E3 2014: The Streets Run Red in Assassin’s Creed Unity
As new protagonist Arno Dorian leaps his way across the roofs of Paris, you can hear the unrest in the streets below. Even high above the common people, the tension and panic of the French Revolution can be felt. Dorian drops down to survey the scene more closely. There's looting. There's rioting. People are being stabbed, shot and beaten. This is political upheaval at its most primal. This is Assassin's Creed Unity.
My brief hands-off demo of the pre-alpha build of Assassin's Creed Unity took place in the biggest city Ubisoft has ever created for the franchise. If you thought the cities of previous entries were massive, you haven't seen anything yet. Not only is the world outrageously huge, but the denizens of Paris flood the streets as well. Taking full advantage of the PS4 and Xbox One power means more regular citizens crowd the tiny spaces between buildings more than ever before. Massive landmarks dot the Parisian sky, with huge cathedrals like Notre-Dame lording over the horizon. All of the architecture is amazing, and it's hard to take your eyes off the unbelievable renderings of the brilliant brickwork when jetting across the rooftops. Ah, the rooftops. After a few entries where you had to deal with armed guards patrolling the chimneys and balconies, Ubisoft has given the skyline back to the assassins. It's a most welcome return to form.
Even though it's incredibly alluring to just stare across the map at what many consider to be the most beautiful city in the world, the real heart of Unity is down on the crowded cobblestone alleys and streets below. Navigating down is easier than ever before, too. No longer to you need to search for those pesky hay carts. The new Controlled Descent offers you the ability to drop down from ledges and flagpoles in true Assassin's Creed parkour fashion, and gives you even more traversal options to hit the ground running. Ubisoft has been improving the traversal with each iteration, but Controlled Descent is among the best improvements Unity brings to the table. It might have even been the best had the combat not been completely retooled, too.
Previously, fighting enemies was akin to a rock-paper-scissors match that relied on precise timing for counter-attacks. At times, it was almost too easy to take on multiple foes at once. Combat now feels more realistic with an included parrying system that gives you more options in attacking and evading. What's more, the good people of Paris will often leap into action to help you fight if you're taking on one of the opposing warring factions. There are multiple groups vying for control of the city, all hoping their particular choice for leadership will find a way to power. They'll also engage in fights all on their own proceduraly, giving Paris a more lifelike feel than cities in previous entries. Ubisoft is doing its best to bring the anarchy and unease of the era to life, and it adds to the atmosphere in a very honest way.
For the purposes of the demo, our goal was to hunt down a military leader in deep need of assassination. First though, we had to track him down, and that involved exploring not just the streets of Paris, but the interiors of a few different locations as well. You'll be able to enter something like 25-30 percent of Paris' buildings, including full renders of every single major landmark. All without load times and all seamlessly. Context clues will also offer insight into less historic buildings you should check out for side missions, like all-new murder mysteries and more. It takes a little work to find where the military man is headed, but once we're able to get a lead, we follow him to one of the many public executions happening throughout the city.
Rather than being stealthy or indirect, we took a more direct approach to putting him down. Just as a non-descript man is beheaded below, Dorian leaps from the corner of a rooftop nearby, landing on the target with force. The unruly population erupts. Dozens of people gathered nearby erupt in the execution. Dorian has just earned some street cred with the angry mob. Paris is still on the verge of a complete and utter political breakdown, but for one brief moment, there is a glimmer of hope on the edge of our assassin's blade.
Assassin's Creed Unity will be available on the PC, Xbox One and PlayStation 4 on Oct. 28.