Developer: Ubisoft Montreal
Release Date: November 11, 2014
Rated:M for Mature
Platform: Playstation 4, Xbox One (Reviewed on)
Genre: Historical Action-Adventure
Whenever I write a review for any game, I try my best to write out my thoughts before condemning or approving it with the most objective, constructive tone I can muster. That’s because I think of all the work that’s been put into it; from storyboards, to art design, to the meticulous detail of determining gameplay, there’s A LOT of work put into a game. Like any product, it’s not always going to come out perfect; most of the time there are going to be little bugs here and there that are minor grievances.
But, man, Assassin’s Creed: Unity really pushes the boundaries of tolerance for me. It’s the first game where the negatives far outweigh the positives so much as to to make it incredibly hard to not devolve into insulting this product. In its very essence, Assassin’s Creed: Unity is the perfect example of just what a developer should not be able to get away with. Games should be about taking the time necessary to craft an experience through establishing firm foundations to build upon; whether that’s a good storyline or organic gameplay, there has to be time dedicated to ensuring it works the way it should. Essentially, like my grandmother would tell me, “You have to be able to look at the work you’ve put in and be able to say that it’s the culmination of your best effort.”
Unfortunately, Assassin’s Creed Unity feels far from it, and in fact feels as if they accepted it being done halfway.
The Story Can’t Stab Itself Into Your Heart
Abstergo, the company run by the modern Templar Order, is undergoing a project labeled “Project Phoenix”. The goal? Sequence the DNA of those born with Precursor (our ancestors/creators) infused in their human DNA (aka Sages), creating a triple helix instead of the typical double-helix structure. The reason remains unclear for this project, but it’s assumed they’re looking for the whereabouts of a Sage’s body location to find DNA samples to work with. This is enough to warrant the Assassins to intervene who bring you, the Player, to step in. You are sent into the memory sequence Abstergo has specified for the project to uncover where the body of said sage is located before the Templars do.
The time period? French Revolution, at the end of the 18th century; the player takes on the role of Arno Dorian, a man whose life is shaped by unfortunate circumstances. When he was six years old, his father (whom is later revealed to be an Assassin) was murdered by the Templars while on business. Moments after the murder, Arno was adopted by a man named Monsieur De La Serre, who is the grandmaster of the Templar. Years later, during a party in honor of his daughter Elise, Monsieur De La Serre is murdered. Because Arno was to deliver a letter to De La Serre warning him of an assassination attempt, Arno feels at fault. The rest of the story is not only the age-old story of Templars versus Assassins, but also the age-old story of personal redemption and perspective of being an Assassin.
Narratively speaking, Assassin’s Creed: Unity is the weakest entry in the franchise. Arno’s tale of vengeance feels empty and hollow; all of Arno’s guilt, anger and perception doesn’t translate into the missions. If anything, the whole entire narrative of the game feels more like a vehicle to try and justify another entry in the franchise. Ubisoft seems to see that too, as the only way you truly know what Arno is feeling is through cut scenes that highlight just how “guilty” he feels about De La Serre’s death and how this his path of redemption..
For better or worse, Assassin’s Creed has always been a series plagued by issues when it comes to creating a controlled, focused story that weaves an arch over several iterations. Each game tries covering too much ground that creates a convoluted, confusing story due to the jarring switch between the historical time period and modern time. While the motivations of each character is clear (because they all nearly share identical personal motivations that end up with the same conclusions), the motivations of the creed of Assassins is oftentimes uncertain.
The other major issue I’ve had with the series; each entry has been a mixed bag in handling weaving the chess match between the two organizations into the historical setting. For Assassin’s Creed: Unity, the weight behind historical setting is missing to the point of being both forced and non-existent. This is a major problem because of just how huge The French Revolution was; this major time in French history lead to changes in social structure, and resulted in feats like the “Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen”. Considering the enormous importance of the time period the game is based in, you’d believe that the game would find a way to immerse the story heavily into the history to the point where both organizations’ decisions would impact the way the French Revolution went.
Assassin’s Creed: Unity fails at its attempt to subtly weave the the motives shaping the chess match between the Templars and Assassin’s into the French Revolution. Unfortunately, it doesn’t translate well. All of it feels forced in to create situations the Assassin’s had to intervene in. From the Assassins being in correspondence with the King, to the Templars taking food away from the masses to start riots, the connections feel shallow and actually damage the significance of the French Revolution. Like Arno’s personal story, the game had to point out in dialogue how the events of the game affected the French Revolution and failed at being able to do so.
Overall, that’s the major problem with this game; it feels empty. There’s no real motivation to get through the story, no emotional experience to immerse you into Arno’s plight, no historical impact to show just how important the end results were, the attempt to weave the game’s events into the French Revolution actually harm the historical events, and the stakes didn’t create any sense of urgency. That’s the point of a narrative; to show me the ramifications of my choices, to show me how much is at stake, not tell me: that’s effective writing. The boring, tired, problematic gameplay didn’t help the story out either.
My main point: instead of trying to regurgitate over and over how angry Arno is, or whatever is happening in the mess of the story, show me.
I Didn’t Know History Could be So Glitchy.
Assassin’s Creed has also been bogged down by major gameplay issues Ubisoft’s never fixed; twitchy controls, lagging control responses, glitches, the list could go on. Assassin’s Creed: Unity is littered with so many bugs that it’s an endurance race to see if you can finish the game. The list of glitches I had to get through range from being frozen in a hay cart, enemies jumping from far away to behind me to kill me, being stuck in maps with no way to progress the game, and even freezing during the major mission sequences.
The freezing up during major sequences actually happened to me several times and almost had me quit on the game completely; the first time was during the third Sequence, second during the Seventh Sequence, and the last two during the Twelfth and final sequence. Whenever the freezes would happen, it would end up pushing me back to the main menu of the Xbox One and restart me over from the beginning of the mission regardless of the progress made in the game.
Other glitches, like being stuck in the hay cart, or enemies randomly popping up from far away to behind me, lead to many deaths that impacted my progress in a mission too. For example, after doing a cover assassination kill on a guard in a restricted area, I was stuck standing up in the hay cart without being able to move. Multiple enemies noticed me, and were able to attack me until I was out of health. I could not heal, could not switch weapons, only watch my character die.
All of this is exacerbated by a laggy framerate that sputters far too frequently and leads to the occasional screen tear. This is especially damaging during running sequences, fights and chases in the game. Luckily, the times I had those issues I only had to continue from the last checkpoint and could work my way through it to finish the mission.
If that wasn’t enough, the gameplay is boring and does nothing to fix the long-standing issues the franchise has had since the very first game. The controls are glitchy, and twitchy, that can lead to mission failures where controls need to be tight. At times, the controls feel like they lag in response, resulting in a feeling of unintuitive controls.
The only positives I can get out of the gameplay are the assassination missions, helix rift missions, and co-op. Assassinations for Assassin’s Creed: Unity have multiple approaches towards assassinating your target or for escaping the scene. Within the open area of where your target is are several optional objectives you can fulfill before going in for the kill; creating a distraction, gaining support, and so on. It’s refreshing, albeit barely enough to make those specific missions fun.
On occasion, Arno is pushed into Helix Rifts in the system that take him to different time periods. These moments provide a decent, quick break from the boring single player; for example, having Arno climb up several major monuments provided some much needed fun amidst the frustration. Co-op, while having stories not necessarily in the story but tied into the narrative, are way more fun than the single player. Playing with a friend has you running around the map completing objectives together with parameters that can require some strategy. Out of the whole experience of this game, the moments I played co-op with friends were the most fun I had.
However none of this makes up for how…well…
Unacceptable; this paltry, shallow shell of a game is unacceptable and inexcusable. These are glitches that severely dampen the gameplay to the point where the game becomes unplayable. Having all of these game breaking bugs, which should have been found through extensive Q&A since the game took four years to develop, is ridiculous and laughable.
The game teeters the borderline between being playable and unplayable, and no game should ever be at that point.
I Guess the Game Looks and Sounds Pretty, If A Little Bland
The only other positive I can give this game is that the game benefits from the new engine Ubisoft is using to create the game. Cutscenes provide backgrounds that look almost photo-realistic, and character animations a little more alive than normal (even though they still appear lifeless). I found myself being floored by the visuals several times throughout my playthrough. The voice acting is also pretty good, with some moments of feeling out of place. The music is also blended in nicely into the game without either being too loud or silent.
At the same time, the art style looks bland; from the color schemes, to character looks, and customization options, nothing really captures the attention when you look into specifics. Buildings look boring and offer no real excitement to climb up them; more often than not it felt like a hindrance or an obstacle to overcome to get where I needed to.
The biggest offense I have with this game is the fact that they chose British voice actors over French actors for the roles. You would think that, because this is set in France it’d have the tiny details taken care of like the voice acting. Nope, instead they relied on the visuals to let you know that it was France. What makes this remarkably hilarious is that the Ubisoft Montreal studio is set in France, but they hired British actors instead.
Let that sink in for a moment…
Who’s Ready for a Rant? I am!
I was going to remain as civil as possible, but I can’t hold back.
Ubisoft, this was a pathetic excuse of a game that you should’ve never released. As a developer, it’s abhorrent how you shipped out three games on the same day,placed review embargoes until the day of release, and even shipped out one of them the day of release for review. Out of those three games, you’d have to be blind to not see which game got the most development time. This is both unfair to your teams and fans of the this franchise.
As a fan, it gives off the impression that you no longer care about the franchise enough to give it time to cook. Instead, you’re more focused on profiting from releasing the games on a nearly yearly basis. The fact that your creative director is willing to overlook the fact that the voice actors should’ve had French accents to keep as accurate as possible shows a lazy approach to a game that could have been a great game had you actually put as much thought into it as you have in earlier iterations.
That little slip adds to the overall feeling that the game feels half-baked and unpolished regardless the fact this game supposedly took four years to make. This game should’ve cooked a little longer and gone through way more revisions before it was released. How can you even say this game took 4 years to make?
It’s also inexcusable for you to believe that an appropriate apology is to give away free DLC and a free game to those with season passes who’re affected by this. While it’s a privilege and choice for us to play the game, it is your responsibility to ship out a game that’s been tested, that has most if not all major problems patched and have the game ready for release. As both a gaming critic and fan of the series, we shouldn’t be seeing multiple articles spanning weeks after the release chronicling just how bad the game is. Also, wouldn’t you think it’d make you look bad not being able to capture these glitches before releasing it? To top it off you release several patches trying to fix these issues that have yet to find success?
I understand it’s an incredibly tough process to make a game and can’t fathom the ability of developers to put in the insane amount of hours to make a cohesive product. We’ve all read the stories about the infamous “Crunch period” towards the tail end of development, and know that it’s no small feat to create a product. However, while I sympathize and appreciate the work developers do, it doesn’t excuse the fact that the end product of it resulted in a horrible game.
Also, I know there are far worse games out there that deserve more criticism than this game, but the fact of the matter is your company used to have a reputation of delivering stellar games like Beyond Good and Evil and Assassin’s Creed 2. This criticism, and rant, against you is built upon a foundation of some stellar games in your studio’s library. There’s no way to describe just how disappointing and frustrating, not to mention insulting you letting this game release in its current condition is.
Overall, Assassin’s Creed: Unity should not be played, bought or rented. There’s nothing to invest your time and energy into it. With a weak story, game-breaking glitches and boring gameplay, you’re better off investing your money in the many other games having been released during this busy holiday season. These are the types of games we fear coming out because it has the makings of being a lesson for developers on how not to handle a game. Seriously, just avoid this game and pretend it doesn’t exist. You’ll thank me later.