With seven games in six years, popping out every November like clockwork, a new release in the Assassin's Creed franchise seems like a foregone conclusion - surely everyone has already made up their mind whether to buy it or not?
The swooping camera giving tantalising glimpses of thronged streets and architectural landmarks. Almost a quarter of the buildings as well can be entered, with interiors ranging from bustling taverns to full size cathedrals, all of which can be entered smoothly without loading (though elsewhere there's time to make a cup of tea before watching a cut scene).
Unity also offers some amazing crowd scenes, with hundreds of people on screen at a time, all reacting in small and unique ways and allowing you to feel like a true predator as you glide through the bustle to slide a hidden blade into your target and casually walk away. Despite the beauty there is ugliness however, with what seems like the same character models as always, complete with waxy skin, hair that looks like a hat and lip synch that even the Muppets would laugh at.
What the game gets really wrong, are the same things that have been wrong since the beginning. The new travel down mechanic for the signature free running seems mostly cosmetic, in theory it should allow more fluid changes of direction, but you’ll still find yourself dangling off buildings and dropping in short drops to get down, same as always, and their definition of 'down' is quite wishy washy. Worse still, you’ll find yourself jumping in the wrong direction at random intervals and getting stuck on scenery, both problems users have complained of since AC1 and really something that should have been a higher priority than a 'down' button.
Unity has the makings of a great game in there somewhere, but it’s buried under too much dross
Ubisoft have also wasted a potentially great setting in the French Revolution, though have at least jettisoned the tired modern-day sections. This time of great social and political unrest should be ripe for the traditional Templar/Assassin conflict, but it always feels at arms' length.
Your character is never involved in any major historical turning points in the way Ezio, Connor and even Edward were in previous chapters - even the pivotal execution of the King is only used as background scenery for you to assassinate a target in a crowd. The Templars are not high profile figures of the day like the Borgias, and even the Reign of Terror, in which 15,000 were executed in a year is only mentioned in a cut scene and Parisians still fill the streets and taverns as if nothing has changed. It ends up feels very sterile; like you could be in any 18th century European city and that the Revolution is just a news item and topic of conversation rather than a thing that is happening.
There are even more side missions too, further distracting from the setting and much other aspects of the game are frankly broken. The Cafe Theatre for example, that acts as your base and main source of income, is just added to your map rather than being introduced properly and as a result can be completely missed. The Companion App, Initiates website and the online Players Club are all compulsory to unlock higher level equipment or chests and at the time of writing (a full week after retail release) both the App and Initiates weren’t synching to player profiles properly and the in game Players Club still reads “Coming Soon”.
And that charismatic lead they needed? They get half a point. Arno Dorian starts off in a similar vein toAC2’s Ezio, a brash and impetuous youth who has a quip for all occasions and a thirst for good times. It’s a promising start, but as the game progresses he becomes more and more moody and one dimensional until he has more in common with the deeply unpopular Connor of AC3. The one redeeming feature is his relationship with love interest/Templar Elise, who, despite the actress struggling to settle on an accent, offers a likeable secondary character and you can understand why Arno is so infatuated with her.
It’s a real pity as Unity has the makings of a great game in there somewhere, but it’s buried under too much dross and far too many obvious flaws for it to be the reboot the new generation needed and rather than acting as a statement of where the franchise is going, it instead serves only as a warning of what not to do.