You may be tired of Assassin’s Creed since Ubisoft has been putting out yearly entries for a while now, and many people may be thinking that they just don’t need another one. You’d best get over that feeling pretty quickly though, because the franchise keeps getting better with every iteration, and Assassin’s Creed: Unity looks damned amazing from what we saw at this year’s E3.
At first glance, sure, Unity appears to be just like any other Assassin’s Creed game, complete with a dude in a hooded robe, hidden blades, tall buildings and cities full of people. But look deeper into the heart of 18th century France, at the height of the French Revolution, and you will find a game that goes far beyond anything we’ve experienced in an Assassin’s Creed game before it. Ubisoft’s booth treated us to a personal gameplay demonstration given by a developer on the game that got us a closer look at the finer details that the French Revolution has to offer the franchise.
First and foremost, the crowd AI is spectacular. Each NPC is an individual person, but they also all felt like they were interacting with one another. Even in massive crowds of people spectating on a beheading, a single person’s actions seemed to affect the AI around him or her. This went a long way in making the world feel alive at every step. The world around the main character, Arno, felt like it had lived long before our arrival there, and that it would go on for long after. Characters interacted and responded to stimuli naturally, and given the massive amount of AI present at any given time, this feat is quite impressive.
As Arno climbed up and down buildings in Paris to reach his goals, we were shown the newly refined parkour system that is less about the character locking to a specific part of the in-game area, and more about using all parts of the environment in a natural and free-flowing movement. Arno’s traversal felt more smooth and quick than that of any assassin that has come before him. I can’t wait to get a controller in my hands and try out the climbing mechanics for myself, but for now I’ll be content with how easy and fluid the dev made it look.
Another new move that Arno now has is the ability to enter a crouched or stealth mode with a button press, instead of contextually to the environment. There is a lot of focus being put on stealth gameplay here, and while combat is still intact, it is more difficult in this outing, in that crowds of guards will no longer just take turns attacking you and a huge fight could easily mean an overwhelming downfall. Using stealth to avoid these combat situations are much easier to do now as you don’t have to rely on Arno reacting the way you want him to with the environment. You just push a button, and he is crouching– a really simple feature that will go a long way in the final game.
We got a hint of the new open world missions that will be in this new-gen only title, and it seems like they will only further help to deepen and flesh out the turmoil-ed Paris that we will be playing in. This one was a murder mystery, and a crowd of AI gathered around a doorway to show us that something was going on inside the building. The developer indicated that this crowding was natural AI and would help us to discover happenings in the world, but it was hard to see the difference between natural and scripted in a short gameplay demonstration.
Graphically, sticking to the new generation of consoles has done wonders for Unity’s visual performance. Paris looks almost like a beautiful painting at times and animations were incredible We were shown features in the engine that play with how the light reacts to specific objects, meaning that varnished wood will throw light differently than natural wood, which will be yet different from paint, dirt, stone, a variety of cloths, or any of the other textures in the game. This way of lighting the game made everything look incredibly realistic and diverse and we were told that this was done via mathematical measurements of how light reacts to different surfaces.
I personally can’t wait to find out more about Unity and what makes it tick. The French Revolution is a great choice for time period, and Ubisoft have once again done a spectacular job at creating and invoking the feeling of actually being present in the historical time and location. Yes, Assassin’s Creed is a yearly franchise, with two titles said to be coming this year. But the changes and things that I have seen in Unity make me think that perhaps it’s not such a bad thing that I don’t have to wait long to get my hands on the next Assassin’s Creed game.
With Unity, Ubisoft seems to be redefining the very pillars that first held up Assassin’s Creed, and interestingly enough, going back to focus on the roots of the franchise seems to be the best move that the series can make this time around.
…oh, and guillotines.