Assassin's Creed: Unity has sort of taken over my life at the moment. It's a vast game, and vast in a really good way in that it's packed with things to do. It's not like AC3, where you had this vast expanse of mundane nothingness. Mind you, at least AC3 really made you feel like you were a key, shadowy part of history -- Unity somehow manages to make one of the most interesting, politically-murky periods in history little more than window dressing.
Yep, you read that right; Assassin's Creed: Unity has actually given me a newfound appreciation of AC3. Didn't expect that.
Unity is a game stuffed with contradictions -- for every positive there's a negative, for every step forward there's something that undermines the game and whatever it's trying to do. It's a game that has instilled an enormous sense of ambivalence in me. On the one hand, there are things that I love about it, new elements that I want to see furthered and expanded upon. In some ways it does represent the first in a new era of Assassin's Creed games. On the other hand, however, I'm sort of sick of the sight of it, such are this game's long list of sins.
For the sake of balance, here are five things I'm currently loving and loathing about Unity...
I love... that Paris is beautiful: Hot damn this is a pretty game from a distance. Don't look at the NPC faces too much, and try to ignore some of the more offensive instances of pop-in if you can, but the city itself is stunning to behold and bursting with life. Clamber to the top of Notre Dame, hit the "Synchronise" button, and you'll see what I mean. The view is breathtaking.
I hate... that the Revolution seems like a mere backdrop: Arno might be a better character (barely) than Connor -- he has a bit of charm and wit to him -- but he's criminally underwritten, and his story leaps about with merry abandon like a drunken narrative frog. Assassin's Creed has often been at its finest weaving its protagonists' stories in and out of history, making this Assassins vs Templars struggle seem incredibly relevant, rooting it in our global history. Unity does a horrible job of that.
I love... that Arno won't plummet to his death accidentally: Unity employs a split-control system for traversal now. Arno can opt to free-run up, which will see him climb things and attempt longer leaps in an effort to get higher, and also free-run down, which can be used to clamber safely back to ground and also leap low-slung obstacles to carry on running rather than triggering vertical movement. Finally, the days of the awkward, accidental leap to one's death seem to be over.
I hate... that the controls are a work in progress: Unfortunately, the game handles like it's still in alpha, and there are plenty of things missing. Unity doesn't really explain things properly, woe betide newcomers to the series, and it's completely scuppered things like lateral jumping. Though you can switch between up and down parkour, the up part feels more anarchic and loose than ever before. Jumping between pillars and chandeliers feels incredibly risky because the level of control at altitude has been lost.
I love... the varied mission types: Oh man, this is something that the series has needed for so long. There's some absolutely excellent mission design in this game. The Rift levels that see you exploring glitched-out bits of history, scrambling to amass data before the timer runs out, are cracking takes on familiar "race" missions. I love that hunting down glyphs is back, now tethered to head-scratching riddles that actually make sense and force you to consider the world around you. The Nostradamus missions are frankly excellent. The murder mysteries are pretty cool too, although rather straightforward if you're thorough. Nonetheless, they add flavour to the experience, as do the pop-up dynamic crowd objectives.
I hate... the varied chests: Why are you actively trying to get me to stop playing your game, Ubisoft, and start playing a sodding companion app? Why are you actively gating content, Ubisoft? Stop trying to ram your superfluous extras down my throat!
I love... the freeform, sandbox assassinations: There are plenty of options when it comes to killing a target, and actually Unity makes it even easier to craft a strategy thanks to optional little pop-up sideshows that unfold during assassination missions -- kill this guy for the keys to the murder scene, help this chap for access to a great vantage point etc. I like how some of the side missions are just a case of handing you a target and letting you get on with it. You get a nice toolset, although it's annoying to have to go into the customisation menu every time you want to change your main weapon.
I hate... that the stealth controls have been utterly screwed: Why is stealth mode so inconsistent? Sometimes it requires me to hold L2, sometimes it toggles. Why are the hitboxes for triggering interactions like stealing things so utterly broken? Why can't I move around corners in cover? Why can't I whistle to attract a guard's attention like I used to be able to? That last one is really annoying, and makes close-quarters stealth almost impossible at times. Why is hiding in a crowd such a hit-and-miss affair even when the throng is ten people deep and I'm right in the middle of it? Why have you released a game all about stealthy assassins with crippled stealth systems, Ubisoft? Just... WHY?
I love... that co-op is completely optional: The co-op has been implemented so well in this game. I thought it would ruin everything, but actually Ubisoft have done a marvellous job of introducing co-op in a manner that truly makes sense. It's a great way to trigger a change of pace, shake things up a bit, and have fun with a friend, and it really works. Better yet, you can still run most of the missions solo if you like.
I hate... that Ubisoft released a buggy mess that attempts to exploit customers through microtransactions: Unity should never have been released in the state that it's in, and for all of Activision's dubious practices over the years, I don't recall Call of Duty ever asking for $99 to unlock all of the guns.
The game's already out in the US, it hits the UK tomorrow, and we'll have an Assassin's Creed: Unity review for you soon (it's taking longer than expected). Let us know how you're finding the game if you've already picked it up, and tell us if you're holding off/cancelled your order based on early impressions.