Some like to travel as if it were a sport, tallying up destinations and landmarks in books or collecting postcards from wherever their feet take them, though there’s something to be said for the places you can go in the Assassin’s Creed franchise. I’ve always been impressed by Ubisoft’s willingness to look beyond exclusively modern worlds to focus on the culture of a place as much as the history of it. Jerusalem remains a beautiful escape that no other game has really attempted, even if I preferred Assassin’s Creed III’s playful twists on history during the American Revolution.
A few years after the extremely popular pirate-focused Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag, the publisher and its international team of developers chooses to move to the French Revolution in Paris. The city itself couldn’t look any better and that plays an immediate effect in gripping the player, but I only had a chance to play a single co-operative mission previously at PAX Prime 2014. At an event in Las Vegas, Ubisoft offered myself and several other writers the opportunity to explore the open-world and two narrative sequences, with organized multiplayer in sessions. With two distinct games slated for this Fall, Assassin's Creed Unity feels decidedly forward-facing, though your own opinion of it may be colored by past experience with the franchise.
Almost immediately, you will be met with a wealth of objectives to explore in both single-player and multiplayer gameplay. For the purposes of the demo, lead Assassin Arno was dropped at the center of the map and from here you can choose to scale a building and reveal more of the surrounding area or just attack an objective outright. I did my best to go vertical and get a good look at Paris and summarily leapt from my perch impressed with the draw distance present in the latest iteration of the Anvil engine.
I wasted no time relaying to the developers and marketing people at the event that crowds have always proved my favorite element comprising the startlingly well-realized worlds in each game. Where past assassins have been able to push people out of the way, Arno does stumble over the odd milk maid and beggar here or there. Still, the teeming masses pushing towards a beheading or calling for justice and waving flaming effigies go a long way in selling one of the ambient scenes you might stumble on.
One such group gathered around the Notre Dame, a single building and interior that took the designers over a year to create in-game. That’s a lot of man-hours for one building, but the proof is in the rafters, somewhere above a church service for a Templar agent who needs to be assassinated. At least, that’s what one mission had me do while another secondary objective featured a group of dead monks who leave the job of solving the mystery to Arno. I wandered around picking up clues and interviewing witnesses to find the killer in an enclosed area, though Unity remains largely focused on letting players abandon a mission as readily as they accept them.
As you explore, you can wander up to mission points or can accept invitations from friends. Each mission and objective will offer a description and the opportunity to add it to your list for tracking later. If a mission requires another player in dedicated two-player co-op, the game will matchmake or ask you to invite from your friends list. If a mission allows more than two players, it likely involves larger combat scenarios, stealth difficulty, or some other exaggeration to allow everyone something to do. While I spent most of my time in single-player, both a dedicated co-op mission and a four-player heist mission impressed me with a few key twists to what should be standard for Assassin’s Creed fans.
Cooperative stealth is a lot easier when you communicate and identify targets together. As soon as that communication broke down, I got antsy and ended up killing a guard whose compatriot pulled an alarm and bogged myself and the Ubisoft developer into a larger combat mess than we wanted. During the heist mission, several all-out fights allowed one or two assassins to clean up while attention was focused on myself or another player. This meant that guards who admittedly took a while to bring down could be assassinated from behind, allowing us to move forward with the mission.
As entertaining as four-player Assassin’s Creed will be once you get the game at home, I was more entertained by its variety of interiors. To match the expansive open-world, Ubisoft has scattered many different open shops, houses, taverns, and historical landmarks for exploration. Better still, some of the more extensive interior designs remain true to history as well. It sounds silly, but I love that a video game would allow anyone to steal a historically accurate painting from its historically accurate place on an historically accurate figure’s wall. I told Maxime Durand, historian on Assassin’s Creed Unity, that I made my displeasure for the subject known loudly in school. Things would be a lot more interesting if I could have played with history like the franchise has allowed thus far.
For what its worth, Assassin’s Creed Unity looks absolutely stunning on Xbox One but the frame-rate easily stumbled in the preview build running in Las Vegas at the end of last month. Due out on November 11th for Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and PC, Unity does represent the pinnacle of visual design in the franchise thus far, hands-down, so some stuttering was acceptable. Abstergo’s cold offices, the warmth of the Italian countryside, and even Assassin’s Creed III’s frontier and summarily impressive range of weather effects have impressed in the past, but not like Paris in the right scene. In fact, during one part of the demo, dark shadows cast a pall over the street Arno was walking down.
I decided to direct the hero to a rooftop to see where the light had gone. Even the transition between the shade of a church and the afternoon sun casting golden orange on character models and buildings gave me chills. Despite a few mechanical changes, that remains strongest in my memory of Ubisoft’s virtual Paris even after staying at the fake Paris Hotel adjacent to the Bellagio in Vegas. I thought it would be impossible to shake the drunken faces wandering the streets from my memories, but a town crier shouting the days news near the riverfront still had my ear and I’m hungry to find out what role the Assassin order plays in the earliest days of Parisian democracy.
For more on Assassin’s Creed Unity, read our hands-on preview from PAX here and then check out the latest screenshots and videos by visiting our game page. We’ll have more on the title as we near release.
Publisher Ubisoft paid for my hotel and travel to this event.