When the end credits to Assassin’s Creed 4 started I was happy. I knew that now that the franchise had diverted into a world of pirates and swashbuckling that it was going to be easy for me to break away from the series. There was no going back to the Assassin’s Creed I used to know, the leaked images of French Revolution era Paris simply looked too much like a big step backwards.
Yet here I am, hours after getting to see a demonstration of AC:U, saddened that I can’t be playing the game right now. What I saw today, from the scenes being played out to the return of the importance of stealth, filled me with nostalgia. I was instantly reminded of the original Assassin’s Creed that launched almost 7 years ago; Unity looks to be exactly what Ubisoft were originally trying to create.
The first thing we were shown was a bustling city from the eyes of our new protagonist (Arno Dorian) from the rooftops of Paris. Bio Jade Adam Granger, one of the game designers working on Unity, tells us that unlike all of the previous AC titles, getting down from these rooftops is easier than ever before. No longer will you have to keep an eye out for a haystack to drop into. With the new freerun system they’ve engineered you can climb down a building as quickly and effortlessly as you can ascend them.
Holding the right trigger allows Arno to free-run across things that are on the same level he’s at. Holding RT and A together will allow Arno to climb buildings and facades. Holding RT and B together gives you the new and much needed descend abilities. Dropping from edges, swinging off poles and window sills, all in an effortless and amazingly smooth line down to a lower level. It looked fantastic, and will surely make traversing the enormous map a joy. Bio assured us that if you took all of the islands from AC4 and pushed them together, it’d still be smaller than the recreation of Paris they have in Unity.
And what a recreation it is! For the first time buildings are at a one to one scale and, in doing so, gives the world a very multi-layered look. For the most part previous games have had the rooftops all at a similar height with the occasional taller building to scout from. Here, it was hard to see any set patterns to the heights. Buildings simply looked like buildings, and for the first time they were buildings you could explore. It wasn’t apparent if every building could be entered, but many could not only be entered freely and without a load screen, but events and side missions could be triggered or found within them.
The biggest moment for me was seeing how populated Paris was. Bio assured us that the engine could handle up to 4000 NPCs each with their own AI and each with the ability to interact with the others around them. While I can’t say that we saw that many people on screen (it was still an impressive amount) we did get to see many of the interactions on offer. These interactions occur naturally and are completely dependant on who is interacting with who.
In one instance a peasant stole from one of the wealthy civilians, another saw a random killing in the streets, and a bunch of nosey NPCs alerted us to a side mission that Bio labeled as “murder mystery”. The events can be ignored, or you can intervene and become the hero, and for the first time in the AC series, any side missions can be added to a list so you can come back to it at any point without the game pushing you to complete it now.
Next up we’re shown Unity’s version of Eagle Vision. Essentially it’s the same as before, but this time there are a few more colours added to the mix. You see, Paris isn’t just a haven of military and assassins, this time there are numerous factions that each have a distaste for each other, and each showing as a different colour during Eagle Vision. Need to get past a bunch of guards but don’t want to take them on yourself, simply find a way to coerce one of their opposing factions in their direction and make your way past as the two factions fight to the death.
We’re nearing the end of the demonstration now as we near Arno’s target. Bio explains that, like earlier entries in the series, assassinations can be done in numerous ways so it’s best to stand back, get an eye for your surroundings and the best point of attack. Sure, you can probably run straight through the crowd and skewer him with the blade sheathed by your side, or you can turn it into an artform.
Bio climbs the nearest building, shows off the freerun system a little more and then perches just beyond a guillotine where our target is executing a Parisian. As the blade comes down the crowd erupts into cheers. Not all of them cheer though, it’s not scripted, each AI NPC is reacting in their own way, and this is shown again as we see Arno leap from his perch and push the hidden blade into Xavier’s neck. Some run screaming while others stick around to see what might happen next.
I managed to get some quick fire questions in before leaving the Ubisoft booth so here are some bullet point answers to some very important questions.
Bio mentioned in passing that the world that she had a part of creating is incredibly immersive, which prompted me to ask one last question. Would there be any form of Oculus Rift/Morpheus support for the PC and PS4 versions? Rift users have been begging for immersive worlds to walk through and experience, and this would be a great way to experience the Animus for real. Her answer? No… but she absolutely loved the idea. Hopefully something we see being incorporated in later entries to the series.
Assassin’s Creed: Unity is looking absolutely gorgeous, and I have yet to see a game look as populated and lived in as this one. October 28th can’t come soon enough.