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Why the Landlocked Assassin's Creed Unity Still Has Me Excited

Let them eat next-gen.

I still remember the moment Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag won me over. Not long after I acquired the Jackdaw--in the way Edward Kenway acquires anything, meaning I stole it--I was sailing back to Nassau after spending some time exploring the Caribbean. The sun had begun to set, casting a warm glow across an endless horizon. Then my crew broke out into a sea shanty--a melancholy number about leaving home and making a life somewhere far away. And in that moment, being out there on the windswept sea, I felt like I was playing something completely fresh and new.

That's the moment I kept returning to when Ubisoft announced Assassin's Creed Unity. After a brief dalliance with the Americas, Unity brings the series back to the other side of the Atlantic, to the turmoil and intrigue of Paris circa the French Revolution. There's little information about the game outside of a brief teaser trailer, but one glimpse at the setting and Unity immediately feels like vintage Assassin's Creed: the crowds, the Old World architecture, the chaos of urban life.

In many ways, it feels like the polar opposite of the direction taken by the last game. So much of Black Flag's appeal was its sense of limitless exploration, taking to the Caribbean by ship and visiting its many remote islands and barely formed beachside towns. Paris, by contrast, is a landlocked city some 175 kilometers from the English Channel. Its largest body of water is the Seine. It all makes you wonder how Unity can possibly maintain that same sense of openness.

Well, it doesn't need to. And that's what has me so interested.

Naval exploration worked in Black Flag because, beyond being a fun collection of gameplay elements, it captured the era so well. The 18th-century Caribbean was a time of colonialism, of nations claiming lands and traders searching for resources. The game featured well-established cities like Havana and Port-au-Prince, but the smell of discovery still lingered in the air.

All of those ideas meshed wonderfully with Black Flag's focus on sailing the high seas. This was the New World, an uncharted expanse of opportunity, and the game gave you all the tools to feel like an explorer searching for, well, whatever it was you wanted. Diving for sunken treasure, hunting great white sharks, raiding hapless schooners--all those gameplay systems coalesced to capture the danger and opportunity of that specific era.

It all makes you wonder how Unity can possibly maintain that same sense of openness. Well, it doesn't need to. And that's what has me so interested.

That's what the best games in this series do. They establish a meaningful connection between their chosen era and all the various activities they present to the player. And that's one of the things that keeps me coming back even after all these years. Assassin's Creed is a whirlwind tour through history, but rarely does each new setting feel like mere window dressing. Certainly the rates of success have, shall we say, varied between games, but you know there's always going to be at least something there that ties what you're doing back to the setting.

All of which leads me to Assassin's Creed Unity. Paris during the French Revolution was a city boiling over with tension and unrest. The long-standing aristocracy was overthrown in violent and spectacular fashion, and the city spent years struggling to establish its new identity. That struggle was a frequently bloody one, epitomized by the Reign of Terror and all of its mass executions.

Look at paintings from this era, and you find that one common theme is the swarming crowds, whether it's the storming of the Bastille or the audiences gathered to see the National Razor at work. Given that Unity is a PC and next-gen exclusive, the development team is free to tap into that hardware to create even more heavily populated environments, with far greater opportunities for urban stealth and interesting crowd dynamics. Black Flag looked nice on next-gen systems, but spend any amount of time ambling through the streets of Havana and you could easily tell that the game was held back by its Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 versions.

Games like Hitman: Absolution teased the idea of using massive crowds to create new opportunities for stealth, such as the Chicago level where you evade the police by casually stepping onto an L train platform absolutely jammed with commuters. But that was just a single train stop. What if that density were displayed in the wide-open public squares where Robespierre and his fellow Jacobins carried out their executions, allowing you to sneak up on your target in broad daylight just as they're about to drop the guillotine? And then, just as quickly as you've emerged, you've already disappeared into the heaving masses.

That's just one idea. There's a lot more Ubisoft's designers could do with this era. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if the back-stabbing and paranoia that characterized the tumultuous revolutionary leadership fed into some new espionage system, where you infiltrate feuding factions and used gathered intel to turn those sides against one another for the benefit of the assassins. Of course, any new espionage mechanics would be an improvement over the antiquated tail-and-eavesdrop missions, but it's something that fascinates me just the same.

Not pictured: human beings.

Let's not forget the artistic possibilities of next-gen hardware, either. There are myriad reasons why Parisians revolted against the aristocracy, but key among them were the economic woes France was experiencing during that era. The lower classes were miserable and destitute, living in squalid conditions. In previous games, the differences between parts of a city have been established primarily through architecture, in the form of buildings rather than the feel of neighborhoods. I'd love to see what Ubisoft can do with next-gen visual effects to really sell the dank, miserable conditions of the poorest quarters and build up the contrast between different parts of Paris. As impressive as cities have been in previous Assassin's Creed games, they've never truly portrayed the dark side of human existence.

Of course, there's no guarantee that Ubisoft will take this era and use it to craft new gameplay opportunities that will harmonize with the setting. As spectacular as Black Flag's naval elements were in reflecting the colonial era, its predecessors weren't nearly as successful. Homesteading in Assassin's Creed III felt half-baked and disconnected from the main story, while the tower defense system in Revelations had little if anything to do with 16th-century Constantinople.

And then there's the question of movement. For all the secondary gameplay systems the series has introduced, the basic feel of running and climbing has remained more or less the same. It's still some of the best 3D platforming in existence, but so many of those little quirks and flaws--the chimney you didn't mean to jump onto, the ledge you didn't mean to leap from--have lingered around for far too long. Black Flag was able to work around this because half the time you were exploring the world by ship, but the on-land missions were always quick to remind you of its aging locomotion. If the basic sense of scaling buildings and dashing along rooftops doesn't feel spruced up in at least some way, it's going to feel like a real missed opportunity.

Yet I remain optimistic. Black Flag established a new creative trajectory for the series, and the move to next-gen hardware should allow the development team to explore ambitious new ideas that weren't possible with older consoles. Who knows how Unity may end up, but I'm eager to see what's in store.

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  • 271 Comments  RefreshSorted By 

    Same crap different theme.

    The game being land locked is a step backwards.

    The writer is a moron.


    Also why dont they add one or two combos to spice up hand to hand combat a little?


    Ubisoft should give a rest to their idiotic every year release. they should take time and develop game with new mechanics and fresh missions.


    I'm sick of Assassins Creed. God help me: I may just play a pirate version of this one just to teach ubisoft a lesson (jk). Cause aint no way in heck I'm forking over ANOTHER $60 for the 6th time on this series! Havent I paid enough in DLC already!? :P


    Why can't they wait for another 2 years and add many new mechanics like crouch button,improved and challenging combat,etc,?


    @gamefreak215jd the game has been in development for 3 years, already. Just like the other AC games.


    If they just fix the parkour, add in some cool, meaningful activities [instead of crap like delivering mail and collecting flags and feathers], make combat more difficult, and give you more customization options with your person and equipment, that would fix a lot of the issues they've been experiencing in past AC games.


    Ubisoft has milked the Assassin's Creed cow dry. Black Flag was a solid attempt at making hamburgers out of the old heifer, but now they're right back to square one. The parts that made AC4 fun were the parts that had nothing to do with the usual Assassin's Creed material, but now they're going right back to the standard, tired old AC formula with a scenery swap.

    They should've used Black Flag as a launching point for a bigger, broader series about pirates, explorers, and adventurers-- and slowly taken the focus off of AC.


    << LINK REMOVED >> Your statement of broadening the pirate genre is exactly what I was thinking! I think they could do a lot to expand on the life of a pirate / bucaneer.. seriously, that would be awesome.


    liked ac2 and 4, 4 was also the only one i finished and got platinum trophy for, but I played them all, unity shouldn't be landlocked, doesn't mean every game has to be about pirates, just options.. I'll keep an eye on this but might not bother


    << LINK REMOVED >> no.. no, definitely should be about pirates..


    i didnt like blackflag and i also lost alot of faith in the series sense this game was probably developed along side with blackflag i doubt anything new is brought into the fold ill keep a eye on it though


    So, is the AC unity gonna be the same challenging gamplay as AC I, II, III, Bro. and Rev. are?

    Cause I was intensely disappointed with the boring and simplistic first person shooter, Black Flag turned out to be.


    landlocked... France... er hello.. im British. I didnt know AC was turning into a damn horror game.. give me back the seas!


    I really think this first attempt at assassins creed on next gen is just gunna be very very pretty icing on an old cake. Ill still get it tho...cuz I like alot of icing on cakes.


    For new players, sure. For people who played since the first game, dont think so. Havent been able to finish an AC game since revelations, and looking at lets play I simply couldnt get myself to buy AC4 despite it being on sales now.

    Tho sailing the seas and explorering the world might be fun, the thought of having to deal with its bland combat and stealth is just too much. New games doesnt just feel familiar, they feel old and "been there done that".


    << LINK REMOVED >> that is also what i say on that francise as a whole


    Black Flag was a fantastic game, but a terrible ASSASSINS CREED game! I'm very happy Unity is landlocked.

    Just take AC2,improve on top of that, and your golden!


    So true!Black Flag was really the best game in the franchise.


    << LINK REMOVED >> You mean the worst...


    << LINK REMOVED >><< LINK REMOVED >> Second worst.


    i would love a cid meiers style spinoff with the ship engine, a good pirate sim needs to come along at some point!


    @Minasodrom Well, the sea missions were pretty good but felt like a "First person shooter" and so the game as a whole was dissapointing. But this gameplay as a "Pirate game" could do very well. They do need to add some interesting story line and some puzzles though. Cause in AC IV? That sucked.


    I quite enjoyed the sailing, however I am always happy for something new. What I am getting tired of is fetch quests, and the stalking quests. Hopefully this new setting, and fiery historical atmosphere will breathe new life into the franchise.


    Sailing was easily the most tedious aspect of AC III for me. It's one of the reasons I skipped Black Flag (besides the fact that it had absolutely nothing to do with the main Desmond storyline). Being forced to captain a ship always felt like a chore in AC III and took me away from what I really enjoy about the gameplay of the series, that being the sandboxish running around cities and climbing buildings and such. I am glad that there will be less of that kind of stuff. If anything, I feel it should be optional gameplay. I still think that Ubi missed a massive opportunity to go somewhere truly unique like Africa or Asia, but I will just be happy if they go back to the original storyline and answer the cliffhanger that AC III left.


    << LINK REMOVED >> I felt the same way about the sailing aspect of AC3... and it was the main reason I avoided AC4.

    Then a friend who's opinion I really trust on gaming told me to give this a try. Glad I listened to him, because it's like they recognized every one of my AC3 gripes (sailing and meaningless "upgrades" being prime examples). Then they improved EVERYTHING.

    Give AC4 a try. You might be surprised by how much you enjoy it. I was.


    Super stoked for this as well. This is a great time period to explore, and I'm looking forward to seeing the artists push these machines...


    It's the zombie IP that just won't die...


    AC unity needs to go back to its roots that the first scene had installed amongst players - the mysterious, exotic and espionage flavor and ambiance of AC with Altair. Such flavor existed across centuries including today's world (Jason Bourne series). The feeling of belonging to a creed that has existed for centuries and maintained secrecy. Living a double life amongst common public, personal sacrifices and choices and their repercussions on mental health, social health and physical health. And additionally, AC Unity needs to pick up on cinematic gameplay like the Uncharted series.

    I have always been a fan of AC franchise and the best game for me is the first AC where the concept of being an assassin was such a great fit during the Crusades and the settings of Damascus, Jerusalem etc.


    << LINK REMOVED >> ya I agree....there were 3 very distinct citys....a fun, dangerous land to tread in between those cities, and what you were doing felt important.


    If only they would do away with the whole "Animus" thing. The worst game feature in history.


    << LINK REMOVED >> the only reason why the animus may work....is if they bring assassins creed to the year 2100 or some shit


    << LINK REMOVED >> not really


    << LINK REMOVED >> agreed. it is a clever idea that mimics gaming concept to a philosophical level.


    << LINK REMOVED >><< LINK REMOVED >><< LINK REMOVED >> completely agree, i can remember when i saw the first gameplay footage of ac1 and the targeting bothered me, didnt feel immersive for such a historical game. as soon as it was explained with the animus, didnt bother me any more. plus i really liked the mystery behind it. which is kinda gone now when you think about it..


    << LINK REMOVED >><< LINK REMOVED >> i really thought the animus was a stroke of gaming genius. it pretty much helps justify the hud elements and things we usually just take for granted because we're playing a video game - and allows us to completely change the setting every game. what is not to like?


    Bigger crowds? Great, more people to bump into when I free run.

    Not that every AC game going forward must have ships to be successful, but I get the feeling that despite its next-gen pedigree, Unity will disappoint. Then the next one after that will probably be good.


    << LINK REMOVED >> thats what im saying


    I am not excited about ACU, unlikely that I will even buy it unless it is just really amazing. The assassin thing gets boring after awhile and ACBF had the naval thing there to break that up. This next game sounds like a step back to the same ole same ole. Being set in Paris the management minigame should be built around a brothel.


    << LINK REMOVED >> lol....replace ships with banging skanks


    "Let them eat next-gen." I'm still cracking up at that!


    Make the exact same game and i will still buy it year from year add new weapons, moves, and setting good enough for moi haha see what i did there ahhh


    << LINK REMOVED >> That's because you were probably paid off to say that.


    Give me a decent historical based story, make stealth more important and improve the free climb controls. That'll do me.


    The only thing that bothers me about the AC series is the combat. It too darn simple. I can kill an entire army with the game's weakest weapons. There should be a reason to buy better weaponry in the game. However stealth was improved in Black Flag.


    << LINK REMOVED >> Being able to just murder an entire army kinda kills the need to stealth


    << LINK REMOVED >><< LINK REMOVED >> in ac3 one time I sat by the docks and disarmed everyone and killed them with there own weapon for like 2 hours until there were literally dead redcoats covering the floor as far as I could see....it was hilarious...but really unrealistic.


    Who says it's landlocked? The guy on GAF that leaked AC Unity weeks ago said it would be Paris, England (London?) and a villa/town with management minigame.

    If thats true that would mean there is either a landmap between paris and the coast or a fast travel option between London and Paris OR ship gameplay between the locations.


    << LINK REMOVED >> like ac1....but you had a horse remember that? that was sick


    I highly doubt Ubisoft will make another AC as fun as Black Flag anytime soon. Black Flag was incredible because it was so irrelevant to the series as a whole. It was the breath of fresh air people were looking for.


    I have to say AC4 really got me back into the series after I promised myself I'd never play another after AC3. You don't need a ship or naval battles to make things fresh...yes that's what did it in 4, but that's not the only way. I think more freedom in how stealth and combat is handled would be a great way to make a landlocked entry feel like a step forward. No more prompts and forced paths...just freedom to do things right, and AI smart enough to react to your improvisation. Also...I'm still waiting for an AC entry in east Asia...anywhere in east Asia.


    I wonder if it will have loads of dodgy 'Allo 'Allo accents


    ac 4 succeeded, because it was a hybrid of sid meier's pirates and assassin's creed, which was beautifully implemented, it is the only ac game i got myself to complete, the sheer amount of activities you could do took away the boredom of repetition (imho, unlike the former ac titles)...

    i hope ubisoft can keep up inventing new mechanics not for the series to become stale... :)


    Changes I would love to see (but probably won't):

    - Take out the counter attack button or ameliorate it (make it so that it should be perfectly timed so its harder to perform a counter). It makes the combat repetitive and unenjoyable devoid of any challenge.

    -Make a better stealth system, the current state of the stealth system is.....crouching into grass and trying to hide and for a game flauting an assassin as its main focal point, it is completely unacceptable. Get new stealth mecahnics in, if its dark its harder to see you, the floors make noice depending on whether you run or walk etc.. Basic stealth mechanics, its perplexing how these are missing from an assassin game.

    -Take out chain kills, makes an already lacklustre and uninteresting combat system worse.

    -Make the player fear failure of getting caught, this is something Theif and Dishonoured pull of very well. If you get caught in a restricted area, there must be repercussions. In assassin's creed you can take out an entire outpost with counter attacks. No, we are playing as an assassin not Rambo.

    -Make the non-animus sections more enticing or remove them. They have been pathetic in all the games, use these sections for character building for the new protagonist and the people he interacts with. This will increase the connnection the player has with the characters. Just like how Assassin's Creed 2 built the relationship between Lucy and Desmond in the non-animus sections.

    -PUT A GOD DAMN CROUCH BUTTON!! How many times I've stupidly fumbled over the controls, pressing each button in haste so I can take cover instead of having my character foolishly walk INSIDE in an enemy outpost!

    -Get an equilibrium between the mission structure. The previous games (before 4) were too action-oreinted and although I appreciate the devs keeping more steathlier missions in Black Flag, the amount of tailing and eavesdropping would kill the pacing of the story. It was so bad, you didn't even want to play the story just go around upgrading your ship.

    -Make a good protagonist, apart from Ezio there hasn't been a single good one.


    A lot of the things you don't like I absolutely love about AC games lol we literally are the exact opposite it's hilarious


    Where AC is not among the top tier of games for me (RDR, ME), it is in the 2nd tier (Fallout, Far Cry, Borderlands), the fact that they put out a quality product every year is one of the things I look forward to. The others go 3+ years in between new games. The last game I bought was Black Flag and there isn't anything until Q3 that has me interested.

    For those of you who don't get the yearly launches, there are obviously many in the boat with me.


    not excited. Unless they start making something fresh, and making games more challenging. I am excited about Ubi's Watch Dogs however.


    "the chimney you didn't mean to jump onto, the ledge you didn't mean to leap from--have lingered around for far too long"

    OMG finally someone acknowledges this. the controls in AC are still absolute BALLS, almost every action (run/climb/jump) is mapped to 1 button. I blame consoles, even tho I play it on PC with a 360 controller.


    << LINK REMOVED >> Especially during tail missions. Ok, run to get a little closerr NO DON'T CLIMB THAT...damn.


    << LINK REMOVED >><< LINK REMOVED >> That has cost me a controller or two. So f****ing annoying!!!


    espionage system??? The way he describes this he must have just watched Clint Eastwood in

    A Fistful of Dollars :)

    Does anyone remember how Heavenly Sword, a release game for PS3 fit hundreds of enemies into a level? Because other than the latest Hitman, I don't recall such enemy density since.

    Sean's idea of assassinating someone in a crowd is an interesting idea (and it was sort of done in AC: Revelations - or was it Brotherhood?) and perhaps the new consoles have the power to do it, but there must be a reason devs have shied away from it in the past 7 years. Heavenly Sword was in my opinion the only game to make good use of the 6-axis controller as well, developing for multiple platforms certainly limits what a dev can do with their game, so maybe the particular insides of the Xbox 360 had something to do with it.

    Am I wrong? Correct me if you've seen another game render hundreds of people in the same area in the last few years.


    << LINK REMOVED >> Does Total War count?


    << LINK REMOVED >><< LINK REMOVED >> Not really because the textures etc scale a lot when you zoom in & out.


    << LINK REMOVED >> Quite recently, Dead Rising 3?


    I agree, Black Flag was a breathe of fresh air. Love the AC series. Looking forward to Unity.


    why not to make series like final fantasy? where games are same only in name. I like new settings and background story ac games bring, but am sick of becoming assassins all the time with sub standard combat and crowd melding and eagle vision and what not.


    Finally, we can return scaling enormous buildings, traversing densely populated urban areas, and exploring a new historical city environment, this is what i have come to know and love about Assassin's Creed :D


    Assassins Creed: Yawn! come on ubisoft! do you HAVE to pick the most boring time periods ever?


    @System4Ever the French Revolution is far from 'boring'. Anyway I'd like to see an Ancient Egyptian one with the main character a bad African guy fighting the oppressive rulers...the over all AC story could easily fit into Egypts myths and history as well.


    @kyelo I always thought they could do a good story with you being an assassin / British soldier at the height of their Imperialism. You could travel to places in the UK, India, Iraq, Egypt, Australia, Hong Kong or almost anywhere in Africa... the possibilities are almost endless. It wouldn't be that far of a stretch as far as ancestry either.


    << LINK REMOVED >><< LINK REMOVED >> Wouldn't it have been cool, if they chose to do an Assassin's Creed based on Muhammed of the Islam Religion!!! That would undoubtedly be controversial!


    << LINK REMOVED >><< LINK REMOVED >><< LINK REMOVED >> It wouldn't be an appropriate setting for a game.


    Aaand its banned in some regions


    << LINK REMOVED >> What I think is interesting from a "Freedom of Speach" perspective is, that a game series as AC, that continuously bashes the catholic church and greek orthodoxy (in revelations) is NOT banned in western countries.

    However some strict muslim countries promptly responds and bans. Even though portrayal of muslim is nowhere near the portrayal of historical christian figures.

    A good case showing that we still are worlds apart.


    << LINK REMOVED >> Yeah, I'd like to see them take some serious risk haha


    how about fixing glitches that have been in AC since AC2? For that matter, how about making it a true Assassins Creed game, without resetting the area, forced scripting or incorporating a dozen Prince of Persia sections?

    Consider that the AC series went downhill from AC2 Brotherhood.


    I don't know why but somehow developers decide to take steps backwards sometimes. To me it's a paradox.




    I'm interested in Unity.

    AC3 felt pretty flat. I don't think the setting lent itself that well to an AC game even though it was an interesting period of history.


    I would be excited for this game, if it was 2009!


    Glad to see that they are moving away from all the naval stuff. I liked AC4 but it felt much more like a pirate simulator than an AC game. AC3 was mostly a land based game but it had naval stuff in there that just felt kind of forced. So I am happy to see that this game is going back to the series' roots of land based gameplay with giant buildings to climb and tons of crowds to walk through :D