Back when PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 were as new as PS4 and Xbox One, the first “Assassin’s Creed” hit the market and created a fascinating new franchise. A sequel released two years later has stood as the best iteration in the franchise ever since. That’s not for lack of trying on the part of publisher Ubisoft, which has put forth yearly entries ever since, most of which have been good but not great.
If anything is to be learned from this anecdote — and from playing the newest PS4 and Xbox One iteration “Assassin’s Creed: Unity” — it would be that the franchise should take a year off and polish the game to create the best experience possible.
“Unity,” which released on Nov. 11, is the low point for the franchise despite a bevy of very likable inclusions.
Players take control of Arno Dorian, a young man coming of age as the French Revolution comes to a boil. As is the series’ custom when playing as a new character, Arno joins the Brotherhood of Assassins and takes up arms against the Templar Order while seeking revenge for the man who raised him.
The story itself doesn’t stand out — and it’s conclusion is very unsatisfying — and it’s characters aren’t the most interesting in the series. Arno’s love interest Elise often is along for the ride. She’s an uncommonly strong female supporting character — for a video game — which is worth noting.
Oh, and everyone in France speaks with an English accent, a strange and off-putting choice given that developer Ubisoft Montreal makes its home in French Canada. Would French accents been so hard to integrate? At least Ezio Auditore da Firenze, the hero of the Italian Renaissance series iterations of a few years ago, sounded vaguely Italian when he spoke.
If “Unity’s” story isn’t the most interesting, at least the missions are. Stealth is more of a focus than ever, which is a welcome addition. Assassinations, which often close out chapters, play out in a mini-sandbox that offer multiple approaches to taking out a target, often with satisfying results.
That’s provided the game’s controls hold up, which isn’t always the case. Long-standing issues with the way your character uses cover and climbs objects in the environment often lead to frustration and mission failure. An added ability to intuitively descend from high buildings safely and quickly works, but it’s easy to get stuck simply running through areas that have railings or other protrusions from the ground.
Worse yet, a new co-op mode that allows for up to four players to work together on side missions is practically broken. Multiple attempts to play both with friends and random online partners glitched in various ways, including no prompt for the next objective or simply aborting back to single-player mode. It’s a shame, as this mode has so much potential to be great if it’s sorted out.
Bear in mind that all these troublesome issues and glitches continue to crop up after a day-one patch and a second patch a few days later. A third patch is pending, according to Ubisoft, but that won’t soothe hurt feelings among the early adopters.
At least the backdrop is gorgeous. The graphics easily are the greatest achievement in “Unity,” and Paris looks and feels like a next-gen setting. From the abundant crowds in rebellion to the beautiful landmarks, it’s all delicious eye candy.
With any luck, the next major “Assassin’s Creed” will come two years from now and gamers will be treated to a game that feels like a fresh start that takes what worked in “Unity” and fixes what didn’t. Maybe that release will top “Assassin’s Creed 2.” This one sure didn’t.