As you may already know, Assassin's Creed Unity has a few glitches here or there. While we didn't encounter all too many during our review process, the internet has clearly demonstrated a preponderance of broken bits ranging from the harmless and goofy to the maddening and progress-halting. It's a bit of a downer, to say the least.
But after you progress to the 'acceptance' stage of grief on your $60 purchase, you can at least appreciate how all these little glitches draw back the hood of a fascinating virtual world. It looks like Ubisoft hopes to patch them up soon, so let's take a tour of Assassin's Creed Unity's revelatory rough edges before that happens.
Image credit: Senpai
Interrupting Frenchmen don't miss a beat
Arno and Napoleon are having a serious conversation about the state of the French Republic (which naturally leads to Napoleon asking Arno to kill somebody for him) when a Monty Python sketch breaks out behind them. Assassin's Creed Unity holds many stranger glitches, but this is perhaps the most surreal - I can just imagine John Cleese and Graham Chapman putting on French accents to play a pair of hecklers who stumble into Napoleon's office.
Beyond the comedic value, take a minute to appreciate how the game's reactive AI makes the unexpected guests seem more unwanted than out of place. They aren't looming motionless in the background, they're holding a conversation of their own and watching the cutscene with casual interest. They even shuffle back when Arno brushes by them, admonishing his rudeness. Ubisoft clearly did not intend for Cleese and Chapman to appear in this scene, and yet (aside from some stuttering rotation near the end) they seem like they have as much of a right to be there as anyone else.
Facial horrors let you see under the skin
OK, I like heads better when they're not just teeth, eyeballs, and hair, too. But despite spending what I must assume was a good amount of time and effort giving Arno, Elise, and all the other characters the constituent parts of human faces, Ubisoft doesn't appear to have dedicated nearly so much of its vast resources to making sure those faces fit together properly. And so scenes that are more Mars Attacks than A Tale of Two Cities occasionally sneak into the narrative.
After you're done recoiling in horror, you can at least admire the building blocks that create these virtual actors. Look at how the eyeballs redden where they would otherwise recede into the eye socket. Inspect the individual incisors you would normally only see in flashes. When Arno's ponytail goes rampant and whips around the city streets, appreciate that all those follicular simulations run every second you're playing the game, giving (usually much more subdued) life to his chestnut mop. All these elements are amazing, even when they're laying in a jumbled heap.
Image credit: Retro_Apocalypse
Falling through the world gives you new perspective
If you take much interest in game glitches, you're likely familiar with the concept of 'Blue Hell' - the space underneath a game world which players are not supposed to be able to visit. It's generally not a very interesting place to be, since most terrain doesn't have a texture on its underside and is thus transparent, but that doesn't keep people from seeking out portals to this uninhabited underworld. Good news! You don't have to look very far to find one in Assassin's Creed Unity.
Kind of a shame that a game which rewards exploration continually threatens to drop you into nothingness, right? But on the bright side, it does at least offer you a new perspective on the densely packed urban sprawl of Paris. As Arno plummets/splashes into an inexplicable body of invisible water, cast your camera upward and look at the cartographical care put into the city. Observe the thin, textured edges that hint at the world above without obscuring it - compare that view to your standard eagle's perches. Then reload your save.
Image credit: =[pG]= Reta
Climbing invisible walls shows versatility of movement
Arno doesn't sail the ocean on his very own ship. He doesn't train an order of assassins to do his bidding across the globe. He doesn't even get to ride a horse. But he can do something that would leave Altair, Ezio, Connor, and Edward literally grasping at his heels: hang on to thin air. Arno can take hold of nothingness at many points throughout Paris and remain perched as long as he likes - sometimes he can even suspend a fall mid-plummet and just float there, flailing his arms around like Kermit the Frog.
How's that for a back-of-box bullet point? But even if you prefer more tangible handholds, these sticky bits of imagination remind you of the tens of thousands of handholds, beams, gutters, and pulley systems that let you rocket across the city. Just think of how many ways you can get up and down even the most mundane little shop. The simple act of scaling a wall has become rote since the original Assassin's Creed released in 2007, but it's still a beautiful thing: close enough to reality that players can intuit their next action, but just far enough to thrill. Granted, it's a bit less intuitive when you can't actually see what you're climbing on.
Image credit: Scarecrow
Fireplace-dwelling NPCs prove the value of dynamic crowds
Many attribute the French revolution to a working class uprising against poverty and oppression. But Assassin's Creed Unity posits that many French people - bourgeois or factory worker alike - simply wanted the freedom to stand around in weird places free of scorn. Why constrain yourself to the floor, brother, when that fireplace belongs to the republic? Why accept the mandate that one must stand perpendicular to the floor instead of parallel to it? VIVE!
Granted, these libertine place-standers could be a bug instead of a historical commentary. But even if that's the case, they just underline how well Unity usually does at generating crowds. They're the exception that proves the rule: these aren't just static clumps of people that were permanently plunked by a level designer. They're reactive, lively masses who do their best to cover the whole 'angry mob' thing we all expect from a good revolution period piece. Sometimes they just do it sideways.
Unnatural movements remind you of how good it usually looks
One of the coolest things about the original Assassin's Creed is its incredibly natural animation. Its lineage as a Prince of Persia: Sands of Time (one of the best-animated 3D titles ever produced) spin-off clearly manifests in the way that each of Altair's movements transitions to the next. Instead of staccato, one-motion-then-another animation, it blends each element together, so Altair can land from a jump, bump into a passerby, and break back into a run without any undesired body popping.
Assassin's Creed Unity lets you appreciate its further refinement of assassin animation by occasionally tweaking or replaying bits. Perhaps Arno will hold a gun the wrong way 'round, or a terrified pedestrian will find a new horror to shrink from every 3.5 seconds on the dot. Arno might even fold up into a non-Euclidean form when he falls in combat, instead of crumpling like a good little Raggedy Andy. Just remember: the main reason these goofs are so jarring is that the series normally looks so smooth you forget about it.
Getting stuck in a hay bale offers a decent view
Ah, the hay bale. Much as the Assassin Order may try to distance itself from its humble home, it always returns when it's in need of a soft landing or a place to wait out some unwanted attention. Arno, young and rash though he may be, is no exception. Far from it - at the moment he's a bit of a hay bale enthusiast. If he finds one he likes, he may spend hours and hours inspecting its every piece of dried grass. And he does. With some frequency.
In a quiet metaphor for Unity's failure to reinvent the series' staple mechanics, Arno literally gets stuck inside the haybale from time to time. But look on the bright side - chances are he's safe in there. And most of the bales are positioned in wide, picturesque scenes, likely a few hundred feet down from the tips of impressive structures. So don't quit out straight away. Take a minute to absorb the ambience. Smell the hay. I'm serious - you can't properly appreciate Paris unless you let it flow around you every now and then, like a stone lobbed into the Seine. See? It's not a glitch, it's a feature.
Image credit: Sicarius, well on the way to hay bale imprisonment.
Like watching a train wreck
Don't take this as approval of Ubisoft's decision to kick Unity out of the door and onto shelves in this state. But here we are, so we might as well make the best of it, right? Speaking of which, have you run into any particularly amusing glitches yourself? Let me know in the comments below!