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Coming to Xbox One (demoed), PS4 and PC
Assassin’s Creed: Unity release date holiday 2014
Paris looks beautiful. As Arno Dorian stands on the buttresses of Notre Dame we stare off at the City Of Love and marvel at the view. Mist settles over the street tops, Gothic spires point accusingly at the sky and every landmark structure is cast in gorgeous Baroque grandeur.
Since its first entry was released six years ago, the Assassin’s Creed franchise has made visual beauty one of its most effortless qualities. Every historical city that players have free run through – from the streets of Venice, to the rooftops of Damascus – has boasted both architectural accuracy and visual splendor. But even by this series’ standards, Assassin’s Creed: Unity’s Paris is breathtaking.
Its beauty is matched only by its scope, as according to the developers the game’s environment is multi-tiered. Players will skip across rooftops, sprint through streets and leap off towers into endless bales of hay as they have in the past. But they’ll also explore building interiors, trace their way through catacombs and crawl through sewers.
Every last one of these environments are teeming with stories, missions and activities for player to get stuck into. For the first time transition between them handles seamlessly. The fact that Unity’s Paris is also scaled 1:1 is enough to nail jaws to the floor.
Assassin’s Creed: Unity is big and beautiful, but it’s also built to be the most accessible game in the Assassin’s Creed franchise. First off, players don’t need to know about any of the narrative strands from previous entries in the series. The game stars a new protagonist and a new story – although we’re betting the war between the Assassins and the Templars will be centre and Abstergo will probably make an appearance.
The controls of the game have also been revamped somewhat. Climbing up or down walls is just a matter of holding down the right trigger and depressing the A (for up) or B (for down) buttons that makes movement feel far more fluid and natural. Eagle Vision is simply activated by tapping the Y button. This highlights enemies and NPCs of interest briefly in Arno’s environment, which is useful for avoiding danger and planning attacks.
The control layout also now has a dedicate stealth button. Pull the left trigger and Arno moves into a stealthy crouch and he’s also able to snap to cover. If he’s spotted by a foe, a silhouette of his last position appears and the AI will move towards it.
Stealth actually plays a larger part in Assassin’s Creed: Unity than it’s been in previous entries in the series. The reason for this is due in part to the fact that combat has been tweaked and made rather more difficult. In past games, players were able to fend off large groups of enemies by blocking and using timed attacks. In Unity, this isn’t an option, because the AI takes note of the defence and attacking moves the player uses and adapts accordingly. Players can no longer win fights by spamming the same move and when a large group of foes attacks them the best option is to leg it.
The biggest addition to the core play in Unity is four player co-op, which was apparently demanded by the series’ fans. If you’re a lone wolf it’s still possible to tackle all of the missions in the game solo, but be warned: a lot of missions have been designed for two or more players and so their difficulty verges on the eye-watering if you’re on your own.
See also: Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare preview
Fortunately, for our demo, we had some members of the development team to help us out. We took part in a Heist Mission where we had to rip off some Templars smuggling artifacts out of a hospital in one of Paris’s slums.
Like all the Assassination Missions in the game, Heists are all open-ended in their structure. A typical example involves dropping the player (or players) onto the edge of a restricted area and tasking them with infiltrating a well-guarded environment without being spotted. If they are the XP and earnings they’d get from the mission decrease.
The Heist took us through a graveyard and some dimly lit sewers where both stealthy movement and the tactical deployment of Eagle Vision ensured a lot of it was easy going. Since this was a demo we suspect the developers had given us a mission with training wheels attached. The only particularly challenging part of the Heist involved both assassins landing on patrolling guards from the roof, taking out four of them at once.
The developers were keen to point out that Heists Mission change dynamically. The AI has no set path. Just because players were able to complete a Heist in one fashion didn’t mean they could repeat this success if they simply copied their earlier tactics and movements.
It’s one more piece to the new generation puzzle that shows exactly how hard Triple A blockbusters are starting to push the limits of the new hardware.
Assassin’s Creed: Unity isn’t a seachange for the series but it’s a massive step forward nonetheless. It’s broad in both its scope and ambition and as an entry into the series it looks to be the strongest gateway for an age. And dammit, if it doesn’t look so pretty.
Read more: Best Games 2014
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