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Review: Assassin’s Creed Unity (PC)

ac-unity

Assassin’s Creed Unity (PC [Reviewed], Xbox One,  PS4,)
Developer: Ubisoft Montreal
Publisher: Ubisoft
Genre(s): Open World, Third Person Stealth, Third Person Action Adventure
Released: November 11, 2014
ESRB Rating: M – Mature

Game Version Reviewed: 1.4

 

I deliberately held off on doing this review because very few if any outlets have bothered to give this game a fair shake post patches. The bulk of what you see out there is either 1.0 or 1.1 when the game was in a far worse state.

As of the date I write this: January 1, 2015, the game is vastly improved and evolved from its launch day form. The problems have been largely fixed. If the game had launched back in November in 1.4 form everything would have been fine past the usual nominal glitches and issues here and there.

The technical issues were inexcusable. Launching the game in that shape was inexcusable. Ubisoft did not have a very good 2014 and especially on the PC in terms of quality control and assurance on their titles on the heels of massive hype.

When I see scores like a 65/100 for this great game I know it’s because the outlet had a hard deadline to meet and they wrote the review based on the train wreck launch version.

In this day and age of the Internet I really wish more outlets would revise and update reviews accordingly but since they don’t then strays like myself will come in and do our best.

In some ways this is a soft reboot for the AC Series and all in good ways.

I felt like the overarching mythos narrative that takes place during modern day jumped the rails for good in AC:Brotherhood so I welcome this soft reboot with a noticeable and welcome reduction of emphasis on all of that.  I hope they phase that component out entirely.

There are no excuses for the myriad of technical issues that plagued this game on launch and still do at the date of this writing although to a considerably lesser degree.

It is important to note that all platforms have seen a slew of technical issues to a degree that saw a  large and loud outcry from the gaming media and community that resulted in Ubisoft following EA’s lead on Battlefield 4, another game that launched with a slew of issues: Shut down all efforts on DLC or other games and divert all resources to fixing this game.   As a gesture of good will, all Season Pass purchasers were given their choice of a free game out of a selection of AAA games.

On to the review breakdown:

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GRAPHICS:

The attention to detail, geography, and historical accuracy is stunning.  Jaw dropping.

Often times I have found myself simply walking around and smelling the roses and taking in how meticulously recreated the French Revolution areas of France have been done and also, the 19th century versions for a different aspect of the game.

It’s something special when you can go online and see people on youtube playing a segment and saying: “Hey! That’s where I am right now. That’s my apartment!”    That should tell you how much care and attention to detail is realized in this game.

The graphics have taken a clear leap forward for the series and this is especially noticeable if you are able to turn up the eye candy.  I was impressed with how Black Flag looked and still am but even compared to that this is still a noticeable step forward on the eye candy. Black Flag still looks great and is still a fantastic game.

We are not talking earth shattering steps forward on graphics from that but certainly what I would call a progressive step upwards.

Before the patches everyone was forced to dial down eye candy to compensate for varying degrees of  performance issues.  Post patches, as of this writing, most people should be able to set this game to where they would expect to for their respective configurations.

I’m able to max everything out at 1920×1200 with excellent performance that easily goes north of 60fps on average. This is a fully realized and gorgeous world that is all too easy to get lost in. Even outlets that slagged this game turned around and voted it for best graphics of 2014 so that should tell you something. I certainly agree with that assessment.

Not only is French Revolution era Paris and Versailles fully realized but several other time periods including the 1890s and World War 2 era Paris are also astoundingly realized for the server break down time jump missions.

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AUDIO:

The sound design is excellent in this game right down the large, organic crowds of people who react to you and anything else happening around them.

The weakest point in the audio is the music I’m sorry to say. I know that Chris Tilton is a good composer but he just didn’t hit this with full steam.  I would have to say that  his co-composer Sarah Schachner contributed superior music and she probably should have been given the solo nod. She is going to be a name to watch out for.

This has been arguably my biggest disappointment with the course of the series: A lack of cohesive and unified musical voice which is important in any kind of medium with a strong narrative and backstory. I still miss Jesper Kyd on this series and the Hitman series in a bad way. He is the voice of these two gaming series when we get down to it and I really hope the respective developers find a way to get him back on.  I was happy with Lorne Balfe and Brian Tyler’s musical contributions on AC 3 and 4 respectively and those offerings were superior to a lot of the music in this but overall the series needs Jesper Kyd back. If they can’t do that then at least commit to a composer like Ms. Schachner to give this series a cohesive and unified voice.

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GAMEPLAY:

Fast, fluid, clean.   AC veterans especially should notice and appreciate very quickly just how good everything looks and feels. Everything Arno does in the game is smooth, fluid, and more intuitive.

Gone are the days of spamming one button and being an invincible mass killing machine. Parrying and dodging matter.  Timing everything matters.  It sounds like a small refinement but combat is more enjoyable and satisfying for these changes.  Combat is satisfying and fun.  I have died many more times in this game vs any of the previous entries in the series and that’s a good thing.

Of course you still have your entire assassin bag of tricks as your foundation to work off of.
It sounds like a small detail but adding a button command for climbing up and down respectively has made it faster, smoother, more natural, and more intuitive.  This is an overdue refinement to the series that goes a long ways. Arno isn’t Superman but he moves with a lot more natural efficiency then his predecessors in previous games did.  Another overdue refinement is the addition of a dedicated crouch/stealth button and a cover system.  AC veterans will appreciate these upgrades in short order in addition to all the usual assassin bag of tricks that AC vets are accustomed to.

There is one gameplay item that is curiously missing now:  Being able to lure an enemy to a hiding spot with a whistle.  One of my favorite tricks in previous games was to wait in the hay carts, whistle, lure an enemy over, and then stealth kill them from there. You can no longer do this and I find that a bizarre omission for a sophisticated assasin like Arno.

The co-op works. The online works. Everything works well now.

I am especially pleased to see that most of the online options have a “private mode” where you can play the missions solo if you would like and I am very impressed with the attention to detail these missions have been given in addition to the robust and deep single player experience. I played a co-op mission solo where I had to defend Napoleon from 9 snipers lined along a street route high up and I had to take them down very quickly and this was just the first part of what ended up being a larger mission that I won’t spoil for you here.  I’ve played numerous Heist missions solo and these are  some of the most challenging missions in the game where stealth is absolutely vital. Everything can be replayed at the player’s leisure and convenience with no limits. Major kudos to all of this.

There are missions where “server anamolies” have Arno operating in different time periods in Paris like the 1890s or World War 2.  These missions consist typically of racking up data packets as fast as you can and rescuing operatives. These technically could be considered co-op as you see “ghost images” of at least one other player in there with you but it’s essentially like a solo situation so far as what are you actually doing.

I really am amazed at how much ambition and attention to detail have been shown in this game.

There are some minor treasure boxes and odds and ends that are exclusive to the Companion App which you can use on your cellphone or tablet OS of choice.  This is a nifty bonus that adds an extra dimension to the proceedings but it’s not essential.

This is just typical of this game: A shocking amount of depth to explore and get lost in.  It’s downright overwhelming and I think that’s a good thing. I never fast travel because I don’t want to miss something and there is always something new to accomplish or explore. The attention to detail cannot be overstated and even in some of the most hostile PC gaming quarters people are at least finally admitting that the game has some the best graphics they have seen this year. The more honest people are starting to let the hate thaw out and admit that, yes, this is the best AC game yet in some ways at least.

STORY:

A strong narrative that weaves an impossible romance between two people who have ended up in rival factions (Assassin vs Templars) set in the backdrop of French Revolution France with an absolutely crazy ton of intrigue that any further description would require spoilers. Expect to rub shoulders or interact with no less than Napoleon, Robespierre, and the Marquis De Sade as you uncover and unravel a number of intrigues and mysteries that ultimately resonate  with world history. The writing is strong and the characters are well realized.  The story is very solid historical fiction with the sci-fi element of the AC series narrative mixed in although thankfully dialed down.  The modern-day elements are the least popular story devices amongst even the biggest of AC fans and I have long been in the camp that wishes they never happened.

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COMPLAINTS:
If I were reviewing version 1.0 or even 1.1. of this game as opposed to 1.4 this would be a longer section but that has been more than belabored by now. The bulk of those issues are resolved.

Version 1.4 of the game I have very few complaints.

My biggest concern is the “free to play” trappings I see making inroads in this game. The microtranscations. The companion app and some of what goes with all of that. This is already going too far and needs to stop right here, right now.

Ubisoft: Don’t give any further down this road. When someone buys your game for $60 and gets a Season Pass no  less the last thing they want to see or should see is $9.99 and up Helix packs and other nonsense like that. Stop this right now and go back to the way things were.

If this series goes F2P, I’m out and I’m saying this as a fanboy of the series.

The finicky issue where Arno has more difficulty than he should at times climbing through a window still exists on version 1.4 but is better than it was before.

When the game launched I was amongst the fortunate on the upside of the technical issues curve.  Instead of being able to max the game out like I can currently, all I had to do was dial down HBAO+ to SSAO and dial down the AA to FXAA and that was it. Everything else was still maxed out at 1920X1200 and I had no problems.

I’m not sure how and why I was able to get away so easily vs the wave of train wrecks and disasters out there although I can hazard one guess while taking away nothing from the poor shape this game was released in:  I have a single GPU setup and I can’t help but notice how often multi GPU setups really get the shaft in the early goings on so many of these games when they get released.  I’m not saying single GPU people didn’t have issues but if you really start scouring and collating this I think the trend is unmistakable. I’ve lost count how often I see the “wait for SLI driver” or “wait for Crossfire driver” in just about any PC gaming forum thread for certainly any AAA title at least.

On version 1.4 the game should run fine and scale up and down just fine for most users. The only quirk I still see is a bizarre performance drop off during cutscenes although that is better than it was in the beginning. Before the patches the cutscenes would take performance down to 10-15 fps.   Now it hovers around the low 30s on fps. For cutscenes it just isn’t a big deal to me personally although I won’t be surprised if at least one more robust patch comes down the pike that improves performance even more.

As of this writing at least one more major patch is highly likely. Some PC gamers keep making reference to hoping for a “tesselation patch” for visual fidelity which remains to be seen if that happens or not.  The talking point has been overblown on certain forums. If this game doesn’t impress you visually with all the eye candy maxed out then you are impossible to please.

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FINAL THOUGHTS:

Outlets that slagged this game and concluded that it wasn’t fun just couldn’t be more wrong as far as I’m concerned post patches if you are a fan of the series. If I were one of the people who had been in the middle of the worst of that nightmare on 1.0 then of course there is nothing fun about that but when you get past the technical issues you are going to experience a very deep AC game with an absolutely overwhelming amount of things to do. Heists, murder mysteries, city narratives, main story, online, crowd events… there is always something new to do and if you get bored doing one thing you simply shift gears to something else.

Post patches if people are still saying some of these negative things I can only figure they are either burned out on this series or never liked it in the first place.

Fans of the series like me should absolutely be thrilled with it post patches.  For my money, pound for pound, this is my personal Game of the Year for 2014.   Despite that praise you will note that I have given this game a score shy of the 5 stars. I am doing that because I recognize that the game is not fully fixed across a wide spectrum for many people and I clearly cited enough quibbles of my own that I just can’t do it as of this writing.

If a patch 1.5 comes through and puts things over the top then I could see revising my score.

4stars

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1 Comment on Review: Assassin’s Creed Unity (PC)

  1. Great stuff Eric. I’m currently playing ACIII and I’m really loving it. It may be a while, especially with me being a console behind, but I imagine I will dig this whenever I finally get around to it.

    Like

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