This week, Zero Punctuation reviews Assassin's Creed: Unity.
Say what you like about Ubisoft, they're fucking masters of the soft sell! Assassin's Creed 4 won me over, how on earth you gonna build on that in Ubity, Unisoft? I mean Unity, Ubisoft? "Well we thought we'd take the pirate ship out and make the game world considerably smaller." Uhhh, I said 'build on'. "Oh right, sorry. I thought you said 'burn to the ground and wank on the ruins'. Well, we thought we'd add a co-op focus, so that a game series and indeed an actual historical organization, best known for sending lone agents on suicidal surgical strikes, can now have that lone agent being egged on by three of their rowdy mates." I might not bother with that, if it's all the same to you-nity. "That's alright, we'll just fucking wallpaper the game with reminders of the online content in case you change your mind."
This isn't so much a soft sell as a gaseous one at this point, but nevertheless I downloaded the Steam version and my PC promptly burst into tears. "Why have you put this inside me? Is this about the 'selling your search history to the government' thing?" It stuttered, it bugged out, it kept shutting down, it was like how I react when an attractive stranger attempts to flirt. In the end, I put a coat over my Hawaiian shirt and turned up my collar to hide my neckbeard and committed the most grievous PC gamer sin of all: I went out and bought the PS4 version. Which at least didn't crash -- even if the frame-rate kept dropping and it still had more clipping issues than an arthritic hairdresser; and it added the lack of a PS Plus subscription to the list of barriers between me and multiplayer.
Between that and Uplay and some stupid fucking app thing, you can't go five minutes without the game trying to get you to sign up for something. It's trying to find video porn in the early 2000s. And even bugs aside, none of this exists for the benefit of the player. They're squeezing money out where they can, 'cause even 70 bucks for the game can't cover their fucking needless extravagance. And Microsoft haven't finished their new peripheral, that holds you upside down and shakes coins out of your pockets for your convenience and added immersion.
And it's a shame, because this the game I said Assassin's Creed should make around the time Assassin's Creed 3 was tumpty-tumptying it's way around the drearier of the two major global conflicts of the 18th century. The French Revolution's a no-brainer, surely: sex and violence are none the less juicy for its historical accuracy, plenty of classical architecture to accidentally leap off to your death, a chance to subvert the usual Assassins-Templars-yay downtrodden boo-aristos dynamic. And none of those opportunities are missed, or should I say opport-Assassin's-Creed-Unities.
That said, the main character is basically Ezio 2.0 for the most part. Young nobleman discovers his dad's an assassin, joins up to seek revenge and because it beats trying for a post-graduate degree, must learn maturity and self-discipline, four-letter name with an 'O' on the end, Arno Dorian. The plot's more about his personal struggle, though. Arno isn't called upon to revive the Assassin Order like Ezio was, 'cause the Assassin Order seems to be perfectly alright, content to wait out the revolution sitting around in their hideout, flicking their beans. And it's the Templars who are depowered and fighting among themselves, but Arno's got history with Templars who seemed like decent sorts 'cause they didn't use poor widows as chamber pots, so his loyalties are divided. In fact, I'm not entirely sure why Arno joins the Assassins at all, except because the franchise demands it. He doesn't know any of them, and they all treat him like a five-year-old with his hand stuck in a jam jar. This is all fairly solid stuff, but solid stuff on a wonky table will nonetheless collapse.
I liked that the assassination missions have gotten back to the roots somewhat. Here's an environment, here's a target, complete optional objectives to make things easier, but ultimately it's all up to you as long as knifey stabby throaty, except for some stupid reason an assassination only counts if you use the hidden blade, and the hidden blade is now entirely contextual. So if you've done the trademark Assassin's Creed sprint to the target and the target has been as so impolite as to notice you and pull their sword out, all you can do is swordfight them to the ground at which point the games goes, "Right then, just press square to finish them off with the hidden blade and you're done. Oh, unless there are guards nearby, in which case pressing square will attack them instead. But why on earth would there be guards near the person they have been employed to protect? That's just crazy town." And the swordfighting is flabby and unresponsive; counter prompts are all very well when the framerate isn't dropping like a Christmas #1 through the January charts.
And there's the usual Assassin's Creed issue that when the environment gets too complex, holding down the free-run button and pushing forwards is hurling yourself into the capricious hands of fate. But it feels worse in Unity somehow, possibly because buildings actually have interiors now, and an enclosed space multiplies the chance of Arno being possessed by the urge to climb on top of a bookshelf mid-dramatic escape. And you can add 'taking cover' to the list of ways to make Arno get inappropriate with furniture until you have to prise him off. And all-up, I'd say that sixty percent of the times I was caught by guards were due to Arno being unable to disentangle his limbs from the scenery just as the crucial phase of my plan went into action.
But never mind all that gameplay shit, you wanna know if Assassin's Creed is still doing the bridging future narrative thing. Tokenly yes, Future Desmond's currently arranged in some specimen jar somewhere, and Future Silent Protagonist from Black Flag is off somewhere being quiet. So this time, we, the player, are playing as a random pleb sitting at home playing video games. Now that's immersion, motherfuckers! Our signal is hijacked by the Assassins who are all like, "Hey, Assassins rule, Templars drool. And in order to convince you, we will now show you a story in which the Assassins come across as a bunch of snooty weirdos in capes", and the ideologies of the two groups never really come up. Also, every now and then the future Assassins make you run an obstacle course set in a different historical period, which seems to be utterly pointless, except to show off some different scenery and physics spectacles, as part of the ongoing effort to be able to use the phrase 'next gen' without it feeling hollow and bitter in our mouths.
But while I could continue quibbling my down my list of quibbles, the fact is: Unity's issues were dealbreakers from the word 'go'. It's not without positive qualities, but by that point it's not enough to glue the deal back together. It pranced into the room, tripped on the cat and smashed the aquarium with its head. It's not gonna mend the evening by shakily getting up and showing us its collection of football stickers. It'd at least be better than 3 if it weren't for its utter contempt for the audience. Also, I would be a lovely person if it weren't for my personality.
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