With Black Flag a rum-swigging success story, the question on Ubisoft’s collective lips must have been: “What do we do after the drunken sailor?” It was never going to be easy to follow in Edward Kenway’s slightly wavering Assassin footsteps but as you squint up at an eagle circling the spires of Notre Dame and take in the bustling chaos of French Revolution Paris, you’ll quickly realise that - despite enjoying your Caribbean holiday - you’re home now. Assassin’s Creed Unity manages to not only deliver an astonishingly beautiful recreation of Paris, but an open world sandbox so dense and rich you feel like there isn’t enough time to see everything on offer. Proper assassinations step back into the limelight, free-running takes on new levels of slick rooftop traversal and (despite some less attractive ‘Creed hallmarks making an unwelcome return) Unity’s visuals feel genuinely new-gen.
Unity is the tale of Arno Dorian. Without spoiling too much, he’s on a quest for some serious vengeance and finds himself quickly popping on a hood and hidden blade and becoming embroiled in the Brotherhood of Assassins just as Paris decides to overthrow the monarchy. Handy. Refreshingly, unlike AC3’s determination to hit every location on the American Revolution tourist map, Arno’s journey is distinctly more character-focused. Expertly woven into the narrative, the Revolution itself is a clever story tool as the Assassins and Templars wrestle for control in a tumultuous political environment. If that doesn’t sound cool enough, there are severed heads on sticks too.
The fact that Arno is a likeable soul with a sense of humour and a sharp tongue made the 50-or-so hours I spent with him a pleasantly enjoyable experience. Add in the ‘fiery Templar’ Elise and, despite her continent-crossing accent (seriously, is she English, American, Australian? It's bizarre), you’ve got some characters worth caring about. As a big fan of Ezio Auditore, I find this young Assassin pleasantly reminiscent of the charms of the Renaissance Master himself, and followers of Edward Kenway's rogue-like personality should be suitably charmed too.
Paris is enormous, beautiful and positively dripping with atmosphere... and blood, from the newly hewn victims of the ‘National Razor’. Ditching old-gen tech means thousands of non-player characters wander the streets waving flags, burning effigies, frequenting markets and going about their daily business. As Arno careers through the newly introduced interiors of buildings to escape inevitable pursuers (who don’t like his habit of stabbing their bosses), the inhabitants scream and dive out of the way. The level of detail, as you find your way inside buildings such as Notre Dame, are an atmospheric joy as dust billows under your feet and shafts of sunlight fill the halls of the sparkling homes of the French aristocracy. Impressive contrast lighting means the game takes a second for Arno’s eagle eyes to adjust as you plunge out of an open window to make an escape, meaning you never quite know what’s going to be on the other side.