Last year's Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag was a welcome seafaring deviation from the usual historical city-tromping escapade, but Assassin's Creed Unity is the coming-out party for the series on new-gen hardware.
Let's check off the list: a nearly 1:1 scale Paris in the time of the French Revolution; four-player campaign co-op missions; totally reworked gameplay fundamentals; a cracking new game engine.
Unity looks like the most interesting thing to happen to the series in a few years, and perhaps one of the best reasons to upgrade to a new console (or PC) this autumn.
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United, we revolt
The late 18th century is much too early for an appearance from the Eiffel Tower, but Paris remains a pretty perfect pick for a wide-open city to explore – particularly given the presence of the massive Notre-Dame Cathedral, which Ubisoft spent a year crafting to resemble the real thing. The city of love won't be so welcoming as the French Revolution rages on, but that ought to make for a great action-game setting.
This time around, you'll take the role of Arno Dorian, an Assassin whose adoptive father was an enemy Templar. His love interest? Also a Templar, named Elise – so expect some tricky business there.
Like his series predecessors, Arno is skilled in both combat and speedy navigation, but has been described by Ubisoft as "more ruthless". His Phantom Blade modifies the usual hidden blade with a throwing ability, plus Arno wields a French cutlass and a multi-barrel pistol. In sum? Expect plenty of conflict around ol' Paris.
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Live together, die alone
For the past few entries, Assassin's Creed has split its gameplay between the standard single-player campaign and a separate online multiplayer mode. And that's been a largely successful approach – sometimes more on the competitive end than the narrative adventure side of things.
But as its title implies, Unity is all about teamwork, and not in some walled-off side mode – it's within the campaign. Granted, the four-player online co-op doesn't extend throughout the entire campaign, but numerous missions allow you to link up with others and execute grand assaults and assassinations, with each player taking on a unique skill that benefits the team. The fluid, complex E3 demo was enough to convince us of its potential brilliance.
Alas, the trade-off here is that Unity will be the first core series entry in five years without a competitive multiplayer component. Still, that seems a fair omission, and since Ubisoft is always working on multiple entries at once across its numerous studios, that'll give them time to shake things up for next year's inevitable release.
Back to basics
Unity looks really fabulous in the demos, but we'll see if it actually runs that well on an Xbox One or PlayStation 4 – considering what happened with Watch_Dogs between its first demo and eventual release, we'll have to play this one to believe it. But alongside the promised new-gen visual upgrade comes tweaks to the core fundamentals of the series.
For example, the parkour and climbing action features new "Parkour Up" and "Parkour Down" input options, which allow you to better navigate the terrain and chain together really fluid, tricky commands – such as leaping downwards, swinging from a post for a moment, and then grabbing on to a ledge on a perpendicular wall.
On the stealth side of things, you'll be able to take cover throughout the world rather than relying on groups of gypsies or sitting on benches; you can now crouch to hide behind objects and slip into alleys to try to disappear. And the combat has been overhauled and simplified to focus on attacking, dodging, and parrying, with the footage showing a more diverse array of group kill animations.
More after the break...
Much more in store
Unity promises to provide a wealth of on-disc content, but unsurprisingly, Ubisoft plans to add more and more to the experience in the months after release to keep players hooked (and spending money). Two large chunks of content have been revealed thus far.
The Dead Kings side campaign explores the city of Saint Denis, and finds Arno battling Raiders and solving puzzles within the catacombs following the events of Unity. He’ll also have a new Guillotine Gun available, plus the Dead Kings pack adds new missions to the Unity main game as well.
Meanwhile, Assassin’s Creed Chronicles: China is a brand new side game that takes the form of a 2.5D side-scroller. You’ll play as Shao Jun, a character from the Assassin’s Creed Embers animated film (and who was trained by series favorite Ezio Auditore) and battle through 16th century Beijing.
Chronicles’ brush painting art style looks slick, and it reminds us a bit of Klei Entertainment’s great downloadable title, Mark of the Ninja. Both will be included in a discounted season pass, along with 30 in-game items for Unity, such as a Fleur de Lys sword available at launch.
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Due to its enhanced engine and massive world, Assassin's Creed Unity won't be playable on older consoles – or dated PC hardware, for that matter. But Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 series fans won't be left in the cold this autumn, as they'll get their own original entry, Assassin's Creed Rogue, in November.
Rogue is set in the timeframe after Black Flag and before Unity – during the Seven Years' War – plus it'll tie back into Assassin's Creed III to some extent, making this a good way for longtime aficionados to tie up loose ends before grabbing a new console for Unity.
The campaign features Black Flag-like ship combat and navigation in the frigid North Atlantic, but also includes diverse land action, with stops in the River Valley and New York along the way. Multiplayer has also been cut from this entry, but here's hoping the campaign proves essential enough for even day-one Unity buyers to go back and fire up a last-gen console to dig into.
Vive la révolution!
Assassin's Creed Unity launches worldwide for Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and PC on 28 October, and what we've seen thus far has truly impressed throughout.
The series has had a real up-and-down trajectory in recent years, with Revelations and Assassin's Creed III both underwhelming, but Black Flag representing a nice twist. With luck, Unity is the game Ubisoft has been saving all of that old open-world magic for.
READ MORE: Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag review