Burgers have become an unpleasant dining experience. Once essentially something of a hot sandwich, venture to any restaurant or cafe and order a burger and you'll find that your delivered a tower of decadence: a giant slab of meat wedged between an oversized bun with layers of salad vegetables all precariously holding on as they slide around in torrents of sauce. An object so large and tall you cannot fit it in your mouth, and even when you try half the content slips out the arse end and onto your plate -- or your front, if you aren't lucky. You end up having to eat it with a knife and fork in little chunks, like some kind of failed open sandwich. This is not what eating a burger should be like and it's been ruined in the name of providing value to the consumer, an assumption that more means better.
This is Assassin's Creed: Unity's failing. It's immediately clear from the get go that Ubisoft Montreal has taken to heart the various ramblings of Reddit and forum users that claim for their entry fee twelve hours of content just isn't enough, damnit!" It's perhaps ill-advised, as Assassin's Creed: Unity outstays its welcome long before you've even finished the campaign, let alone touched any of the sidequest content.
More upsetting is that there are signs that Ubisoft Montreal was aware of this. Open the map and you are assaulted with a myriad of icons suffocating under each other in a tangled mess. It's uncomfortable and disorienting. Fortunately, there's a filter to show only the "important" stuff. This includes the story missions, side missions such as co-op or assassination missions, the various towers, fast travel locations . . . you get the point. But if even some of these seemingly optional elements are considered to be the important stuff that should be filtered out, it gives you a sense of just how much useless crap is contained on the main map and in the game proper.
Sure, maybe if you're a child who gets a couple of games a year -- and you shouldn't be, because Assassin's Creed: Unity is a restricted title -- or a pauper looking to maximise every dollar then this might seem like good value. However, most people won't have close to the amount of time required to engage with it even if the content was fun. And it's not; it's a slew of boring fetch quests and rinse-and-repeat mission design with no meaning or weight behind most of it. Some extra story content can be delivered this way, but you can skip it and not notice or care. Otherwise, collecting heads for Madame Tussaud is still just another fetch quest that has you hopping around the city.
(Fortunately, while Assassin's Creed still seems determined to shoehorn in historical figures in jarring ways in order to chest thump that it's all about that history, it's significantly toned down here and nowhere near as obnoxiously overt as Assassin's Creed III.)
But it's optional content, right? It can just be ignored. Unfortunately, the over-engineering has found its way into the gameplay mechanics as well. There's not just a lot of stuff to do but a lot of different ways to do it. For many chests, finding them is not enough. Now you must unlock them with a half-baked lockpicking mini-game, and you'll also find that you are locked out of completing many of them until you have reached a certain point in the story and have spent points upgrading your character's lockpicking skill. In itself that's unwelcome, and represents a core issue that the game tries to offer many gameplay elements and ends up making none of them fun: jack of all trades and master of none.
The levelling system is equally ridiculous, with core mechanics locked away until you have enough "Abstergo Credits", a form of currency you get for completing various missions and objectives. There are also points for "hacking" your way to better weapons and gear if you can't be bothered getting the capital together (the best way to do so is to engage with another gameplay gimmick that sees you opening up a cafe and helping it turn into a successful business). These are rewarded for your various acrobatic or combat exploits as you tumble around the city. It's simply another example of how the game was obviously designed by committee, with too many too many cooks demanding various flavours of the month be included.
Further proof of this insatiable appetite to include the latest trend only to understand the error in hindsight is seen by the inclusion and then removal of out-of-game experiences through the companion app and Initiates program. Both were required -- that's right, required -- in order to unlock various chests around the city. I didn't even realise that Initiates was a thing until I was almost finished with the game. With their removal, all these chests are immediately open and accessible, which means rich rewards can be reaped simply by going on Google and finding a map.
The result is that the core gameplay mechanics suffer from a lack of focus. Even the signature free running isn't implemented well, with the context-sensitive controls frequently seeing you latch on to random objects or leaping in strange and weird directions you never indicated to. Even traversing up and down appears to have been separated into two different buttons, adding needless complexity but solving none of the underlying issues.
It's a shame, too, because there are some genuine moments of brilliance hidden under all the dross. The assassination missions play out almost how Assassin's Creed really should have from the start. While there's no immediate detective work in finding your target -- something that is sorely missed from the original entry in the franchise -- you are at least able to investigate the surrounding area and find the best way to execute your target. It's not perfect. A lot of it is telegraphed to you during the opening cinematic of that mission and they are even marked on the map. Generally speaking, this is the best and most sane way to execute your target. There's some neat ways to do it as well. An early mission has you hiding in a confessional in order to get your target at a moment alone.
However, there's also limited creativity in these missions because you must deliver the killing blow with the hidden blade. Apart from seeming counterproductive to the goals of an assassin, it's disappointingly done as justification for those ridiculous "requiescat in pace" scenes. It did, after all, make no sense to suddenly be next to someone, talking to them, when you had inspired their death by causing them to turn on their own men by berserk dart. Yet now it's not even conversations with the imminently deceased, as you get these strange flashbacks of their life as if you're some kind of memory vampire. It's never questioned by anyone, either, it's just accepted.
Which is unfortunately another of Assassin's Creed: Unity's failings. The story just isn't inspiring. The premise is you, the player, are engaging with Abstergo software as if Assassin's Creed was a real game and has you playing through the final days of the Templars, the real ones, and the fall of Jacques de Molay. He has an underling hide a book and a sword, assumed to be McGuffins of the game, but it ultimately becomes a tale about revenge and betrayal and ideology. It ties in some of that sage guff from Black Flag in a hockey way, but all of the overarching story that connects it to the franchise is as hamfisted as ever.
Again, it's a shame because there's some good stuff in there. Questions about war and peace, loyalties to an idea and whether things should evolve or remain pure make for great motifs. At what point have the tides shifted rather than it being betrayal? There's a certain mission that would have served well to be the climax of the game, but it happens around midway through. From there, the story starts to lose steam as you essentially mop up loose ends while chasing the architect of the chaos, who like in Black Flag is the true McGuffin, in what is ultimately an unfulfilling conclusion.
Indeed, when Assassin's Creed: Unity finished the only emotion I felt was relief. Relief that it was over, relief that I could remove it from my Xbox One, and relief that I wouldn't have to deal with it every again. It actually burned me out and turned me off a series I once held dear. If the sales of its successor, Assassin's Creed: Syndicate, are anything to go by, I'm not the only one. Fortunately, the franchise is taking a year off. Hopefully, in this time the developers learn that it's not just franchise fatigue that they have to combat but their desire to overstuff their games. They would serve themselves and gamers well by returning to a core concept and refining it to be polished to perfection rather than trying to include everything but the kitchen sink.