It’s that time of year again. Assassin’s Creed Syndicate is coming out this week, and I didn’t even remember until yesterday. I work in the games industry, but mainly covering Japanese games, so that makes it okay, right? Right? Syndicate has had quite a bit of marketing, but as usual with Ubisoft a little bit too much. It kind of blends into a hum. Background noise. A lot of people are worried this one will be bad in the same ways 2014’s Assassin’s Creed Unity was. Are they right? I wouldn’t know, because as I said, I’ve not been following Syndicate‘s pre-launch. It’s not even out on PC until mid-November.
But was Assassin’s Creed Unity really that bad? In a lot of ways yes. It really was. While built on what seemed to be a very similar engine to Assassin’s Creed III and IV: Black Flag, Unity seemed to straight up lack some of the features in those games. And I don’t just mean boats. Things like whistling, and other stealth mechanics. Not only does Unity have some of the worst stealth gameplay of the series, but also the worst combat, for all those times when you will be caught and need to fight. But enough grumbling. It’s cheap in sales now. You should maybe buy and play it, because here’s 6 Ways Assassin’s Creed Unity Is Better than the Other Ones Even Though It’s Worse than the Other Ones.
Paris is breathtaking
It’s an obvious one, so it’s best to get it out the way. While the Assassin’s Creed series has always offered some pretty impressive environments to run around in and do haystack leaps, Unity upstages all of the other ones pretty immensely. It helps that Unity was built exclusively for 8th Gen consoles (unlike Assassin’s Creed Rogue, releasing at the same time on older gen only). There’s perhaps no better game to show at a glance why 8th gen is actually a good idea.
It helps too that I played it on PC using a mid to high tier graphics card with the settings cranked up. Climbing up the tallest tower and just looking over revolutionary Paris is a sight unrivaled by prior games in the series. You can’t help but look at this digital portrait of Paris and recognize a magnificent artistry at work.
The above GIF is from a Ubisoft pre-release video. In general use the free-run down mechanic often doesn’t look quite so gloriously smooth. But by golly does it still get me excited just looking at it. Those unfamiliar with the series might not understand why a man making a controlled descent at speed from a building is quite so exciting, but those who have felt the slog of the awkward, slow descents that would quite often be a necessity in earlier games will get it completely.
The person in the design meeting that suggested this would deserve a medal, if gameplay design was really such a simple process. More likely this is a joint decision they wanted to implement some time ago, but only now have the technology to do so. Because everyone knows that processing video game characters going down things takes more technology than up. That’s just simple maths.
Introduced in Unity, this is hopefully a gameplay change that will grow smoother and more refined over time, until it’s just second nature.
Internal/external building dynamic and excellent chases
Remember when Assassin’s Creed III announced that you’d be able to go inside houses? It sounded too good to be true, and it was, as they were just scripted sequences where Connor ran through a bland corridor and came out the other side into a bland American city. Unity makes good on this promise from long ago, and by God does it create some great, and dare I say, emergent, gameplay moments.
Not only are there numerous buildings that have open interior bits you can run around in, but there’s no cut-off between the inside and outside of any of the large fortified bases scattered around Paris. This was dabbled with in Black Flag, but never to this extent. These big buildings are littered with various ways to enter and exit them. And, due to the terrible stealth in the game, will frequently become a scene for marvelous chase sequences, which involve you being chased from room to room, taking new enemies by surprise with fluid and quick assassinations, desperately scrambling to hide, escape, or find what you were looking for. The combat is so terrible there’s no way you’ll want to stop and fight, which is brilliant.
These chases are actually a definite highlight of the game for me, and perhaps of the series. Many a merry chase has broken out, with me hopping out windows, climbing around outside and ducking back in, my pursuers distracted at my point of exit. Best of all, it’s usually all down to your own making, when you’re searching for a collectible in the area, and it feels like quite a personal thing you’ll want to share with a friend.
I actually really enjoyed the competitive online multiplayer in Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood through to Black Flag, but this was a welcome change. There are unique missions that are co-op only which require somewhere between 2-4 players depending on the mission. The smaller groupings tend to offer some more complex gameplay requiring greater co-operation, with the 4 player ones being thankfully a bit looser.
I’ve only had positive experiences with this, and the feeling of camaraderie is definitely present. It’s too bad that the game was quite broken at launch, and I repeatedly struggled at times to match on missions I wanted to play. But when it worked it worked surprisingly well.
The least amount of modern day Animus stuff
I get it. I thought it was cool too when I first played Assassin’s Creed. The future setting with Desmond was pretty gritty and cool. But everyone knows the historical settings are really the appeal of Assassin’s Creed. It even turned out that the modern setting was a fairly last minute decision by Ubisoft, as they lacked the courage to go straight history with it. Like Trial of a Time Lord (the Sixth Doctor’s final, bizarrely framed final Doctor Who season), it just ends up cutting into the immersion a bit too much. Thankfully they’ve dialled it back since Assassin’s Creed III, and this time you don’t even have to awkwardly walk about Ubisoft’s own offices pretending you’re Beta testing an in-game video game anymore (Black Flag), you’re just doing that at home instead, in whatever state of undress you so desire.
Gratuitous use of other time periods
It’s a game where you climb a whole lot of stuff. It’s in Paris. Climbing the Eiffel Tower has got to be in there, right? But revolutionary Paris pre-dates the Eiffel tower, which was erected 1887-89. The solution? Chuck it in there anyway! During one trip through a “time anomaly” (a glitch in the Animus or some such, like I really care, Ubisoft, just give me the goods), the player finds themselves in Nazi-occupied Paris, and must scale the fortified Eiffel tower to escape some kind of Animus anti-virus. It’s almost like that one bit in Assassin’s Creed II where Desmond flashes back to being Altair in Acre, or the sub-par Altair missions in Assassin’s Creed Revelations, but much better.