TIME Video Games

Here’s the Mind-Blowing New Way to Experience Grand Theft Auto

Two words: first person

Rockstar’s crime drama Grand Theft Auto V is out today. Again. The 2013 hit is being re-released Nov. 18 for current-generation consoles the Xbox One and Playstation 4. (A PC version is also coming in January.) The remastered version of the game is receiving plenty of upgrades, including much higher-end visuals. If you somehow missed it, the fifth in the long-running Grand Theft Auto series was widely heralded as a masterpiece. TIME’s 5/5 review of the game put it this way:

Thank goodness it’s as irresistible to play as it is to admire, a super-sized version of the already super-sized Grand Theft Auto IV with the best parts intact and all the impurities leeched out. In fact I’d call it the most refined game Rockstar’s ever published. The vehicle physics are immaculate and the driving controls are superb; the interface is stripped and clean; the gunplay and tactical cover system are perfected; the expertly paced missions are honed to a fine, felonious edge.

There’s another addition: a first-person camera that gives players a traditional FPS vantage on the action. It’s a first for the series and likely to lead to big changes in the way the game is played. Check it out above.

TIME Video Games

Watch What Has to Be the Most Epic Video Game Launch Trailer Ever

You kind of have to see it to believe it

BioWare’s role-playing epic Dragon Age: Inquisition is one of the most anticipated new video games of the year. The title, which releases Nov. 18 for Xbox One, Playstation 4, and PCs, is an open-world epic with a Game of Thrones aesthetic. TIME’s 4.5/5 review of the game summarized it this way:

[This] is BioWare world-building with the mythic sweep of a Peter Jackson or Todd Howard, cultivating a sleek, reimagined, wildly blown up rendition of writer David Gaider’s fantasy preserve that feels at once grander and more holistic, a world whose craftsmanship you can admire and at points obsess over and occasionally even gawp at. If Dragon Age II was a weird, turtling retreat to button-mashy, bam-pow brawls in a village-sized city patched together from generic, recycled components, Dragon Age: Inquisition feels like the yang to its yin. On an epic scale.

To commemorate the launch, BioWare released the above trailer. The game is being published by Electronic Arts. For the full review, click here.

TIME Video Games

Far Cry 4 Review: The Best Far Cry Yet

Ubisoft

Ubisoft's latest offers gorgeous Himalayan views, immaculately well-balanced gameplay and cathartic pandemonium

This is how crazy Far Cry 4 can get: I’m droning just above the treetops in a ramshackle gyrocopter, scouting for macaques, when I spy a trio of the pale-furred primates loping near the edge of a precipice. I descend slowly through stands of firs, my rotors audibly clipping branches, preparing to leap out, when I hear the telltale tattoo of machine guns talking—the country’s militia trading gunfire with insurgents.

Bullets suddenly smack into my body, thump-thump-thump. My vision narrows. I jab a greenish syringe into my arm and bail out of the copter—still hovering at the lip of the cliff—spreading my arms and legs and arcing in a wingsuit toward the terrain below like a fired missile. With seconds to land, I deploy my parachute and tumble into more trees, rocks, snarled undergrowth…and the sights of one pissed honey badger, which growls like it definitely cares, then leaps at me, cobra-like, to eat my face off.

Surviving Far Cry 4 often feels like that, abrupt and slightly mad and sequentially unhinged. It’s you in a jam band, an improvisatory celebration of net-less oneupmanship (versus your own best performances) as you vector from mission to mission. The experience is somewhat like being a pinball, lured off course by too-cool-to-ignore distractions, bounding into bedlam with the fleet-footedness of a huntsman by way of an exuberant toddler.

MORE: Sweden Considers Special Labels for Sexist Video Games

And lo, what distractions in this brave new world of drivable elephants, scalable summits, sartorial safaris and literal B-movie stunt quests. As named, the Far Cry games are about hurling you into slight caricatures of otherworldly milieus full of both serious and utterly frivolous things to do. The first and third entries in the series were staged in sultry equatorial spaces (the former eventually turning full-on Island of Dr. Moreau), while the second channeled Kurtzian jungles and savannah through a lens Anton Chigurah. Think part first-person shooter, part Lonely Planet, part Tarantino abattoir.

Far Cry 4 sculpts its vamp on that equation out of Nepalese remoteness and Himalayan verticality, and the results are predictably head-turning. Look out from any point in Kyrat, Ubisoft’s fictional Nepal, and you’ll note the sunlight glinting naturally off ornate bronze prayer wheels, throngs of thousand-leafed autumnal trees and undulating highways of calligraphic prayer flags fluttering in the wind.

Look further and you’ll spy plumes of distant smoke drifting stratospherically, blinking radio towers on miles-away hilltops and the intricately scalloped terraces of far-flung vertical farms. Then look up to where the horizon line should be to find the Himalayas towering like upthrust fangs, each snowy crag or escarpment crisply articulated, every draped and drifting cloud bank ethereal. There’s a sense of visual continuity here that seems only matched, in hindsight, in Bethesda’s 2011 hit Skyrim.

MORE: Now You Can Play ‘Super Smash Bros.’ on a Graphing Calculator

Set the game’s new look aside, and you could argue Far Cry 4 hasn’t changed much since players strained to salvage Jason Brody’s Pacific vacation. Kyrati-American Ajay Ghale wages a parallel, accidental campaign against a maniacal (but endlessly amusing) despot. He’s returned to scatter his mother’s ashes but then, whoops, he’s wrestling tigers, scaling mountains and squaring off with a megalomaniacal fashionista! But that’s an oversimplification. This is both the game Far Cry 3 was and wasn’t.

Ubisoft

You still play a stereotypically displaced Westerner (Kyrati-American or no) in a freely explorable danger-scape, leveling up superhuman abilities and weapons as you fight to liberate thug-filled outposts. And you still do so by glassing enemies with binoculars, mulling over different attack approaches, hypothesizing ideal takedown scenarios and tripping auxiliary triggers like freeing lethal animals in cages, or lobbing “bait” to summon others.

Those animals still haunt regions of the world map, and you still hunt them to craft upgrades that pad out your ability to schlep stuff. And overlying that, you’ll still have to scale and sabotage nearly two dozen towers (here broadcasting propaganda) to de-fog swathes of the map and spotlight new activities. These are what Ubisoft’s taken to calling “pillars” in its primary franchises, and you’re either into the idea or not.

MORE: This Is How Insanely Beautiful the New Halo on Xbox One Is

But Far Cry 4 also builds gainfully on what Ubisoft’s learned about crafting freeform microcosms. Take your guides through the game’s main story: two parental sides of a Kyrati rebel force (after Nepal’s maoist insurgency) calling itself The Golden Path. The friction between their prosecutorial styles unlocks unique missions and rival story paths, some of which culminate in extremely discomfiting moments as you’re dressed down by the game’s incisive writers and get-under-your-skin voice actors, the strategist you shunned arguing the other’s illogic witheringly. As usual, there are no right or wrong choices here, only more or less relatable ones.

Ubisoft

The rest comes down to well-executed fan service. You can zip to almost anywhere now in the handy gyrocopter, or survive impossible falls and cobble together breathtaking impromptu maneuvers with the wingsuit. The new “hunter” class enemy basically has thousand-yard x-ray vision, can nail you from as far off and, in a bit of inspired insidiousness, turns animals against you. All of this adds delightful emergent wrinkles to combat scrums.

The most difficult outposts are now called fortresses, and they’re so brutally and brilliantly difficult the game actually recommends performing other tasks to “weaken” them before you muster and assault (but you’re always welcome to try sooner). Vehicles now have an auto-drive feature that turns control over to the A.I. so you can focus on shooting, solving an ages-old problem. (Expect this one to be emulated in other games.) And cooperative play now happens in the main world, not adjunct to it, so while friends can’t co-play story missions, they can drop in or out at will to tackle anything else in your version of Kyrat, or vice versa.

MORE: Assassin’s Creed Unity Review: Not Quite the Revolution We Were Promised

That the war’s progress still comes to a standstill as you gallivant around the countryside is no more a problem here than any of the game’s other non sequiturs: hundreds of loot chests that lie in the open waiting just for you; that you groan with disgust as you gut animals but make not a sound when head-popping thousands of enemy soldiers; your ability to wield non-metaphorical superpowers for goodness sake; and the idea that everyone else prattles on while you say almost nothing. (Though, it’s perhaps the better compromise if you’re not a manic quipster.) You could pretentiously call any of that ludonarrative dissonance, or just settle for “game design circa 2014.”

Ubisoft

But my favorite parts of Far Cry 4 lie in its quieter, unscripted moments, ones where I’d notice an inconspicuous grapple point glinting at me from high above, only to climb thousands of feet and find myself swinging between precarious protrusions toward terra incognita, inching up or down my grapple rope and angling to land just so on a silver of ledge-space.

There’s another kind of game that lives inside Far Cry 4, one that’s not about the hails of bullets or checking off victory points or slicing open a stockade’s worth of wildlife. You can play that game for hours here if you like, exploring Ubisoft’s Kyrat in trancelike quietude, but the gameplay rewards are marginal–exploration for its own sake has to suffice. How much longer before someone offers a viably nonviolent parallel path through one of these games? One that involves playing not as the guns-a-blazin’ savior, but a character more like the war correspondent in David Mitchell’s The Bone Clocks—the person whose perilous job it is to chronicle the war instead of waging it, and perhaps bring a sense of accountability to the chaos and madness.

5 out of 5

Reviewed using the PlayStation 4 version of the game.

Read next: Everything You Need to Know About World of Warcraft: Warlords of Draenor

TIME apps

Our Favorite iPhone Games to Play This Week

Word Trivia is your new addiction

Had enough Candy Crush and looking for something new to play on your iPhone? We rounded up some favorites worth a download this week. Have fun!

  • Framed

    Framed Framed

    A nod at choose-your-own-adventure children’s books, Framed is a game in which players can shift panels of a graphic novel in order to manipulate the arch of this very film noir-style story. It sounds at first one dimensional, but Framed doesn’t disappoint, and the permutations actually feel endless. Not only is the comic itself a lot of fun to look at, but the game allows you to play both author and detective.

    Framed is available for $4.99 in the App Store.

  • Endless Doves

    Endless Doves Endless Doves

    Endless Doves looks remarkably like something designed for the Game Boy Classic, but plays like so many of our favorite iPhone games. In this monochrome world with charming, drone-like sound as music, guide your player and collect doves to use as currency. Keep your player from crashing into walls and rack up points by tapping the character through different levels. Endless Doves will probably have you digging through your parents’ apartment looking for your old Pokémon Red game.

    Endless Doves is available free in the App Store.

  • Word Trivia

    Word Trivia Word Trivia

    If you’re ever feeling needlessly competitive, Word Trivia is the perfect game to settle scores with friends. It’s like a mix of Boggle and Apples to Apples, where players must search a scrambled field of letters in order to piece together words about a certain topic. On occasion, you may even learn a few new words. There’s little doubt that in a few months a celebrity will be forced off a plane for refusing to turn off their phone during a game of Word Trivia.

    Word Trivia is available free in the App Store.

  • XCOM: Enemy Within

    XCOM XCOM

    XCOM: Enemy Within is part of the same family of celebrated computer games from the past few decades, some of which were so overwhelming that their instruction booklets suggested limiting play time to hour-long chunks. The premise of Enemy Within is largely the same: run around a series of well-designed levels blasting enemy forces with advanced space-age weapon technology. But killing aliens never gets old, and XCOM always finds a way to keep it fresh and addicting.

    XCOM: Enemy Within is available for $12.99 in the App Store and Google Play store.

     

  • Civilization Revolution 2

    Civilization Revolution 2 Civilization Revolution 2

    The aim of Civilization Revolution 2 is simple: build an empire that can survive through the ages. The first of the Civ family of games released for mobile devices, Civilization Revolution 2 allows players to develop territories, complete with infrastructure like hospitals, and put together armed forces in order to defend and conquer. This game also allows players to go back in time and fight their way through historical battles.

    Civilization Revolution 2 is available for $14.99 in the App Store and Google Play store.

TIME Video Games

Sweden Considers Special Labels for Sexist Video Games

Paris Games Week : Press Preview
Gamers play video games with the PS4 consoles of PlayStation during the International Games Week on Oct. 29, 2014, in Paris Chesnot—Getty Images

A video-game trade group, inspired by the Bechdel Test, will study games' portrayals of women

A government-funded innovation agency in Sweden is considering creating specials label for video games based on whether or not the games’ portrayals of women are sexist.

Inspired by the Bechdel Test, Vinnova is paying the Swedish video-game trade organization Dataspelsbranchen approximately $36,672 to study the industry’s female characters, the Local reports.

“I do not know of any other project in the world asking this question, and of course, we want Sweden to be a beacon in this area,” said project manager Anton Albiin, who notes that it has not been determined whether all Swedish games would be graded on their treatment of women or whether only games with positive portrayals would receive special labels.

Only 16% of people working in Sweden’s growing, $935 million gaming industry are women, according to Dataspelsbranchen. (In 2013, the Boston Globe reported that in the U.S. women made up 3% of video-game programmers and 11% of designers.)

“Of course games can be about fantasy, but they can be so much more than this,” Albiin said. “They can also be a form of cultural expression — reflecting society or the society we are hoping for. Games can help us to create more diverse workplaces and can even change the way we think about thing.”

[The Local]

TIME Video Games

Now You Can Play ‘Super Smash Bros.’ on a Graphing Calculator

Graph this

Math class has never been so fun.

A user named Hayleia on Internet forum Omnimaga, which is dedicated to game programming, created a code clone of Super Smash Bros. Melee for the Nintendo GameCube to be used on z80 calculators. Users can tweak the source code for their own devices, as well as create their own characters.

Handheld gaming blog Tiny Cartridge reported on the game Friday.

The game is available for download here to import it to a compatible TI-83 or TI-84 calculator through USB.

It should be a fun distraction while fans of one of the greatest fighting games in history await Nintendo’s release of Super Smash Bros. for Wii U next Friday.

TIME Video Games

Everything You Need to Know About World of Warcraft: Warlords of Draenor

Blizzard

Blizzard's latest expansion to World of Warcraft is finally available. Here's what's new

Warlords of Draenor sounds like the sort of thing you’d find in the B-movie section of your local gas-n-shop, maybe starring Jean Claude von Damme and Dolph Lundgren wearing horned helms and codpieces.

But in this case it’s the moniker on the latest expansion to the most popular MMO in history, available now (PC, Mac) for $50. If you’re new to the series or thinking about returning and wondering what’s changed, here’s a look at Draenor‘s standout features.

Characters can finally hit three digits

Happy 100th level, World of Warcraft characters, you’ve more than earned it (in fact you’ve probably slogged like few gamers will ever slog just getting to the last expansion’s heady nine-zero). Characters in Draenor will be able to leap from 90 to 100 at last, commensurate with new abilities and access to the world of Draenor itself.

One character can leap to level 90 immediately

This sounds a bit like handing a toddler a clutch of dynamite–or asking them to figure out how to work the mechanism that sets it off–to me. But if you’re so inclined, Blizzard will let you boost one character straight to level 90. Seasoned players looking to fast-level an alternate character will be grateful, but if you’ve never played the game, I worry it’ll be like expecting someone who just learned how to play chopsticks on the piano to dash off a plausible rendition of Bud Powell’s “Tempus Fugit.”

Blizzard

The story’s actually kind of interesting

I couldn’t tell you a thing about the World of Warcraft-verse’s fiction, and I played at least one character up to the mid-70s back in the day. But I remember when the Cataclysm expansion hit, and how nice it was to see Blizzard trying to frame all its relentless creature farming and errand-running with better scripted story beats that made leveling up, at least at the lower levels, feel less like cynically pinballing from one punctuation-crowned signpost to another.

Draenor pulls a J.J. Abrams (Star Trek) and taps a dimension-hopping storyline to shunt players over to an alternate history timeline and the days a comparably fractional number of gamers were going gaga over Warcraft II back in 1996. (Allow me to speak directly to Warcraft II nerds for a moment: characters like Grom Hellscream, Ner’zhul, Gul’dan and Blackhand put in appearances.)

I could attempt to paraphrase what that adds up to, or just hand the mic to Blizzard:

It is the era of an Old Horde, forged with steel rather than fel blood. A union of great orc clans, the Iron Horde, tramples the planet Draenor beneath terrifying war machines. Azeroth falls next. Worlds uncounted will follow.

You must mount a desperate charge on Draenor – savage home of orcs and adopted bastion of stoic draenei – at this pivotal moment. Your allies are legends from across time; your fortress a foothold in an alien land. Lead the armies of one world against another…before the future itself is unmade.

No, you can’t change keystone World of Warcraft history, this is just Blizzard’s way of letting players goof around with beloved Warcraft-ian lore without tying the writing team’s hands.

It’s the biggest graphical overhaul in years

Blizzard’s approach to art design with World of Warcraft always had two things going for it: it’s a PC game and so scales to whatever native display and resolution you like, and it employs a Disney-like cartoon aesthetic that transcends the notion that visual progression is some sort of linear march toward photorealistic fidelity (whatever that even means in the context of imagined worlds anyway).

Nonetheless, Draenor has some visual tricks up its sleeves. According to Blizzard, the classic Warcraft races “sport higher detail, updated animations, and new visuals that reflect the soul of their original models.”

Blizzard

It has a more pliable quest system

Blizzard describes Draenor‘s new quest system as “refined” and “flexible,” and in a crucial reward-related sea change, the company notes that “any quest can randomly award bonus rare or epic items.”

You can carve out your own fortress-space

New dungeons (seven), raids (two), bosses, class talents and abilities you’d expect, but Blizzard’s adding fixed-world-point garrisons this time: customizable home bases that include addable substructures like alchemy labs, salvage yards, tanneries and more. There’s even a meta layer that’ll let you set up trade routes or recruit followers (read: loyal minions!) you can then deploy to go dungeon-spelunking, run errands and craft items in your stead, whether you’re on or offline.

The new map looks huge

Draenor is kind of enormous, with seven areas and one PvP to explore, a “land of magma and metal, stone and steam,” writes Blizzard.

City-forges wrap her twin moons in smog, and wheels deform the earth. Vicious saberon, winged arakkoa, spike-skinned gronn, and more unusual creatures rule the edges of the world, feasting on anything they kill.

Enigmatic draenei refugees have built a coastal foothold into a glimmering state replete with the libraries and worship-halls of their timeless civilization. Meanwhile, the Iron Horde’s slaves labor on engines of war pointed at the draenei and worlds beyond.

Blizzard

It’s not the last expansion

I wondered if Draenor might be World of Warcraft‘s swan song, given this is the 10th anniversary of the game and subscriptions have dropped in recent years (at its peak in October 2010, World of Warcraft had 12 million subscribers). But according to Blizzard just last month, subscriptions are up from a post-peak low of 6.8 million to 7.4 million worldwide. That’s a predictable Draenor-related bounce, sure, but a reminder of how significant the upswings can be, if Blizzard can keep the new content rolling.

And no, Draenor definitely isn’t the last expansion for Blizzard’s tireless MMO: according to the game’s lead designer Ion Hazzikostas, there’s every intention for the game to soldier on for at least another decade. “I definitely can’t tell you what our 20th anniversary is going to be. I can tell you there is definitely going to be one,” Hazziokostas told Cnet in a recent interview, adding that the company is “definitely planning into the future, talking about what the next expansion is going to be, and what the one after that is going to be.”

TIME Video Games

This Is How Insanely Beautiful the New Halo on Xbox One Is

Halo has never looked this good

Released Nov. 11, Halo: The Master Chief Collection combines more than a decade of Halo history into one high-gloss package. The Xbox One exclusive is not only a celebration of the video game franchise’s past, but a major preview of its future—a.k.a. the upcoming Halo 5: Guardians. The collection combines Halo 1 through 4 and reimagines their looks with more current graphics. The results are impressive; take a closer look above.

TIME Video Games

Assassin’s Creed Unity Review: Not Quite the Revolution We Were Promised

Ubisoft

Ubisoft's recreation of the French Revolution looks and sounds incredible, but the game's design leaves something to be desired

I’m perched on a Notre Dame gargoyle, Batman-like, some 70 meters above a rabble-thronged square. From here I can see the gabled roof of the Palais de Justice and Sainte-Chapelle, the royal church’s spire the next highest object punctuating Paris’s Seine-circled Île de la Cité. Across the river I spy the Louvre, and along the right bank, the Grand Châtelet.

Swiveling 45 degrees, a medieval temple overlooks the 3rd arrondissement. Turning another 45, there’s the Bastille, its broken crenellations like the jags of a giant shattered tooth. The cathedral’s shadow darkens the square below me, where hundreds of tiny figures jostle one another, dangling flaming effigies on poles, chanting, squabbling and occasionally scuffling with the guards, the city alight with hope and terror.

Assassin’s Creed Unity‘s attention to French Revolutionary Parisian detail is remarkable, every landmark and monument built to scale. (It’s also intimately scalable by the player.) Distractions abound: you could spend an hour registering the gothic minutia of a Rayonnant edifice’s tracery, or another enumerating biblical scenes in a church’s stained glass windows. Observe the burnished filigree crowning the massive wrought-iron gates to the Cour du Mai, the Corinthian portico of the triple-domed and frescoed Panthéon, or the sun glinting off lustrous iconography blanketing the dome of Les Invalides. It’s all here, and kind of nuts.

So is Unity a game or interactive diorama? Another tale of secret warring societies supported by its dazzling late 18th century metropolis, or architectonic fetish with a side of pulp?

Ubisoft

Maybe both. But then you push a button and leap from your roost and start moving through this ridiculously intricate insurrection simulator, clambering over realistically uneven slate rooftops and corroded chimneys linked by fictional passage-smoothing plank and rope skyways, only to find the actual game sagging beneath the weight of its world design. In short, Unity is a phenomenal world-building achievement held back by a glitchy navigation system.

Moving through the Assassin’s Creed games has always been fidgety, but it’s steadily improved over the years. Unity feels like a step back, though it’s hard to pinpoint why. Perhaps it’s the busier world geometry, its handholds and footpaths multiplied who-knows-how-many-fold, making it even easier to snag on something. Sometimes it’s clearly the game’s impaired frame rate in large crowds lagging behind your input. (That’s not an idle complaint; the game actually stutters severely in spots.) Maybe it’s just buggy. Maybe some of that will be ironed out in future patches. What I do know, is that Arno, the game’s French protagonist–an assassin who’s confused revenge for redemption in the game’s story–sometimes has a mind of his own.

If I push one way, he’ll occasionally leap in another. If I zig, odds are one out of four he’ll zag. I expect some slack in any 360-degree motion system, but this is something else. I haven’t fought the controls like this since the original Assassin’s Creed. It’s harmless enough when you’re wall-crawling freeform, but under the gun, say in one of those target-tailing missions with bonus challenges like “don’t touch the water,” whiffing the mission because Arno decides to dive off a wooden post into the drink instead of leaping to the next one on the third or fourth replay is exasperating.

But the biggest problem is that sometimes Arno won’t do anything at all.

Ubisoft

Climb a building with clearly navigable points and sometimes Arno gets stuck. Not “That next thing’s too high up, find another way” stymied, but “Why am I halfway up this continuous lattice and hitting all the right buttons and he’s frozen stiff?” I’m not misreading the path, because if I hammer the buttons or reset the thumbstick, he’ll swing into action and clear the distance, no problem. And I ran into this in even the simplest scenarios: dangling from a rope between buildings or hanging from the edge of an unobstructed platform (he’d neither climb nor drop), or trying to dive Dukes of Hazard style through an open window (hammering the button the game keeps telling me to hammer while ignoring my input). This is next-gen parkour?

It’s a shame, because so much else about Unity‘s design overhaul works. The new 3D overview map helps you better pinpoint objects in a 3D world. A downward free-run option (hold a button to climb down automatically) makes descending from even the highest points quick and safe. And Eagle Vision, the game’s spot-the-bad-guys radar system, now only works for brief periods, encouraging more judicious use.

There’s even a modest roleplaying angle: weapons, clothing, stealth moves and combat abilities–most familiar with a few wrinkles–are now spending-based unlocks that let you finesse your play style meaningfully. One of those skills, lockpicking, finally strikes the right balance between twitchy and skillful and now applies to doors that can open up alternate routes in missions. Those missions now feel like proper assassination puzzles, the game dropping you outside heavily patrolled fortresses and folding in optional goals you can engage to tweak your infiltration routes or unlock distractions. Carried over to the new cooperative play modes, where you and up to three other players can work together to dispatch operatives or recover loot, and Unity surpasses its predecessors.

Ubisoft

Some of the improvements are simple subtractions: The removal of automatic counters revitalizes combat, which regains some the original’s brutal simplicity and timing-related volatility. Guards on alert can no longer be assassinated from hiding spots (like hay wagons), encouraging shrewder stealth tactics. The home improvement game has fewer spending tiers and ties this more to side missions like the frontier activities in Assassin’s Creed III. And assassin-recruiting, training and deploying is no more, eliminating a pseudo-strategic moneymaking layer I never particularly liked.

Other changes seem like half-measures or outright missteps. Adding a button that lets you crouch gives you more approach options (to say nothing of making you feel stealthier), but the new guard-luring gimmicks–cherry bombs or taunting guards to probe by letting yourself be spotted then breaking the sightline–often fail because the guards seem to know you’re waiting and stop short of your hiding spot, even as you absurdly pepper them with fireworks.

While combat is more gratifying and enemies more aggressive, your bag of tricks remains small and the opponent A.I. types still too undifferentiated. (I powered through the game using the same attack-parry-stun-attack combos.) The new press-a-button-to-stick cover system often disregards your input and can’t be depended on during hair-trigger maneuvers. And what passes for a future story about leaping between servers and playing through alternate timelines to avoid detection (the series is basically The Matrix meets Ken Follett) recalls the dreary “Desmond climbs” missions in Assassin’s Creed III, where you prosaically pushed the thumbstick in the direction you wanted to travel and watched stuff happen.

Ubisoft

Speaking of the story, Ubisoft was wise to make it about Arno and keep most of the Revolution’s politicking in the background, but the character as written barely connects. Whatever we’re meant to feel about the things he endures, whatever the writers intended beyond a bit of brooding, debauchery and sense of being dragged along by tidal forces, Arno’s a little boring, his arc more an undifferentiated slope. His romantic interest has far more brio, and makes you wonder what might have been, had you been able to explore her story instead.

Shall I bother to malign the ending? Have endings in these games ever delivered? Here it’s another anticlimactic, predictable and tediously difficult mess, where–minor spoiler warning–you’re essentially dueling with Emperor Palpatine (think about what Palpatine’s known for), making use of none of the things you’ve just spent the entire game learning to do, while he chants “I have you now!” (Yes, that’s verbatim.)

“The past is not lost, the past lives inside us,” says a narrator during the game’s intro. It’s supposed to be a reference to the game’s parapsychological conceit about genetic memory, not ironic commentary on the game design. Unity has plenty of moments where some of its re-grounded systems harmonize, but too many where they don’t. Historical flavor and architectural verisimilitude alone can’t carry a game, and may in fact be part of what works against this one, even as I’ll admit to being gobsmacked at the audacity of Ubisoft’s city-replicating exercise, a towering achievement unto itself.

3 out of 5

Review using the PlayStation 4 version of the game.

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