(Almost) hands-on with Assassin’s Creed: Unity – and more on the lack of playable women characters (UPDATED)

Update (17:14): In a piece of excellent timing, to celebrate Bastille Day Ubisoft has released a brand new trailer. Watch it below.

Last week I got a chance to not quite play a demo of Assassin’s Creed: Unity, but rather watch one of the game’s developers play through the demo of the game that was shown at E3 last month. It was definitely running live – and whilst watching, I obviously bombarded the developer with questions about the game. Here’s some impressions I took away from the game.

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Graphics

So first up, general impressions: Essentially, it looks absolutely stunning. The next-current-gen only leap appears to be paying dividends for the series, as I think it is the best looking PS4 or Xbox One title I’ve seen to date. This won’t be surprising to anyone who has watched the videos – but seeing a fully blown Paris, apparently recreated on a 1:1 scale is an incredible sight. Maybe Notre Dame cathedral is just massive, but it really seemed spectacular: all of the exterior details were fully 3D modelled rather than just flat texture (including the statues of Kings around the edge).

Walking through the game, you really get a sense too that it is a living, breathing city. Simply the number of NPCs (non-player characters) that the game can pack on the screen simultaneously is hugely impressive.

History and Story

Now I might have mentioned it before, but I’m a bit of a nerd about the French Revolution. Unfortunately, the developer I was speaking to didn’t know if Thomas Paine, who wrote one of the key texts that influenced the revolution, would feature in the game. I was hoping he’d be your sidekick, a la Machiavelli in Assassin’s Creed 2.

I did learn a bit more about how the plot is being framed though: Apparently the bulk of the plot takes place during The Terror. As Assassin’s Creed aficionados will know, the thread that runs through the series is the endless war between the Templars, who favour control and order, and the Assassins, who fight for freedom. Perhaps unsurprisingly then, apparently the Templars are represented in Paris by the loyal Monarchists.

From what was hinted at though, it sounds as though the developers may try and have it both ways: The Terror was when the revolutionaries went a little mad with the guillotine – so don’t be surprised if we see some Templars popping up on the “good” side too.

I think the most revealing thing was that the developer described to me that Arno will be on the side of “the people of Paris” rather than partisan to any particular side. What was really interesting was that at the end of the demo, when you assassinate the target from above in front of a huge crowd, some onlookers cheer and some get angry. Will this be hardcoded in to represent different factions in Paris at the time, or does it suggest we might see a Watch Dogs-style “reputation” meter, which can affect gameplay?

Gameplay

So how has the game changed? Aside from the map appearing larger and more bustling than ever, apparently this time many locations have accessible interiors too. Whereas in the previous games, when you went through a window you’d just pop out the other side, this time apparently 25% of buildings on the map are fully accessible.

I can’t remember the details but the controls appear to have been given a minor revamp – with new crouching controls to make stealthy approaches easier.

Perhaps the big change, which was flagged up at E3, is gameplay is becoming more seamless: There’s no longer hard lines drawn between the sandbox and missions: Missions and side-plots will appear as you travel through the world, and it appears as though you can complete them piece by piece. For example – in the demo you find the location of someone you need to assassinate, and they are marked on the map – but you don’t need to run over and kill them immediately, and you can do something else if you wish.

Similarly, when you enter a new area, rather than have to go to the map to find out where the various plots and missions are, overhead markers will appear or point towards where stuff can happen.

Multiplayer and a lack of women

And this is where things got even more interesting. One of the biggest new features in Assassin’s Creed: Unity is cooperative play. As we saw in a different E3 demo, it is possible for up to three friends to join you in carrying out a mission.

The way this works is clever: Similar to Watch Dogs, multiplayer isn’t accessed through a separate menu system, but it happens organically as part of the game. If you and a friend are playing the game at the same time, if your friend is in a mission and you take a trip to visit your home tavern in the game (yep, the pub appears to be at the centre of the game) you’ll see your friend sat at one of the tables. From there at the press of a button, you can jump in and help them out. Apparently a huge number of the missions have been built to support multiplayer, though they can also be completed on your own if you’re lacking in friends.

This featured caused a lot of controversy when it was announced. Some of it was even caused by me, because despite the multiple Assassins they were still all blokes. It turns out that there is almost good reason for this. Almost.

In the game, you play as Arno, as do your friends… so what happens during multiplayer? There’s no character creation – everyone is still Arno, so to differentiate you from your friends whilst playing co-op Arno’s clothes simply change colour (think how Link’s tunic changes colour in the Smash Bros games). To each player on their own system, they will still appear to be on the one true Arno, with your friends appearing as the Assassin’s Creed Power Rangers.

…And that’s why Ubisoft say that there’s no women who are playable. Personally, I’m not sure I buy it: Why not randomise it and make a couple of the players appear as women on the other systems? Unless Ubisoft want to wade into a minefield of “men and women have different abilities” (top PR tip guys, you might want to avoid this…), there doesn’t appear to be any reason why anything other than a character model would have to change.

So what do you think? Do you buy this excuse? And in any case – how excited are you about the rest of the game? Let us know in the comments.






About the Author

James O'Malley

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James is the Editor of TechDigest. You can follow him on Twitter @Psythor.

James O'Malley(Almost) hands-on with Assassin’s Creed: Unity – and more on the lack of playable women characters (UPDATED)
  • Ziggy

    Of we will buy it since both the xbox one and ps4 are hardly swimming with good content lately