It’s become an annual event these past few years, along with Madden and Call of Duty: a new game in the Assassin’s Creed franchise has become expected as we move closer to the winter months. While midnight launches might not be flooded with eager gamers, the fan base is large to ensure we can expect yearly games for some time.
That being said, it’s now time for an admission: despite all of the great review, the ton of fan acclaim, and over seventy-three million copies sold, until Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, I absolutely despised the series.
I distinctly remember my stepson and I picking up a copy on launch day, having been enticed by all of the reviews. We fired it up and after two hours of gameplay, were incredibly disappointed. The stealth aspect was cool, but the combat was both frustrating and annoyingly simple. The story was interesting but not enough to keep me enthralled enough to keep playing, and soon it was sitting in the trade in pile at the local Gamestop.
Years passed and I ignored the hype around Assassin’s Creed II, until I found it in the bargain bin for $19.99. I decided to give the series another shot and immediately the improvements were seen. It was graphically better, the story better, the combat was slightly improved, but for some reason it couldn’t grasp me yet again. Off it went to the trade-in pile.
Desperate for good Wii U games, I found a copy of Assassin’s Creed 3 for $19.99, and once again I gave it a shot. Again, the improvements were obvious. Combat was once again improved, but I found the writing to be much more compelling than previous chapters. The opening chapter of the game, played through the eyes of Hatham Kenway were fantastic, but once I found myself in control of Connor, the game quickly dulled, despite the unique character and the fascinating look into Native American culture.
So when I got word from LYT that Ubisoft was sending me a copy of Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, I figured it was going to be an easy assignment. I knew it was going to receive hype-filled rave reviews, and I was about to stand out from the crowd and call out the game for all of its faults…and then I played it.
While my review pointed out some of the games shortcomings, that fact is, the game was incredible. The music, the visuals, the action, the story, all got it close to perfect. It was one of the best gaming experiences I’ve had since Portal 2, and so when a copy of Assassin’s Creed Unity showed up on my doorstep, I was genuinely excited to play; unfortunately, it was an Xbox One copy in my non-Xbox household.
Biding my time until my PS4 copy of Unity arrived, I decided to give the original trilogy a chance, repurchased the ones I was missing and set out to see if age and my love for Black Flag would change my initially harsh take on them. Sadly, after spending some time with the original games as well as Unity, I’ve determined that Assassin’s Creed IV was a fluke. Here are six reasons why Assassin’s Creed Unity has reinforced my hatred of the series and convinced me that Black Flag was just a good pirate game they shoehorned into the series.
6. There is a Distinct Lack of Sea Shanties.
The Assassin’s Creed series has never been particularly lauded for its music; that is, until Brian Tyler’s superb Black Flag score was heard. The music was incredibly memorable, exciting, and so perfectly fitting to the story. Even tracks that left the period-style music like his track “The Ends of the Earth” are filled with such emotion and strength that you forget you’ve been listening to sea shanties, fiddles and hammer dulcimers for the rest of the game.
To fill the massive shoes left open by Brian Tyler, a team of three composers stepped in to mixed results. While the period music of Sarah Schachner (who assisted Tyler on his entry in the series) is the highlight of the soundtrack, the rest of it sounds like it belongs on a college radio Hearts of Space knockoff. It’s boring and uninspired, and sound just like the scores to every single other game in the series (except of course Black Flag). Ubisoft, if you’re reading this, it’s time to release Schachner from the Bastille, for she’s your in-house Beethoven. Leave the crappy new age for the next rendition of My Weight Loss Coach.
5. Friends: The One Where We Were All Assassins.
I never quite understood why a game like Assassin’s Creed needed to include a multiplayer portion. The role of an assassin seemed like a solitary one, and any attempt at multiplayer was to shoehorn some added replay value rather than having the games line the used shelves of Gamestop two weeks after release. As good as the multiplayer was in Black Flag, it still didn’t hold my interest anywhere near as much as the campaign did, and aside from playing it for review, I stayed clear of the multiplayer game.
Unity instead rips a page out of the Watch_Dogs book and has incorporated multiplayer in almost all aspects of the game. It’s a fantastic idea (when it works), as enormous amounts of cooperation are necessary to complete some of the more difficult co-op. The problem here is just getting the damn game to work properly. So why does this make the list? Because the rest of the series would have been a hell of a lot more fun to play if I had a friend or two tagging along as the bearded Spock to my murderous Kirk.
4. ACME…I Mean Abstergo.
Let’s face it; the plans of the Templars/Abstergo seem ripped from a James Bond script or an episode of Inspector Gadget. For the uninitiated, the short version is the Templars want to find lost artifacts by forcing a putz bartender to play video games generated from his DNA, hoping that he can find what they want in the historical game world in hopes of finding it in the real world.
The fourth game in the series involved you as a new Abstergo hire, creeping around the memories of the now extra-crispy Desmond, once again looking for an object that will allow the Templars god-like power. The difference here was creeping around Abstergo and learning their nefarious plot from the inside was kinda fun, and Edward Kenway’s story was strong enough that it was easy to overlook the Dr. Evil scheme.
Unity takes a step backwards and essentially rips off the plot of Batman Forever, in that Abstergo is now selling an Animus-based gaming system and is polling the memories of all of its players in hopes of finding unlimited power. There’s very little development of your “real world” character, and the plot feels like it could have been just as much at home and any of the previous games of the series. All of the progress made in Black Flag seems to have been strapped to a pair of ACME Rocket Powered Roller Skates and shot to oblivion.
3. Arno is a Douche, Just Like Altair, and Ezio, and Haytham, and Edward…
Ok…I get it. The Assassin’s Creed games are supposed to be about redemption. They traditionally take an ass-hat, make something bad happen to him to make him slightly less ass-hatty by making him more stabby stabby. But dear God…why are so many assassins dicks?!
Just look at our heroes: Altair fraks up a mission by forgoing stealth in favor of walking up to the front door like the star of a bad Shaw Brothers film, only to get his team killed and himself demoted, forced to relearn the ways of the Brotherhood. Ezio was a womanizing prick; Haytham a murderous, child-stealing traitor; Edward a dead-beat husband and father. In fact, as far as I can tell, only Connor, Aveline and Adewale begin their stories with a relatively clear conscience.
Arno follows in that long tradition of douchebag protagonists. His assassin father mysteriously murdered, he is raised the spoiled ward of a rich aristocrat. All that’s missing is him singing “Hard Knock Life”. Of course, the aristocrat has a daughter, of course a forbidden love blossoms between Arno and the daughter, and of course, fate steps in at Shakespearean levels when Arno finds out the woman he loves is…a Templar!!!! It may sound like I’m spoiling the plot, but all of this takes place in the first fifteen minutes of the game. Arno, now recruited into the Brotherhood of Assassins, begins his oft-repeated journey from douchedom into slightly less douchedom. Will he avenge his father? Will the star-crossed lovers be reunited and half-Assassin, half-Templar babies be born? More importantly, will we give a shit?
2. Control Freak…or Freakish Controls?
One of the aspects I never could get over in any instance was how poor the controls were. The button layout was OK (unless you happened to be playing on PC), but the controls were so imprecise that much of the fun was taken out of the game. The lack of consistency made it feel like random chance dictated if you landed on hay or became fertilizer. While the control scheme of Black Flag wasn’t perfect, it was an immense step up from every single game in the series.
I immediately became wary after starting when I noticed that the Heads Up Display was far closer in design to the original three games than its more recent predecessor. While combat is thankfully similar to last year’s installment, Unity brings back the lack of precision in control. Climbing is often a torturous affair, with the player having to keep fiddling with the control stick to find the sweet spot that will drive their character forward, a huge loss considering how fluid Black Flag’s climbing could be. More than once, midway through a climb, I found myself unable to proceed forward, and for some reason moving backward wasn’t an option, nor was flinging myself to my doom. Only a reload from the last checkpoint get me moving again. Add to that the sometimes extremely complex secondary goals, and you have a recipe for controller flinging.
1. A Bug’s Life.
One of the criticisms many games in the Assassin’s Creed series received from both gamers and journalists alike was the large number of bugs and glitches. While the games got better over time, Unity has taken a big step back in quality control. Even after getting patched day one of release, Assassin’s Creed Unity is still more unstable than my first marriage. The game crashed within minutes of starting up, not once but three times. Ubisoft’s patch seems to have helped with stability, but crashes still happen. The problem is, the load times are so long, you don’t necesarially know if the game has crashed or if it’s just loading the next segment. Not even five minutes into the game, my PS4’s cooling fans were sounding like the engine run up of a Cessna – a telltale sign that a crash was forthcoming.
It’s exactly what I got when I started sampling the original trilogy once again. Even years after release and with multiple patches, bugs run aplenty, at least in the PC versions I sampled. Poor controller support in not one, but all of the games I started required me to play with the incredibly clunky keyboard and mouse controls which required my hands to do contortions the likes of which belong in Cirque du Soleil. Game ending crashes followed me as well in each game, regardless of the fact that my gaming PC can handle Titanfall at frame rates that would melt an Xbox One. The lack of quality control in Unity is just a sad reminder of the history of the franchise.
All of these issues make me look upon Assassin’s Creed IV not as the shining star of the series, but as a beautiful fluke that would have worked just as well as a stand-alone pirate game as it did as part of the franchise. That’s not to say Unity is all bad: it’s visually gorgeous, expansive, has a frak-ton of stuff to do, and has a great story. It’s just that it could have been so much more, and I wanted it to be just that…so much more than what fans received.
Previously by Jason Helton
6 Ways Assassin’s Creed IV is Worth Your Booty (and 4 Ways It Walks the Plank)
10 Character Deaths that Warped the Minds of ’80s Children
Six Things We Learned About Interstellar and Science From the Mobile Game (and Trailers)