Assassin's Creed Unity single-player preview: for freedom

Assassin's Creed Unity is fully embracing the stealth aspect of the series, while offering more freedom in approaching missions. Here's our hands-on preview of the game's single-player mode.

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The French Revolution is major event in human history, but it's also an incredibly volatile period. As one might imagine, the dueling factions of Assassin's Creed were very active during this period, with Assassin's Creed Unity lead character Arno finding himself right in the middle of the conflict. Shacknews recently had the opportunity to check out some more of the upcoming next-gen entry into the series, exploring more of the French landscape and also witnessing more of the series' changes firsthand.

For this hands-on preview, Arno is in the midst of completing his training as part of the order. Once he's done, the normal Assassin motif kicks in. The idea becomes to find a target of interest, in this case, Charles Gabriel Sivert, and put an end to him. However, the path that must be taken to kill him is decidedly different.

The biggest change from previous AC games should be evident almost immediately. Unity is fully about returning the Assassins to the shadows, emphasizing on stealth. The French landscape is a powder keg, with hundreds of civilians all filling the streets in protest. The idea is to blend in, while the French guard is busy dealing with the common folk. That offers enough of an opening to sneak into the French cathedral undetected, though the story diverges in such a way that Arno's left to his own devices.

That means there are several different ways to get through the cathedral, in what Ubisoft is referring to as 'black box' missions. There's sneaking in through any number of openings within the cathedral, there's pick-pocketing a guard to grab a key, there's picking a window lock, or there's the option of creating a diversion and slipping in through the front door.

One item that's no longer an option: the direct approach. Remember the days of Ezio and Connor, who could take out several guards with some timing-based counters? That's not on the table anymore. As part of the renewed emphasis on stealth, Unity has a new combat system, one that relies on different timing for parries and one that removes instant assassinations. Combat in one-on-one instances is easy to pick up, however, it's not designed to take on large numbers. Get surrounded by guards and you will die. They're not easy to avoid, either, given that the world is filled with revolutionary extremists that will actively try and pick a fight on sight, often getting the attention of guards.

Sneaking around is the name of the game more than ever and assassinations must be performed carefully, so as not to get spotted. Eagle Vision is vital to find the right target and make sure there are no hostiles in a room. If there's a lone guard in the corner that you fail to notice, that's the best place to try out the new combat system before he can alert other guards.

A later mission put me in a familiar scenario: following a target of interest. In this case, the Marquis de Sade tasks Arno with finding a torturer named La Touche. This is where I noticed Unity's greatest improvement from its predecessors. After following my target for several minutes, I quickly lost him. However, I was not put in any sort of fail state. Instead, I was prompted to track him down again using Eagle Vision and continue my mission undaunted. Likewise, getting spotted by guards does not end the mission. Instead, you're prompted to return hidden, while the guards remain in a heightened alert state. Given that fail states are some of the AC series' most aggravating qualities, I'm overjoyed to see that Unity appears to be doing away with them.

Unity does have a few issues that rubbed me the wrong way. Though parkour has been redesigned to make going down as easy as going up, I still made several errant jumps and even wound up taking some unwanted leaps of faith to my death. Just as before, parkour and jumping takes some getting used to. Also, targeting can occasionally be off. As I waited for my target in the cathedral to walk underneath me, I hit the assassination prompt, only to land on the guard next to him. That left me wide open to about a dozen guards that proceeded to rush the room. They're minor problems, but ones that can get annoying now, just as they have in previous games.

As someone that tired of some of the major AC tropes, like the linear barriers and the annoying fail states, Unity appears to be a breath of fresh air. It isn't just that the 'black box' missions allow you several different approaches, but the rest of the world doesn't stop turning. Side missions and the like will continue to unfold, making the city more of a living world. Paris also proves one of the series' most inviting settings, as well, designed at a 1-to-1 scale. It's massive to behold from a rooftop or from the pause menu, which is part of the reason that Ubisoft is making it possible to set waypoints from the game's second screen app.

It may bear the Assassin's Creed name, but Unity is looking to be a heavier stealth game than its predecessors. It's a direction that will hopefully carry on through the entire single-player experience. Assassin's Creed Unity is set to release on PC, Xbox One, and PlayStation 4 on November 11.


This Assassin's Creed Unity preview was based on a pre-release Xbox One demo of the game at an event where transportation and accommodations were provided by Ubisoft.

Senior Editor

Ozzie has been playing video games since picking up his first NES controller at age 5. He has been into games ever since, only briefly stepping away during his college years. But he was pulled back in after spending years in QA circles for both THQ and Activision, mostly spending time helping to push forward the Guitar Hero series at its peak. Ozzie has become a big fan of platformers, puzzle games, shooters, and RPGs, just to name a few genres, but he’s also a huge sucker for anything with a good, compelling narrative behind it. Because what are video games if you can't enjoy a good story with a fresh Cherry Coke?

From The Chatty
  • reply
    October 6, 2014 9:00 AM

    Ozzie Mejia posted a new article, Assassin's Creed Unity single-player preview: for freedom.

    Assassin's Creed Unity is fully embracing the stealth aspect of the series, while offering more freedom in approaching missions. Here's our hands-on preview of the game's single-player mode.

    • reply
      October 6, 2014 12:03 PM

      re: "Also, targeting can occasionally be off."
      The way you look at your enemies and target them with L1 (in previous games; and I assume this game as well) is sometimes sketchy as you've pointed out. I wish there was a contextual menu or a way to cycle through targets that are bunched together. Sort of a zoom in on a group and then another button/prompt to narrow it down to a specific person.