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Assassin's Creed: Unity preview: Stealth stabbing sneaks into the French Revolution

Hayden Dingman | June 18, 2014
Meet the new Assassin's Creed, which looks an awful lot like the older Assassin's Creeds, but with denser crowds.

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This looks a lot like Assassin's Creed II . It's the only thought flitting through my brain as I watch this year's awkwardly-clad assassin--seriously, doesn't anyone think he stands out with his hood on?--leap down the wrought-iron-and-stone exterior of Notre Dame.

Substitute Notre Dame for any of a dozen Roman or Florentine cathedrals, though, and you might not notice a huge difference between Assassin's Creed: Unity and its earlier predecessors. After last year's little tangent into Caribbean piracy, Assassin's Creed has returned to its roots. This is the most "traditional" Assassin's Creed game since 2011's Revelations.

I can't decide whether I'm excited or not.

Getting crowded

Assassin's Creed Unity is most impressive in a behind-the-scenes technical manner that I'm not sure most players will appreciate. Last year's pirate-themed entry to the series, Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag, used the power of the new consoles for gorgeous water effects and better textures, but the presence of Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 versions belied the fact that Black Flag was a spruced-up version of an old game.

Assassin's Creed Unity is a next-gen title, full stop. I remember the first time I played the original Assassin's Creed, being amazed at how crowded the streets were in Altair's cities. Heck, I've been playing games long enough I remember when people touted insane features like "We've managed to get up to six enemies on-screen at the same time."

AC Unity? I was told the scene at the beginning of my demo contained about 500 people, and the scene at the end of the demo featured approximately 2,000. And, if the Ubisoft rep I spoke to is to be believed, that's not even the maximum that could be onscreen. "5,000" was uttered at one point.

That's an absolutely baffling number of people to put onscreen at once. I talked briefly last week about The Witcher 3's vibrant cities, and they're similarly impressive but not at all on a scale like Unity. Assassin's Creed Unity is maybe the first game I've ever seen where civilian density approached real cities, without any fakery or smoke-and-mirrors.

And you can go inside buildings! Without loading screens! What a dumb feature to be excited about, and yet it's the first thing I noticed about Unity. It's only taken us thirteen years since the release of Grand Theft Auto III, but we're finally getting an open-world game where a large portion of the buildings feature fully-explorable interiors. I was told that all major landmarks can be entered, plus approximately a quarter to a third of all other buildings.

 

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