Assassin's Creed is a series all about history - well, that and stabbing people in the neck. So, for the release of Origins, we thought we'd celebrate by delving into the history of the series. It's a lot less messy than doing the stabbing in the neck thing ourselves.
There will likely never be a better entry point to Assassin's Creed than Origins, released today. A prequel set a thousand years before the events of Assassin's Creed 1, Origins can be enjoyed as your first experience of the series.
Time of day dynamic lighting has returned to the Assassin's Creed series in its latest outing - and we thought we'd make the most out of it. Over the course of the last week, one of our PlayStation 4s has been attached to a spare capture system, patiently recording time-lapse video of Victorian London while we busy ourselves with other tasks. It's been a fascinating experience - exploring an environment we know so well, finding key locations and comparing Ubisoft's renderings of 1868 with our own knowledge of the city 147 years later.
In retrospect, perhaps Assassin's Creed Unity was simply too ambitious from a technological perspective. Ubisoft scaled up virtually every element of the last-gen engine, with enormous increases to environment detail (including building interiors), an NPC count pushed into the hundreds and a cutting-edge rendering engine with sensational, physically-based lighting. Play Unity today on a top-tier PC and you'll be pleasantly surprised at just how beautiful it looks. Unfortunately, on console, it's nowhere near as attractive, blighted by a highly variable frame-rate that's mysteriously worse on PS4 than it is on Xbox One. Combine that with the multitude of bugs endemic in the title at launch and the challenge facing Ubisoft with Assassin's Creed Syndicate is clear. The new game has to be solid, it has to perform well, glitches and bugs must be kept to a minimum. Ubisoft simply cannot afford another Unity.
What's immediately apparent as you play your way through the overly long tutorial mission is that Ubisoft has made little in the way of fundamental improvements to the core rendering technology that powers Assassin's Creed Syndicate. The same AnvilNext engine runs the game, and the same basic compromises we found in Unity are present and correct here - specifically, the utilisation of internal upscaling, with both PlayStation 4 and Xbox One versions of Syndicate sporting the same 900p resolution as last year's title. Indeed, there's a fairly compelling argument that Ubisoft has made a play for improved performance this year by scaling back on Unity's giddy ambition.
The online multiplayer modes are gone - meaning that the co-op functionality that debuted last year has been discarded. Bearing in mind that Assassin's Creed Syndicate features twins as its main protagonists, each with their own strengths and weaknesses, it's not difficult to imagine that co-op may well have been a key factor in the game's design brief at some point. On top of that, another major innovation found in Unity - the prevalence of interior locations - has also been pared back, though not removed entirely. Side mission markers for clearing Templar influence and street-corner pubs with collectibles have interiors, while key landmarks such as the Palace of Westminster are also explorable.
Was Assassin's Creed Unity simply too ambitious for its own good? Revolutionary Paris - densely populated, rich in detail - looked beautiful on a high-end PC, but the experience didn't translate well to less capable hardware, including PS4 and Xbox One. Riddled with bugs at launch and suffering from severe frame-rate problems, our sense is that Unity's heart was in the right place, but its execution was brand-damaging stuff. From what we've seen of its successor, Assassin's Creed Syndicate, perhaps Ubisoft is executing a course correction that could see tangible improvements in stability, but the question is whether it comes at the expense of the raw ambition behind the core technology.