Sat facing a room of my peers, I take a deep breath and close my eyes…a moment to reflect on what I’m about to say. I exhale, open my eyes and stand up.
“My…My name is Gavin and *tears up*, I hope you’ll all understand when I say, I fucking hated the boat sections of Assassin’s Creed 3”.
MAN that feels good to get out in the open. For years I’ve sat in silence whilst the gaming world at large bounded on about how great it was to be on the high seas at the helm of a ship. I found these sections a total slog, your ship lethargic in the water, unwieldy on the turn and with cannons that seemed to reload faster than anything of the era really should. And that aiming arc, like something out of a mid-90’s FIFA game just looked like it was tacked on at the end when the programmers realised how crushingly dull these sections are.
See ship. Turn towards ship. Fire. Turn to meet ship. Fire. Repeat. Bordom. Death.
A strange way to start of a blog about how great AssCreed is, sure. But I had to let you know where I stand with this franchise. I loved the first game, despite its linear gameplay. It offered a world that felt so far removed from other games. Cutting about the Middle East as an assassin – what’s not to love about that premise? (A lot…but I digress). AC2? One of the games of a generation, a refinement of the simple mechanics AC gave us and in Ezio Auditore da Firenze, a character as great as his name is fun to say and who’s costume, despite the obvious impracticalities of his overly-ornate belt, has yet to be beaten in the ‘cool as fuck’ stakes.
Brotherhood? Fantastic, climbing the Colosseum and spying over a meticulously detailed recreation of Rome was more than enticing (even managed to find the building that would’ve been my hotel when I went there a few years before…). I don’t really remember too much about Revelations other than that wonderful story beat of Ezio discovering Altair’s fate and it being a decent end to this trilogy of games.
Then came AC3 and oh my, what a yawn fest. The hunting was the nail in the games coffin for me. What felt fantastic in Red Dead Redemption felt dull and tired here. Hunting was chore and yes, it was a side option but when the main game consists of those ship sections…you’ll see why I chose to focus on it. A mess of a game. I skipped Black Flag entirely when everyone gleefully informed me that the naval combat was back and of a higher focus than before. For me, AssCreed games have never quite devlivered on that main conceit the first game promised: You are an assassin.
So here I am, roughly 9/10 bug-free hours into Assassin’s Creed Unity and I’m absolutely loving every minute of it. It finally feels like Ubisoft have noticed that little post-it note on a monitor ‘make a game about historical Assassins’ and thought ‘oh shit…that’s right!!’ Gone is all the naval combat, the building a small army mini games, the horrid tower defence sections and the future waring corporations pushed right to the back burner (though still there in spirit). In the place of all this is a solid game about being an assassin. Each time you get given a target, it feels like a mini puzzle you need to figure out – 10 entrances to his hide-out, 40 guards.You could charge in there, halbert swinging and take him through force or you could maybe cause a distraction, pull the guards away so it’s just you and him…finally you have options and when you sink that hidden blade into the targets neck, you feel like this was your victory, not a predetermined sequence of events.
If you follow us on twitter along with good friend of the blog, CJ off of Twin Humanities (seriously, go read his tweets on the matter…wonderfully poetic about it all), you would’ve seen us talk enthusiastically about the city in Unity, for good reason too: it’s bloody fantastic. One of the things CJ has said that I whole heartily agree on is that no-one wants to focus on all the incredible things this game is creating, just on the minute dips in frame-raeeeeezzzzzzzzzz *WOAH* sorry, drifted off there…See, this city, this mind-blowing recreation of Paris not only looks stunning when you’re at the highest point, but get down to street level and it really becomes something special.NEW BN
Marketplaces bustle with life, people bartering and browsing goods whilst guards stalk around keeping an eye for trouble makers. People stand on podiums shouting political speeches whilst a crowd gathers around them, either cheering or jeering. Massive MASSIVE crowds of protesters gather around places of political power, burning effigies and singing songs…it makes me wish I’d paid attention in French class so I could make some of it out (sadly, not one use of ‘Je suis une pamplemousse’ yet…the only phrase I care about).
You have intricately detailed cafe fronts that make the typography nerd in me hugely excited about the signage on them, dogs cutting around alleyways, cats leaping around on roofs, couples standing on the sides of the river and drunks collapsed in a heap near bars. The city is alive and the most convincing virtual world Ubisoft have created yet, packed with some fantastic side missions and characters (early highlight is The Marquis de Sade, as perverse and smarmy as you’d expect). When the city is all this and more, why would you care about a slight drop in frame rate? You wouldn’t, unless you’re some sorta boring wank.
But for all the brilliance that Ubisoft have created here, there’s a nagging feeling that they’re scared to fully let go, the need for them to incessantly remind you that you’re playing a game. Not only is the UI on screen a mess, but it’s largely unneeded. After 76 (approx) games in this series, do we really need to be constantly told about the controls? We get it, RT sprints, X climbs. And the game acts like a needy child whenever you have upgrade points to spend with an intrusive flash of ‘YOU HAVE UPGRADE POINTS!!!’ every 2 minutes despite the fact that you can’t afford any upgrades yet and THAT’S WHY I”M HOLDING ONTO THEM DAMMIT MUM STOP NAGGING ME. Yeah, I know there’s options to turn all this off, but it’s surely there should be a more elegant way to display this? It seems that not matter how confident Ubisoft get at selling their worlds to me, they constantly need to be pulling on your sleeve saying ‘here mate, it’s just a game you daft prick*’. A shame as it’s really the only downside I can think of in this game.
I might have not finished it yet, but I’m 100% sold by AC Unity. A game that hasn’t been getting the praise I feel it deserves. I’ve only really seen CJ, Kate Gray from OXM and Jim Trinca off of Videogamer really praising it, most press seem to be focused on the technical problems, which from my experience, are practically non existent. A damn shame as this for me has been one of the best games of the year.
*Gav R sent me this in a text convo, so hats off to him for being a wittier bastard than I am.