Assassin's Creed has a lot to live up to, considering the great success of last year's entry, Black Flag. It evolved the series in a refreshing way, taking the well-known formula into pirate-themed territory. With Unity, Ubisoft leaves the tropical seas, and treats us to another important period in history, 18th Century Paris. In many ways, Unity feels like a step in the right direction for the historical adventure series. It introduces a variety of new additions and tweaks to help evolve the series. There's a new Parkour and stealth mechanic, refined combat, and an entirely fresh co-operative experience.
Unity is let down at times, though, due to some lack of polish and number of technical woes. It's a shame, because there's lots to admire and marvel at in Unity. One of the most impressive aspects are the aesthetics. Ubisoft's recreation of 18th century Paris is beautiful. Not only is it a fitting setting, it's also a great showcase for the new-gen hardware. Unity boasts far more detail than previous instalments, and is capable of producing plenty more NPC's on-screen at one time. Streets are overly busy, and crowds are far more dense. It helps capture the essence of the French revolution, but frequent texture pop-in and slight frame rate drops can spoil the display. Paris still looks gorgeous, however, filled with beautifully detail architecture. It's certainly a step up in terms of presentation for the franchise.
You take the role of an entirely new protagonist. Arno Dorian. You first play him as a young boy, when he befriends Elise, the daughter of the Templar Grand Master. Things soon turn nasty when Arno's farther is mysteriously murdered at the palace. Fifteen years on, we see Arno up to no good. It's not long before he joins the assassin brotherhood, and before you know it, he's slipping on a robe and hidden blade. It's a pretty uninspiring revenge plot, and far less exciting as last year's Black Flag. Having said that, there are some cool set pieces, and the dialogue is mostly well-written. I also found Arno rather enjoyable to play as. He's far less dull and serious, like Connor from AC3, and more on the lines with Ezio.
It's the open-ended assassination segments what make playing through the story worthwhile. These stray more to the series roots, allowing you to stalk and assassinate your targets with more freedom. Most of these take place in heavily guarded areas. In one instance, I silently took out a guard, stole his keys, then snuck in through a side door. However, instead, I could have shimmed across a ledge, then gone in through the window. The choices available may not be staggering, but it's still nice too have that extra bit of freedom. They make you think of ways to approach them, rather than simply navigating a set path.
Most of my enjoyment with Unity was spent roaming Paris itself. It's a stunning, sprawling sandbox, begging to be explored. By synchronizing one of the many viewpoints, you can get some idea of it's overall scale. There's plenty of districts to cover, and none of them feel wasted space, either. The map is littered with hundreds of icons, representing various side activities, chests to open, and more. Paris Stories are usually some sort of fetch quests. For instance, one of them had me retreating the heads of three famous people for a lady. Crowd events are a nice little distraction, too. These take place randomly as you roam the streets. These entail chasing down thief's, or assassinating criminals. They can be totally ignored, however, but rewards are earned for completing a set of events, which make intervening worthwhile. There's also Riddles and Murder Mysteries to solve, as well as collectibles and chests to discover.
Traversing Paris can be a joy too, as Ubisoft have completely reworked the parkour mechanics. It may not be as seamless as it's originally made out to be, but it's still rather impressive. Now, your able to free-run downwards, allowing you to decent buildings more efficiently. When it works, seeing Arno parkour down promptly looks great. There's some cool animations, but it doesn't always work as smoothly as it should do. As with previous instalments, there's instances when the controls can be slightly fiddly, as Arno leaps or climbs onto a structure you didn't intend going on.
Probably the biggest selling point of Unity is the new co-op feature. Ubisoft have integrated the co-op experience into solo, offering a more seamless experience. You no longer have to quite to the main menu and load up multiplayer separately Now, co-op markers are dotted throughout Paris, with you simply walking up to one to begin. Death-matches, Manhunt, Domination and other modes have been scrapped this time. This time, Unity focuses purely on four-player co-op, as you complete various missions types as a team. It's nice to see something fresh, and completing objectives as a team can be fun.
All in all, Unity is a bit of a mixed bag. There's elements that expand the series for the better, but technical woes and a rather uninspiring story let it down. It also seems rather samey, despite it's changes. With next year's entry, Ubisoft need to bring something fresh to table, enough to make the franchise exciting again as it first was.