While I’m not quite sure what this says about me, I sure do like assassinating in first-person. (And that would be in video games, if you’re joining us from the constabulary today.) Full confession: I’ve done that many times before, most recently in Hitman 3, also a video game. But as fun as it was to track prey through a PSVR and 47’s cold, dead eyes, I finished it and found myself wanting more from life. Death. Whatever…
I crave similar open-world freedom with murderous, 1:1 motion-controls. But also 100% more hidden blades. more haystacks, and more Animus jaunts that bring history to life with homicides. Imagine my delight, then, when not only did Ubisoft announce Assassin’s Creed Nexus VR, but they also had the good sense to invite me for a heads-on. Why does that work well for everyone? Because, while VR motion sickness plagues some folks—from light sweats to full spews—I’m (weirdly) immune.
Even better, I’m an aficionado who’s clocked every notable VR game and isn’t easily impressed. So you know that when I say that Assassin’s Creed Nexus VR has the makings of a killer app—the best argument yet for selling my kidney for a Quest 3—it’s praise higher than a church spire sync point.
I’m going to get into the whys in a moment, but first let me outline some purchasing options for anybody who’s a “mind’s made-up already” diehard. I’m not one of you, but I know you exist. Everyone else can bypass all the window shopping by skip-clicking here to continue my impressions.
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Cheapest Assassin’s Creed Nexus VR
Before I plonk on a Quest 3 and go under the hood of Nexus, I’m given a quick synopsis. In this game, we’ll get to embody three assassins in what Ubisoft insists will be a “full-length” experience. I daresay this campaign could feel like something of a Greatest Slits anthology—Ezio, Cassandra, and Connor each did their thing with the unique gear and tactics available in their radically different time periods.
There is certainly an “Abstergo” thread stitching everything together, but in all honesty, I’m not turned on by outside-the-Animus stuff. I haven’t been in (literal) ages. I was much more interested to hear that I’d be getting some more quality time with my favourite Italian stallion, Ezio Auditore da Firenze.
After smashing through a short tutorial, some debug wizardry flings me forward to Mission 7: The Humiliations of Rizzo. Here, I use two hands on a gondola pole to physically plough my way down a Venetian canal and through a ton of exposition spouted by my old chum, Antonio de Magianis. The basic gist is that we’ll need to create mischief all over town to draw out the titular target for termination.
At this point, and much to my delight, the term “all over town” can be used in the literal sandbox sense. I went into Nexus with the sceptical assumption that it would be Ubisoft’s take on Horizon: Call of the Mountain. Contextual verticality on a leash. The clever impression of free-wheeling exploration that actually funnels us down one or two paths, max.
As soon as I step off the gondola—using dual stick controls, smooth turning, and visual assists disabled—I’m quite impressed. Firstly, there’s an NPC cluster that’s not exactly a scrum, but certainly a decent, detailed crowd by VR game standards. And secondly, by how I can totally and immediately defy the Next Objective marker to confirm that the “everything is permitted” adage rings true in this AC.
I turn 120 degrees to my right, pick the most unassuming building on the block, and try to monkey up. To my great pleasure, I can not only reach the roof using accurate vertical and horizontal handholds but also crest the summit and be restricted by no Edge of Mission Area bollard. The blinkers appear to be right off.
Cooler yet, holding my Y button shifts me into probably the coolest map system in modern VR memory. I’m now standing at Gulliver scale in a full, real-time 3D diorama of my current position. Kneeling down lets me see NPCs going about their walks, and I can HUD-tag pacing balcony guards that would otherwise lurk unseen. Hell, I can even crane my head to the horizon and sticky-beak into adjacent suburbs to make mental notes on parkour-friendly architecture. I haven’t shanked a single baddie yet, and Nexus is setting my beard on fire already.
When I finish goofing off—after nailing a parkour challenge that lets me hold A + forward to auto-solve low gaps and hurdles—the old AC tropes appear in familiar yet surprising ways. My first task is some ol’ fashioned Follow The Target, a diversion I’ve been done with since, oh, Asassin’s Creed 2 circa 2009. All that being said, the weird magic of VR makes shadowing some goon through a piazza—using social stealth, haystacks, etc.—waaay more edge-of-my-seat than it has any right to be.
When that stalk-fest moves indoors, I get a taste of what I actually hooded up for: killin’. Tailing my mark now involves the tighter corridors of a busy fish market, and it also becomes necessary to secure and clear a slightly higher path riddled with sentries. All told, it’s basic patrol pattern/awareness icon stuff that’s elevated by a wish fulfilment mechanic on par with the lightsabers in Vader Immortal VR.
Again, I’m not sure what the following says about me as a person. But if you let me hold a trigger, physically flick my wrist to unleash a hidden blade, and permit me to install blowholes in reprehensible Renaissance villains, I can happily do that all day.
If you then give me the option to do this with another hidden blade on my other mitt, as Nexus does, well then, that’s my week sorted.
Assassins Creed Nexus VR
After culling Rizzo’s workforce considerably, I slink into a backstage area that demands a bit of lateral thinking. Low-level guards here may be distracted with chucked objects or shived outright, but a key carrying mid-boss and a nearby chest must be finessed by smarter means. I find a rabbit warren that puts the key within reach, but I’m also told we can try to manhandle (read mini-game) our way into the chest.
Pickpocketing is done simply by sneaking up and yoinking the key off a belt, though only if your mark is stationary (reinforced by a UI element). Alternatively, chest finagling requires both hands, both triggers, and a sort of ring system of lock tumblers. Oh, and it’s done in real-time. No pressure.
I make like Garrett—gaming’s criminally forgotten Thief—and score a five-fingered key discount. Minutes later, however, the now empty chest is inspected, and the alarm gets tripped anyway. What happens next is best described as on-the-job training for toe-to-toe swordplay, plus a bit of hide ‘n’ seek ‘n’ stab.
Bladework feels fluid and functional, but it doesn’t wow me right out of the scabbard. What’s here is one of those your-turn-my-turn systems punctuated by exaggerated incoming attacks, directional block mannerisms, and a short window to scratch out low damage combos. After that, your foe turtles up once more, and you’ll go round again.
Truth be told, trying to shishkabob somebody as you’re being stabbed in the pancreas by enemies who’d also like dance, just doesn’t feel amazing. At least not until I learn the hidden blade lunge. Basic gist: putting an enemy in a weakened state will paint a heart icon overhead, at which point you can deploy that stabby little friend in your offhand, and then open them like a letter.
Finding the breathing space to achieve this proves difficult in a throng. I find that my better bet is to turn tail, engage sprint, break line of sight, get some height, and air-assassinate. Swordplay is something I can take or leave. Contextual death from above is satisfaction plus.
The final beat of the mission ends my demo on a high note, literally, as I scale a church to pre-game Rizzo’s second humiliation with Antonio. Essentially, mi amico “reminds me” of the usefulness of crossbows and the all-important leap of faith here. I try to act surprised.
Equipping the latter involves a quick shoulder grab to unholster the bow, an opposite shoulder grab to select a bolt, and then a string pull to ready it. The general idea is to gift the player a heavily auto-targeted, one-shot kill that’s worth all the hand puppetry needed to ready it.
And the leap of faith sensation? Eagle-shriekingly sublime. It’s like losing at Richie’s Plank Experience and wanting to high-five yourself afterwards.
Obviously, I then put all these skills to use in the vertical infiltration of a cathedral ringed by a restricted area. Without the benefit of the ol’ Obi-wan advantage, intense upward peeking and hurried climbing make this ascent gripping. For the most part, every guard cops it in the kidneys, but I also quick-use some throwing knives that reside on my chest. They insta-kill with headshots and put big smiles on dials.
And really, as I bring this to a close in a way that won’t spoil Rizzo’s comeuppance, toothy grins are the most lasting impression I take from Nexus. I’m smiling as I take the Quest 3 off my bonce, because it genuinely feels like Ubisoft isn’t going the dreaded “VR companion experience” route with this. There’s franchise authenticity here. More importantly, a sense of craftsmanship and a tip of the spear understanding of what VR mechanics work well.
If Ubisoft can marry all that with yet newer innovations, plus a cracking story that honours these beloved sociopaths, then the end result could really slay. My Eagle Vision will be firmly, unblinkingly affixed on this target come November 16th launch day.
Adam Mathew is all about this game.