Last December, I published a post titled Assassin’s Creed Unity: The Story So Far. At the time of writing that post — and despite the fact that I’d intended to have played the game to death by then — I had barely touched Unity. I was, I think, a few Sequences in, but had gotten there in the most bare-bones manner possible, barely touching any of the other activities the game offers, merely going from Point A to Point B as though painting by numbers.
Well, that was then. Now, over seven months later, I’ve beaten the game — and in a manner about which there was nothing ‘bare-bones’ at all. I’ve achieved 100% completion, earned the Platinum Trophy, and even done all there is to do in the DLC, Dead Kings. With all the game has to offer behind me, I feel like I have a lot to say about Unity. The thing is, I haven’t the faintest notion of where to start, or how to get my thoughts across without going on for fourteen pages, a novella, and several scrolls of parchment.
Although this post may end up having a lot in common with one, I’m not going to write a proper review of Unity. Not only do I not want to, but I honestly don’t think I have the stamina for it. There was a time, however, when I thought I would. Halfway — or so — through the game, I even sat down to begin, and hammered out the following, which was to have been the opening:
I’ve been playing the Assassin’s Creed games for years, since the beginning, and I’ve noticed something — there seems to be a pattern developing with the main, pillar Assassin’s Creed titles. Think about it. Assassin’s Creed — not great. Assassin’s Creed II — excellent. Assassin’s Creed III — supremely disappointing. Black Flag — very enjoyable. Unity — bad. Really, really bad.
I was making a point, but the wording didn’t — and still doesn’t — sit well with me, because, despite is flaws, there were some things about Unity I genuinely enjoyed. Instead, I’ve come to view Unity as being deeply, deeply flawed. There are moments when the clouds part and the game it could have been shines through, but they are outnumbered ten-to-one by the game’s problems.
The majority of those problems are standard Assassin’s Creed fare. Even in the series’ well-received titles, you’d run up walls you didn’t mean to go anywhere near, or jump off in seemingly random directions.
Even in those games, you’d get detected by an enemy with the amazing ability to see through walls, or randomly stop fighting in the middle of a violent kerfuffle, resulting in your promptly being hacked to death. Assassin’s Creed players have put up with that stuff from the beginning. For me, however, Unity’s other problems are the straw that broke the camel’s back.
I tried — some might say valiantly — to play the game pre- the supposedly game-changing Patch 1.04, but it just wasn’t any fun. I gave up the ghost during the Sequence in which you’re tasked with infiltrating Notre Dame for the first time — but it wasn’t just glitches and persistently poor frame rate that drove me away. Changes to the gameplay, too, played their not-inconsiderable part. For example, why can’t Arno Dorian, future Master Assassin, and, you know, grown man, whistle?
In Black Flag, players could conceal themselves and then whistle to lure a nearby enemy to their demise. Not so, however, this time around. Instead, when wishing to attract an unsuspecting foe to his position, Arno must drop a cherry bomb — an act that is not only about a thousand times more conspicuous than simply whistling, but one that is also pretty hit-and-miss as to whether it will actually work. Nine times out of ten, during my time with the game, the enemy in question would come close to Arno’s position, but stop out of reach, have a confused little mumble to themselves, and then walk off again.
More than a few times, this happened so often that I completely gave up on being stealthy, and just wanted to charge out from my hiding spot and ram my weapon of choice through my foe’s skull, or hack and slash my way through a crowd of the creeps until I started to feel better about things. Unity, however, takes the fun out of doing that, too.
I completely respect the developer’s desire to make the game’s combat more difficult than that of its predecessors — in fact, I agree with it. In a game where you’re supposed to be doing things as stealthily as possible, combat should be something you want to avoid. The way the developers chose to make it so undesirable in Unity, however, was to make it clunky, slow — an altogether tedious affair. You could be forgiven for thinking that the frame rate is acting up again when you get into a fight in Unity, but you’d be wrong — it really is that slow. By the time I was coming close to being done with the game, I’d gotten so fed up of these protracted affairs that I abandoned all pretence of being a capable Assassin, simply dropping a smoke bomb whenever I was detected and running off in the other direction.
Ezio Auditore would be ashamed. God, I miss Ezio…
Try as they might — and sometimes said trying is so obvious it’s almost painful — Ubisoft haven’t been able to match that character. That’s not to say that those Unity brings to the table are bad, however — they’re just not all that memorable. They have their moments, certainly. I was genuinely taken aback by the twist with Bellec, and thoroughly enjoyed Arno and Élise’s relationship. But these moments are few and far between, and all but lost in the turgid mess that is the rest of the game.
If you look up that word, turgid, in a dictionary — well, mine, anyway — you’ll be told that it means ‘swollen and distended or congested’, which is very apt when talking about Unity. It’s a strange thing — usually, I like Assassin’s Creed’s trademark plethora of side missions and random objectives strewn throughout the map, but with Unity, I found some of them to be alarmingly stupid. There is an element of hypocrisy here, I’ll admit, because Unity’s side-content isn’t much different from that of past games in the series, and, had I been enjoying my time with the game, I’d probably be much more forgiving of it. The fact, however, is that, more than once, I had to pause and ask myself just what the — insert profanity of choice — I was doing as I played. I didn’t feel as though I was making any sort of progress in these missions. I felt as though I was wasting my time.
That’s just me, however. Other players might have enjoyed themselves here, felt as though they were making good use of their time. Unfortunately, though, Unity is also guilty of disrespecting its players’ time outright.
In what was — was is very important here, because this feature was later patched out — perhaps its biggest crime, the game required the use of a companion app to unlock various items throughout the map. In order to unlock said items, players would have to send in-app Assassin recruits on various in-app missions, some of which could take up twenty-four real-world hours to complete. Twenty-four hours.
Unity’s predecessor had a similar feature, and I had similar problems with it. Ubisoft needs to realise that these games are not mobile games. Having some side-content available for fans on mobile platforms is fine, but tying main game content to it is not. At all. Frankly, it’s a complete joke, and had Ubisoft not patched out the requirement to use Unity’s companion app in February, I would never have achieved 100% completion in the game. 100%… I still can’t quite believe it’s over with.
This has been an overwhelmingly negative post. The truth is that I could go on forever about the issues I had with Unity. Possibly longer. But complaining about this game is, at this point, like beating a dead, decomposed and partially fossilised horse, so I won’t. As I said above, there were elements of Unity that I liked.
Arno and Élise’s relationship, Bellec, the revamped parkour, the sense of scale, the incredible visual improvement of the character models, the plethora of customisation options for Arno’s look — although whoever designed the colour schemes was a little too fond of oversaturated colours — the often spectacular set piece moments…
When Unity’s successor, Syndicate, was announced in May, I praised Ubisoft for being so open about Unity’s lack of success. At that point, however, I hadn’t spent a tremendous amount of time with the game. Now, having done so, I’m inclined to be much less forgiving. I still feel bad for the creative minds who poured so much of their time and energy into the game, but, at the same time, these same people chose to make the changes they made, to implement those ridiculous of features, to put out a game that, even after five patches — including the gargantuan 6.7 GB Patch 1.04 — is still largely a mess.
Listening to Ubisoft’s comments through the jaded, cynical lens Unity left me with, it’s hard to feel the way I did first time through. Not once to they admit that Unity is a seriously flawed game. Instead, they talk about having taken too many risks. They make excuses — they promise to do better.
But that’s a promise Ubisoft has made before, time, time, and time again. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the reason I won’t be buying Syndicate when it launches this October. The developers say they took a step back and reevaluated after Unity, but how big a step could that really have been? At the time of its announcement, Syndicate had been in development for almost three years — since long before Unity was released to the reception it got. And, honestly, Syndicate looks like Unity reskinned, with the majority of its new features coming across as worthy of DLC rather than an entirely new release. Look at how Jacob runs, how he moves. Remind you of anyone?
The setting does nothing for me, and the story… I stuck with Assassin’s Creed for a long time, but I’m finally bored of it — bored of each new game finding the order in shambles, and it being your task to restore it whilst, again and again, rising to the rank of Master Assassin.
I loved Assassin’s Creed. I really did, but, honestly, I’m done. Finished. I’ve set aside my hidden blade, taken off my robes. Until Ubisoft so something phenomenal with this series — or visit Egypt… — I’m out. I’ll be watching with great interest when Syndicate releases this October, but I won’t be playing. From this point on, I’m an interested observer. Nothing more.
Requiescat in pace.