How the Assassinations in Assassin's Creed Unity Encourage Patience and Creativity
Plan of attack.
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The original Assassin's Creed was a polarizing game, but one thing I always enjoyed about it was the way the actual assassinations worked. You had your target, you had a bit of hostile territory to sneak through, and beyond that it was really up to you how to take out your foe. Recent games have focused much more on the narrative context of these kills, often forcing you to take someone out in a very specific way in order to further the narrative.
Well, Assassin's Creed Unity looks to be moving away from that. Its assassinations, nicknamed "black box missions" by the development team at Ubisoft Montreal, look like a return to the more sandbox-driven approach of old..but with some modern twists. In the example I saw for Gamescom 2014, protagonist Arno had to take out a slimy fellow named Sivert. Overlooking the Notre Dame, Arno is free to take stock of his surroundings and observe Sivert's actions, climbing about to get a better vantage point or tailing up close to see who he talks to before deciding when and where to go for the lethal blow. Arno can explore the entirety of the Notre Dame's interior and exterior, as well as a decent chunk of its surrounding environs, giving you a big space to work with as you keep tabs on your constantly moving target.
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There are two key differences between these black box missions and the way assassinations functioned back in the original Assassin's Creed. For one thing, there are a lot more contextual clues for you to pick up on that could influence how you pursue your target. According to Ubisoft, that could mean eavesdropping for potentially useful information, or searching around for ways to access hidden access points. Seeing the demo play out, I was almost reminded of classic Hitman: you're rewarded for being patient and observing, blending into a crowd of people as you search for ways to exploit the environment as best you can. Those means of exploitation can change as your target continues moving about, so you need to be flexible and adaptive in your task.
Here's how this particular demo played out: Arno began by following Sivert closely enough to discover that he had a clandestine meeting planned with an associate of his, so clandestine that they were going to meet in a confessional booth inside the cathedral. Once Arno figured that out, he set out to find the associate, quickly remove him from the equation, then snuck into the Notre Dame to wait for his target. You can probably imagine what happened from there. (Hint: It involved one very messy confessional booth.)
The advantage to this assassination is that it's done in secret, behind closed doors, and with no witnesses save for the poor guy who walks in to atone for his latest indiscretion only to find a corpse in his seat. That's a part of Ubisoft's focus on the exfiltration side of assassinations. In the original game, a kill triggered a long conversation between Altair and the target, followed by a checkpoint. That meant you could pretty much rush toward your target, land a sloppy kill, and know that the toughest part was over and you could brute force your way to safety after enough attempts.
In Unity, Ubisoft wants to make players work for it a little harder. Players won't succeed in an assassination until they've made a full getaway. There were plenty of times in the demo where Arno, lurking above his target up in the rafters of the cathedral or outside on the rooftops, could have simply done a vertcal takedown on Sivert. But that meant staging a murder amidst a crowd of people and, more importantly, guards. Now that Ubisoft claims it's focused on making combat much more challenging in this game, that may not be the best approach.
My hope is that this really encourages players to consider every stage of the takedown, from beginning to middle to end. As much as I enjoy Assassin's Creed games, they've only really every focused on the first two parts of that trio. Then again, this was a hands-off demo and I can't really say for sure until I've had the chance to try it for myself. But so far, I really like how much more open and sandboxy these black box missions are. This might just be a next-gen Assassin's Creed game in more ways than one.
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