the series; there will be tailing missions, missions where you need to protect someone (though unlike normal escort missions most people here can help in a fight) and assassination missions. It really feels like Ubisoft has tried to make things more user friendly and less frustrating since even the tailing missions, which used to be annoying chores, now manages to be pretty good since you’re not required to stay as close to the target and you can use eagle vision much more effectively to keep track of where your target is without exposing yourself too much. Eagle vision is also a classic series staple, and it works in a way that when you use it enemies become highlighted in red, targets in gold and chests and similar collectibles in white, among other stuff, and it can be a great help to see what’s behind a wall – however it can also trick you from time to time in this game since there are so many indoor areas it’s sometimes hard to tell if you’re looking at an enemy guarding outside or behind a door, which can lead to some confusing moments from time to time. But to get back to the missions, the true high point of this game’s story missions are the assassination ones; as the series have progressed it feels as if the focus has drifted away from the assassinations, while in the first game basically everything you did was to prepare for those climaxes. Now this progression sure has been good since Assassin’s Creed 1 felt rather unpolished, but this game brings back the assassinations as big things whereas in the other sequels they felt more like any other missions. Every assassination missions has several different ways to tackle it and you can often do some preparation work before heading to the main objective to unlock things that’ll act as distractions or help you flee later on; it’s a really good mix between the buildup they had in AC1 and the user friendliness of the missions that’s present in the later games.

    In addition to the main missions there are also a heap of side missions to complete for various reasons; some of them are missions for the Assassin’s Brotherhood, others are missions to complete to renovate and increase the revenue of the various social clubs like cafes and theatres that you can buy in the city. These are often really short missions that just give you a quick and easy objective to complete like assassinating a single target or beat up some thugs. Since they’re so short it can be fun to do them every now and then in between the main missions, since if you save them all to do at once later they might become a bit repetitive. There are also a special kind of riddle missions called Nostradamus Enigmas; while not really that similar these are basically Unity’s version of the Subject 16 puzzles and the hacking minigames found in earlier games, in that they require more thinking than action, but these are taken to a whole new level. When finding one of these glowing symbols, you can start the mission to get a riddle that guides you towards the next symbol, and while most of the easier Enigmas have the symbols pretty close to the starting point the more difficult ones will have you running all over town. While some say it’s too difficult and that you’ll need a degree in French history to get the clues, making them resort to a guide immediately, they kinda miss the main point of these – for a long time now every AC game has had its own encyclopedia where people you run into and buildings or landmarks you see are added with a pretty long text about each. Being able to go through this and do your research is what the Enigmas are all about, though for non-native speakers it might be a good idea to have Google translate up since they’re often written in rather outdated and complicated English. The last kind of interesting side missions are the murder mysteries; these are an evolution of some of the investigative side missions found in Assassin’s Creed 3 and they really work. They basically put Arno in the role of the detective in a classic murder whodunnit case and you have to interview witnesses, use eagle vision to look for clues and then put things together to accuse one of several suspects. Just like sailing in the earlier games this is a gameplay aspect that doesn’t sound like it would work very well in a game about assassins but it really does. All of these different kinds of side missions really helps the game feel more alive and gives you things to do more than just plowing through the story like A-B-C; it’s just a matter of spacing them out a bit so you won’t have to do these in an A-B-C progression format since then they might run the risk of feeling a bit repetitive.

    Another thing that’s been a staple of the Assassin’s Creed series are the collectibles. While the pure old collect-a-thon platformers have long since disappeared it feels like AC inherited that part of gaming and is the best alternative nowadays, at least until Yooka-Laylee is released. The thing that this series does so good about collectibles is that first and foremost they’re not that hidden; in games like GTA you’ve got stuff like where you need to find 100 hidden packages or shoot 200 pigeons scattered all around the city. However when you’ve gone through the story, picking up or shot what you’ve found, you still have over half of the objects left. When you decide to use a guide for the rest it can be pretty tough to remember what places you’ve already been and this leads to you not only feeling like you’re wasting time but also makes you unsure sometimes if you’re in the right area or not when following a guide; this in turn makes you SKIP things you come across to just go and a collecting spree with a guide later, kind of defeating the whole purpose. Of course not everyone works that way, but for completionists that’s how it turns out. However the AC series has remedied that by being very generous with what’s shown on your map screen; usually collectibles show up when you’re in the general area of them and if you synchronize viewpoints to unlock more detailed map data the markers for these often shows up too. While this might sound like an awful lot of handholding, it makes for a much more streamlined game experience to know where stuff are and just have to figure out how to get to it instead of just having to run around aimlessly – the developer goal of using it to showcase various areas of the game you probably wouldn’t have noticed otherwise is still intact. That you see it on your map also leads to several times when you think "just one more collectible, it’s only 100m away", especially when sailing in IV and Rogue it was very easy to get sidetracked with stuff like this. What’s odd is how AC Unity manages to remove these great parts from it; instead of getting all collectible locations marked when you synchronize with a viewpoint you only get them to pop up when you’re close to them, which is kind of a regression compared to earlier. This however can be remedied by buying the time saver packs which will give you these icons when you sync with a viewpoint, however these are only obtainable by using Helix credits which is mainly the real-money-currency in Unity, however the ones you need are thankfully enough so cheap that you’ll be able to buy them with the free Helix credits you get when starting the game. But another thing they’ve done to make it a bit less streamlined to collect things are the lockpicking minigames; in the earlier games you could always go for an item you saw marked on a map, and very very few were locked behind story events or anything but could instead be picked up at any time. AC unity instead introduces a system with lockpicking; while it doesn’t affect many of the cockades or emblems even if a few are behind locked doors, and there still are white chests that are unlocked, the red chests are locked. First of all to lockpick something you obviously need a lockpick, and while those are pretty cheap and easy to keep in your inventory, the minigame you need to complete to unlock something drags down the tempo of collectibles enormously. There are three different difficulty levels of locks; the minigame itself is that you’ve got a bar with a blue area and a marker bouncing up and down the bar, and you need to press X when the bar is within the blue area. For each of the three difficulties the blue area gets smaller, the marker moves faster and the number of locks you need to pick increases from one to three. However, lockpicking is a skill you can increase when going through the story of the game to increase the blue area and decrease the speed of the marker; a level three lock is practically impossible to get open if you’ve only got the level one skill. However the ability to raise these skills come at set points in the story and the third one comes pretty late, meaning that even if you pass by a chest it’s not certain you’ll be able to open it at the part of the game you’re currently at. This, along with the fact that many chests are hidden within buildings that there might only be one entrance to that’s hard to find, kills much of the pacing of picking up these collectibles and makes it feel quite a bit less fun than in the earlier installments of the series. It’s obvious that their intention was to improve things but it ended up the other way sadly.

    One thing that’s been in a few of the games in the series already but first now been given a bigger role are the equipment choices; while earlier games let you buy and equip weapons it felt highly forgettable and often you could get by with buying some expensive weapon once you had the money then just go for it and use it for the rest of the game. Here, weapons are unlocked as you progress through story and side missions, but in most cases you also have to purchase them from a shop in the menus. Purchases can be made either with normal in-game money or Helix credits bought with real money, but every weapon can also be upgraded once, like most swords that can get a 25% damage bonus. This is however done with your Creed points, which are points that are awarded to you for doing assassin-like things (air assassinations, using a lift, hiding from enemies) and adds a bit of strategy to the whole weapon choice – upgrade now, or save it until you’ve unlocked a better weapon later? The skills are also much more customizable in Unity than they’ve been in earlier games in the series; there it was often about unlocking them through story progression, while here you get sync points by completing main story missions or finding them as pickups in the multiplayer missions, and then you can decide for yourself whether you want to put them into lockpicking, more health, better weapon skills or whatever you see fit. While some of them are still locked until you pass a certain point in the game it’s a bit more strategic than just "beat mission X to unlock skill Y". To make sure you won’t forget about either the skills (that’s pretty unlikely though since they are so useful) or the equipment you’ve got a rating visible just above the health meter at any time; this ranks you from one to five stars depending on your current equipment and skills. Getting it up to five isn’t too hard if you open chests and do side missions to get money for stuff, but it’s a nice reminder to have and certainly helps to keep you updated on the equipment.

    Multiplayer/DLC

    It’s always felt like Assassin’s Creed had a bit of a hard time figuring out how to create a fun multiplayer mode; the Brotherhood and Revelations versions were horrible, Wolfpack in AC3 and Black Flag was pretty fun but hard to further develop, so now they’ve tried for something new; pure co-op missions. What’s odd is that from the first time you try them, they feel extremely natural to the gameplay of the series and you really wonder how it took so long for them to come up with it. There are two types of co-op missions in the game; heists, where you need to get to a chest that’s protected by enemies and you’re rewarded with money but gets less the more you’re spotted, and the missions that are pretty similar to other missions in the game and these reward you with sync points and equipment. One thing that’s very good is that it’s possible to start these missions with fewer players than the max amount; so you can solo the missions and if you stock up on berserk darts (a ranged weapon which makes enemies fight each other) and smoke bombs it’s not too difficult for a high-ranked assassin to do them solo, but it’s also good if it’s only you and a friend and don’t want to play with two others for a four-player mission. One thing worth noting if you care about such things are that some of the trophies require player interaction though; so even though it’s possible to do the missions solo you won’t get the platinum without actual online play. When playing with others it’s a really good idea to use a mic, be it to tell them that you’re going off track to pick up a sync point or just to make up some strategies, it really helps and it’s really beneficial that all PS4’s seem to come bundled with a small headset. So overall, the multiplayer version in this game is the best the series have had so far, and it even seems like they originally wanted to make it even more oriented towards it since while all multiplayer missions are currently bundled in their own category in the game tracker all main and side missions are also listed as "1 player max", which makes it seem like they maybe were meant to say different things from the beginning. However, the way it is now with a dedicated 11 missions and 7 heists certainly seems like the wisest decision rather than just mixing everything up.

    While the DLC might feel like a separate entity it’s made free for all users now, so unless you haven’t got your PS4 hooked up to the internet there’s no reason not to get it. Just like with the multiplayer, the DLC is also one of the better in the series; there has been examples of where they’ve strayed so far from the main game that they’ve became really uninteresting like in Revelations or AC3, and the better ones have been those that has been extensions of the main game, like Freedom Cry from Black Flag or Da Vinci’s Disappearance from Brotherhood. This one is more like the latter, and is kind of an epilogue chapter set in the area of Franciade (otherwise known as Saint-Denis) and acts just as it should; it’s got its own mini-story with six memory sequences, some side missions, one heist and one co-op mission and a new set of collectibles too. While it adds a few things that weren’t in the main game they either make things better or are minor enough to not be that noticeable. Overall it’s a good DLC so considering it’s free there’s really no reason not to own it.

    TOTAL

    The game certainly is a mixed bag. It does some things very right; the graphics are really beautiful, the fighting controls are good, the detective missions are really neat and the assassinations actually have some impact again. However, the controls for freerunning feels unusually clunky and getting collectibles has become much less streamlined with the decision to make some chests locked and also that you need to find ways to get into buildings. The thing with Unity is that, unlike other AC games where it feels like it might’ve been two steps forward one step back, this is one step forward and one and a half step back; it does a few things better than it’s predecessors, but it also manages to do other things way worse than the earlier games in the series.

    If

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