PAX Prime 2014: Assassin’s Creed Unity Co-Op Hands-On Impressions

By Published August 29, 2014 at 3:37 pm
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The annually renewed Assassin’s Creed franchise has a signature approach to the open-world action genre, best known for its free-flowing parkour and death-from-above assassinations. Assassin’s Creed has evolved over the past seven years to support its core gameplay by introducing multiplayer, naval combat, deep sea exploration, and other gameplay enhancements.

The next installment -- Assassin’s Creed Unity -- perhaps marks the most significant progression to the franchise by introducing a four-player cooperative experience. Ubisoft is taking its formula of an agile, adept assassin and multiplying it by up to four so that players can team up with their friends. As we experienced first-hand at PAX Prime 2014 in Ubisoft’s super-secret suite, this amplifies the flair and carnage to a much higher level.

We enjoyed a hands-on, co-op gameplay preview of Ubisoft's Assassin’s Creed Unity at PAX Prime. A video with impressions is forthcoming, though we were barred from direct screen capture.

What is Assassin’s Creed Unity?

Assassin’s Creed Unity is a stealth-action game that presents an open world for discovering missions and exploring without limits. This chapter in the franchise takes place during the French Revolution, taking players through seven Parisian zones and other historical French sites, including the palace of Versailles.

Players can jump into cooperative gameplay two ways. For one, the player can send a friend a direct game invite so that the friend jumps directly into his game. The other way is by wandering into a tavern during single player gameplay. The tavern hosts the player’s friends as NPC “ghost” versions; interacting with those ghosts prompts the corresponding friends to receive in-game invites to cooperative gameplay. There is no local co-op, so the best way to work together face-to-face is with four PCs (or consoles) and four TVs.

Hands-On Impressions – A Heist

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Assassin’s Creed Unity lets a party of players explore the universe to find the mission that interests them most. In other words, if a group wants to wreak havoc in a town square before starting a formalized stealth or assassination mission, they’re free to do so. To confirm what we’ve seen from E3 and Gamescom, Unity supports dozens of NPCs on screen, but these aren’t your cardboard crowd NPCs spectating a Gran Turismo 2 race. The characters’ body language and movement are a step in the direction of unique personalities, so when wandering through a large crowd, as I did outside of the Notre Dame cathedral, it’s hard not to stop and observe the different kinds of folks shoulder-to-shoulder with the player.

My PAX Prime mission with Ubisoft Toronto producer Lesley Phord-Toy was a “heist” mission, requiring us to infiltrate the Parisian sewers to recover some loot from the French nationals. Like the single player missions, Assassin’s Creed Unity promises to offer a player-driven approach to missions so that players can choose how they want to reach an objective point and eliminate enemies along the way. Our strategy was fairly direct: sabotage an alarm bell to control the number of patrolling guards and use team stealth tactics to complete each combat situation.

What excites me most about co-op gameplay in Unity is that the party members can customize their abilities to reflect how they want to play as a group. There are four attributes (“Disguise” as one example) that reflect different play styles that each player sets for his or her character. This means everyone in the party can take on distinct roles or stack their melee combat performance, stealth performance, and so on.

Since our co-op experience heavily involved sewer traversing, we took a very methodical approach to reaching our loot objective, pausing at the end of every tunnel to go into Eagle View (now the ‘Y’ button on the Xbox controller) and observing how many guards were within site – and what direction they were facing. One instance required me to sneak up on a guard while Phord-Toy picked a gate lock so that I could meet her on the other side, with the two of us constantly communicating our plans in between (OK, it was a press demo, so it was mostly her suggesting routes that I very clearly came up with myself).

We had another instance that outnumbered us four to two. Luckily, we were above the guards and could target two of them with a smoke bomb, allowing us to eliminate their comrades while they were blinded by smoke. Hopefully co-op will lend itself to strategizing before engaging enemies, and with several melee, ranged, and stealth weapons to choose from, different opportunities to execute enemies should prevent themselves.

We plan to get another look into cooperative gameplay with a four-person scenario, and perhaps then we’ll see how character specializations can turn the tide in the assassins’ favor. For now, Assassin’s Creed gives me enough to be excited about. The increased level of immersion, the player progression and customization, and the refined controls and physics (defined controls for parkour-up and parkour-down, and a toggle “stealth mode” for crouching!) help advance a franchise that’s appearing exclusively on the new consoles (and PC). We wish that a local co-op mode were available, but such is the way of the future.

Stick around for more coverage of Assassin’s Creed Unity on GamersNexus.

Last modified on August 29, 2014 at 3:37 pm

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