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Assassin's Creed: Unity review: Let them eat cake

Hayden Dingman | Nov. 18, 2014
Oh boy, there's a lot to talk about here. Most of it isn't good.

Oh boy, there's a lot to talk about here. Most of it isn't good.

Let's set technical issues and $100 in-game macrotransactions and disgusting chests-tied-to-mobile-companion-apps aside for a moment and just discuss Assassin's Creed: Unity as a game, because honestly that part isn't very good either. In many ways, Unity feels like an enormous step backward. Say what you will about Assassin's Creed III, but it was ambitious — multiple cities linked by a sizable wooded wilderness. Last year's Black Flag took that idea and expanded, crafting an enormous scale recreation of the Caribbean along with a dozen or so cities and towns to explore.

But Unity takes things back to the Assassin's Creed II era. You're limited to exploring a sliver of Paris during the French Revolution, centered on Notre Dame, Ile de la Cite, and the Seine. You have the option of heading to nearby Versailles, but outside of a few story bits there's not a lot of reason to take the carriage ride.

And that's it. This is a size discrepancy the likes of which I haven't seen since the transition from Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas  to Grand Theft Auto IV.

It's not all bad. The small scale has obviously allowed Ubisoft to focus its art efforts, meaning there's an amazing amount of one-and-done art. Notre Dame, for instance, is meticulously recreated. It's impressive how skilled these teams have become at reproducing real-world locations.

The Unity team has also introduced seamless interiors to the series — an addition I don't think I can lose in the next entry. Being able to run up to a building, scramble up the wall, leap through a window, sprint through some poor dame's gorgeously-rendered hallway, and leap out a window on the opposite side is extremely impressive, to say nothing of just wandering through the corridors of the Louvre, Notre Dame, the Tuileries, and other Parisian landmarks. If there's anything Unity succeeded with, it's this.

But overall the map feels small, and it turns out that Revolution-era France isn't that dissimilar from Renaissance-era Italy. Add in the fact that your protagonist, Arno Dorian, looks and has the same cocky mannerisms as fan-favorite Ezio Auditore...well, Unity starts to feel like a retread.

It's not helped by a story that largely avoids the complexities of the French Revolution. It's odd that a story set in Ubisoft's homeland feels so dispassionate about its subject matter, but that's what I took away from it all. The Assassin's Creed series has long been a sort-of Forrest Gump tale where you just happened to be in the right place at the right time to modify history, whether it was palling around with Leonardo Da Vinci or tagging along on Paul Revere's midnight ride or helping George Washington fight the British or hanging out with Blackbeard.

 

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