Ubisoft have developed a reputation that is quite possibly unfair for trying too hard to merge microtransactions and apps with their mainstream games and churning out sequels that don’t need to be made. If you look behind the business issues around having lots of studios making different entries in the same series to make sure one comes out every year (something we’re not particularly against) you might start seeing another side of Ubisoft – one that creates spectacular worlds and often characters, but then struggles to create something interesting to do in them.
Despite the lack of a number, make no mistake that this is Assassin’s Creed Five. The controls are mostly the same (albeit with a new method of holding the Right Trigger and B to run forwards but head down rather than up) and you still gather money for doing missions, pick up new pieces of equipment and progress through the story getting slowly better at assassinating people. The combat is much the same but since it’s now revolutionary France it seems like everyone has some kind of gun hidden under a ruffled collar or extravagant waistcoat so it feels much harder to take on a big group. Of course that’s how the game should be, taking on half of the Venitian guard by yourself in St Marco’s square always felt a little silly in the earlier games, now there’s much more incentive to try and take people out without causing a fuss. Unfortunately the controls do still get in the way and while there’ll be many times you make a daring escape across rooftops, bursting through a chateau only to dive into the Seine unseen, just as many times you’ll jump onto the corner of a shack and hang there helplessly while guards pepper you with lead shot because your character can’t work out what you mean by Right Trigger and A and forwards. Context-specific controls don’t tend to work well when things are happening at speed and it’s been a problem since the very first game in the series. While the animation might be impressive, it’s all for naught when so often you get stuck in ridiculous ways because there’s no way to explain to the game exactly what you want to do.
The story this time round is more steeped in history than the last few entries but Arno still isn’t an interesting protagonist in the same way Ezio or even Altair was. You see him in his youth briefly and get set up with a kind of motive for what he does next but you never get a good explanation as to why he’s happy to clamber over the rooftops of Paris and dive into hay bales when he’s working as a messenger. All semblance of realism goes out of the window in the opening scenes anyway as you see a character shot down by a magic sword. The Asbergo real-world bits are pushed into the backdrop significantly here and while there’s still many references to the fact that you’re in the Animus, it’s much easier to forget about it if you’re one of those people who hates that side of the story for some odd reason.
As ever with Assassin’s Creed there’s a huge amount to do but for the first time it feels like a real negative. As soon as you get your bearing and become an actual assassin the map is literally covered in icons. Some are treasure chests that give you a tiny amount of money, some are collectables for the app on your phone, some are side missions, some are co-op missions. Somewhere there’ll be a hidden little icon for the next story mission but it’s constantly lost in a sea of noise. It’d be fine if all of it was compelling but it’s simply not, most of it is busy work that’s necessary for achievements and this kind of filler dramatically drowns out the gold like little puzzle quests that lack a marker where you have to actually follow clues to work out where to go.
Those quests are made more entertaining by the beautiful presentation of Paris. Throughout the game you actually get to see Paris in different times and it’s always incredibly authentic looking and detailed. For the first time in the series streets are filled with crowds and the weather makes a dramatic difference on the look of the city. The lighting and architecture is incredibly and it is easily one of the most detailed and interesting open worlds we’ve seen in gaming. Sadly due to Napoleon’s efforts not much of that Paris actually exists anymore but if you’ve visited you’ll get a kick out of some of the buildings and bridges that are still recognisable. Sadly missing is any kind of french music or even -weirdly – any French accents. Remember this is a game set in France made by French people for a French company, and nearly everyone has a British accent. There is the occasional little bit of French which stands out even more because it’s so rare. It feels like an easy thing they could have done to improve the atmosphere and it’s a real shame they couldn’t be bothered.
The multiplayer mode from previous games is completely absent and has been replaced with a co-op mode. Like in Far Cry 4 you can’t complete the main campaign in co-op but you can do the free roam activities and a set of specific co-op missions and heists. Some are easy to pass but all are extremely difficult to do perfectly. The missions are set as either two or four player which is a shame as once you get four people, you can’t play through all of the content with them, instead needing to kick two of them to progress. That being said it is a really fun mode and once you start working together on objectives it adds a whole new dimension to the game.
Sadly the biggest shadow overhanging both the single and multiplayer modes of Assassin’s Creed Unity is the incredible lack of polish. We haven’t spoken to a single gamer who hasn’t been affected by bugs, poor framerates and occasional full system freezes and now, a month on from release, it still isn’t fixed. Things are a little better and you don’t tend to fall through the world anymore but co-op regularly slows to less than a frame a second, enemies will glitch about and disappear and the game will freeze or crash completely for seemingly no reason. It’s hard to know the reason for this but we through we’d give Ubisoft some time before publishing this to see if they could fix it. Sadly, they couldn’t and it does dramatically affect your enjoyment of the game. We’ve heard the problems are manifest on every platform so it might be worth waiting a little longer to see if they ever get around to fixing it. With the next game announced for November though, we’re not holding our breath.