Nothing illustrates the double-edged sword of mainstream success like the pressures placed on gaming's biggest and boldest properties. There was a time when Assassin's Creed was an upstart, now Ubisoft's flagship franchise - owing its rise to some surprising innovations and focus on storytelling. And with the first leap to a new console generation coming in Assassin's Creed Unity, the team at Ubisoft Montreal had a task almost certain to get the best of them.
Now that the release has come, the reviews prove that, unsurprisingly, the results are a mixed bag. For some the promising steps forward make up for the game's less polished parts (including our review), while others find the emphasis on mission over story a complete misstep. With so many separate sides to a single game, it's clear many will find their favorites - assuming the reported glitches are solved.
They say that the first one through the glass is bound to be bloodied, and there's no question Unity has taken some lumps. But is the most divisive Assassin's Creed in years a sign that the developers have lost their way, or are simply taking risks in breaking new ground? Each player will need to come up with their own opinion, but read excerpts from the range of reviews below:
Gamespot (Mark Walton):
"Not all of Unity's more progressive touches are for the best then, but you might spend more time noticing what's old than what's new. The terrific city atmosphere of Paris, the focus on parkour, and the incentives for performing stealthy assassinations, all these things hint at a game that's trying to return to its roots after branching out so wildly in its past two iterations. Yes, Unity is the most ACII-like of the series since, well, ACII, and while it never really hits the dizzying heights of Ezio's jaunt through 15th century Italy, Unity's similarities are comforting enough to take the edge off its less-than-successful changes."
Destructoid (Chris Carter):
"My lack of enthusiasm for the multiplayer is mirrored by my experience with the rest of the game. Unity does take a few extra strides towards advancing the series, but in many ways it feels like a step back from Black Flag. It was fun to roam around Paris looking for trouble and ogle at the power of current-gen consoles, but the game lacks that grand sense of roaming the uncharted seas in Assassin's Creed IV, or even the open-ended feel of the wilderness in Assassin's Creed III. In other words, it struggles to make its own mark on the franchise outside of the new French Revolution setting."
Polygon (Arthur Gies):
"The ingredients are all here for a spectacular new standard for the series on Sony and Microsoft's new machines. But in the quest to build something that looked and sounded "next generation," Ubisoft Montreal failed to fix the problems that have accumulated over so many annual releases. Combined with an uninspiring story, and a long list of considerable technical problems, Unity falls short of the fresh start Assassin's Creed needs."
Joystiq (S. Prell):
"If you stick to the single-player content, the French Revolution, a momentous period in time, feels stagnant; we only catch glimpses of Paris' descent into chaos through very specific missions, and it never feels like a full-scale revolution is actually underway. This would be fine if Arno's own objectives were particularly interesting, but his story– until the final third of the game – lacks gravitas or impact. Arno's tale is one of revenge for two murders, first his biological father and subsequently his adopted father. The problem is that the conflict between Assassin and Templar doesn't seem to line up with Arno's personal motives, and missions rarely feel connected to his quest. The characters you're sent to assassinate are introduced as quickly as they're killed, and aren't clearly intertwined with your overall goal. It feels like you're killing Templars because you're an assassin and that's what assassins do, not because your targets had a hand in the murder of those closest to you. The final third of the game tries to tie it all together, but most of the time it feels like Arno isn't really shaping the plot. The plot is happening to him."
Shacknews (Ozzie Mejia):
"The story is genuinely engaging, filled with actual twists that turn the AC lore on its head, as well as a good love story between two captivating characters. Paris is also a sight to behold, feeling grander than any of the series' previous settings. The ability to stroll through the game at your own leisure, even stopping to take in a co-op session from the beginning or in-progress, is also a welcome one.
This is everything I've come to know about Assassin's Creed. It's a great story wrapped in a more confusing story, some satisfying stealth action, and mechanics that leave me banging my head against the wall. It's Assassin's Creed, warts and all."
IGN (Marty Sliva):
"Assassin’s Creed Unity leverages the new-generation consoles to add spectacular new sights and successful co-op multiplayer, but in doing so, it’s created some substantial new problems instead of solving the series’ most persistent ones. The scope is stunning, the customization is satisfying, and the multiplayer touches upon some really ambitious ideas. But the lack of a strong main character or interesting take on the Assassin’s Creed universe costs it momentum and excitement, and the persistent control problems are still a thorn in its side. The first truly new-gen Assassin’s Creed game is a gorgeous, entertaining, and successful proof of concept for what lies ahead for the series, though it isn’t what I’d call revolutionary."
Game Informer (Matt Miller):
"Inordinately long load times, repeated onscreen notifications, and a couple of hard freezes prove that Unity is a complex game that hasn’t yet had all of its bugs smashed. However, Unity’s frequent missteps are balanced against an astonishing array of engaging content set in a stunning world. Even as I tallied problems, I marveled at the game’s breadth of gameplay and richly realized world. I encourage fans to give Unity a try, and leave your expectations at the door. For both better and worse, Assassin’s Creed is moving in a new direction."
OXM (Kate Gray):
"In many ways, Unity feels like the sequel Brotherhood should have had three years ago. This may not appeal after life on the open seas, but we can safely say that despite initial hesitation - will Paris just feel like a retextured Italy? - we had hours of fun. Sure, AC can't shake fiddly missions and fiddlier parkour, but it'll take a long time for the intrigue, the beauty and the lovable silliness to wear off. It's a huge, well-realised and incredibly detailed city that we love spending time in. So listen to Shaun and forget the mud and grot and misery of Les Misérables: Unity is a different kind of revolution."
Games Radar (Louise Blain):
"Unity manages to push the series forward enough to make this truly great, it’s only sad that a few left over hiccups have carried over from the previous generation. Traditional Creed problems aside, this manages to be an unrivalled murderous sandbox and Paris hands over a visually impressive blood drenched historical playground."
Toronto Sun (Steve Tilley):
"Unity is not a reinvention of the Assassin’s Creed formula, and it doesn’t boast a radical new gameplay mechanic the way Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag did. And while it’s taking full advantage of the Xbox One and PS4 horsepower, there are still plenty of immersion-breaking quirks and glitches, from Parisians magically levitating off the ground to party guests who don’t seem to mind that two guards have been stabbed to death right in front of them. True to its name, Unity is a cohesive collection of the fundamental elements of the Assassin’s Creed experience, and feels like a much-needed reset for a franchise that was starting to become bloated and scattered. It may not be a revolution, but vive l’unité all the same."
Are you surprised with just how mixed the reviews seem? Are you more interested in playing online with friends, experiencing a next-gen story, or simply pacing the streets of Revolution-era Paris? And most importantly, are you planning on picking the game up any time soon, or only when the technical issues are dealt with by Ubisoft?
Assassin's Creed Unity is available now for PC, PS4 and Xbox One.
Follow Andrew on Twitter @andrew_dyce.