Gaming

10 Years Later, Ubisoft Can Finally Fix Assassin’s Creed’s Most Ambitious Game

Few games in the series deserve redemption the way Unity does.

Assassin's Creed Unity protagonist
Ubisoft

Multiple Assassin’s Creed remakes are in the works at Ubisoft, company CEO Yves Guillemot said in an interview Thursday. The announcement is yet another confounding development in the company’s ever-evolving plans for its top franchise. Yet, it's also a perfect chance to right the wrongs of the most ambitious game in the long-running series.

“Players can be excited about some remakes, which will allow us to revisit some of the games we've created in the past and modernize them,” Guillemot said in an interview published on Ubisoft’s website. “There are worlds in some of our older Assassin's Creed games that are still extremely rich.”

Guillemot’s reveal confirms that the rumored remake of Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag is happening. Since Kotaku first spilled the beans on this last year, I’ve been befuddled by this redux of the beloved pirate-themed entry. Black Flag’s glorious ship combat and sunny Caribbean vibes hold up very well a decade later, so long as one’s willing to get used to the controls and rough visuals. It being one of the most popular in the series and readily available on all modern platforms, I can’t help but wonder who this multi-million dollar remake is for.

But if Ubisoft is juggling multiple remakes, I argue that it’s Black Flag’s immediate sequel, Assassin’s Creed Unity, that is deserving of the treatment Guillemot is talking about.

The dense crowds of Assasin’s Creed Unity remain unmatched in the series.

Ubisoft

When Unity was first shown at E3 2014, it seemed like the Assassin’s Creed game of my dreams. As a history dork, the series was finally tackling the era I’d wished for since the first game: Revolution-era France. There are few periods in modern history as deadly and politically tumultuous as the French Revolution, making it the perfect backdrop for Assassins and Templars to carry out their eternal shadow feud.

Unity was billed as the first, next-gen Assassin’s Creed game, taking full advantage of the new PlayStation 4 and Xbox One’s hardware. Developer Ubisoft Montreal seemed to take good advantage of the generational leap, as the streets of Paris were filled with thousands of distressed French citizens. The series always touted social stealth mechanics like blending into the crowd. And with crowds this large, it looks like Assassin’s Creed finally had the technology to make good on such a novel concept.

Unity’s improvements didn’t stop there. It was the first game in the series to include a crouch button. Gone were the days of awkwardly standing behind walls to avoid detection, and in its place were the more modern mechanics the series always needed. Assassin’s Creed’s signature parkour was finally being perfected, with the ability to elegantly scale the environment and descend down the sides of buildings with ease.

A visual representation of Assassin’s Creed stealth before Unity.

To round out the entry’s big step forward, Unity included co-op missions. This wasn’t a tacked-on feature; it was fully integrated into the main game. The excitement was palpable, as after six straight years of annual releases, the series was finally taking meaningful chances in order to keep things fresh.

In an alternate universe, Ubisoft Montreal got an extra six months to a year to realize all of the promises Unity made during its grand reveal. And when Unity was finally complete, it would become one of the best games not only in the Assassin’s Creed series, but of the decade.

But that’s not what happened. The publisher’s annual quota meant Unity had to ship that fall. And what players got their hands on was a half-baked version of the game that showed so much promise at E3.

There are few games as frustratingly unfinished as Assassin’s Creed Unity. For every step forward it takes, there’s a heartbreaking blunder that ruins the experience.

No game has better interiors than Assassin’s Creed: Unity.

Ubisoft

Unity remains the graphical peak of the series. Its lovingly rendered, one-to-one scale recreation of Paris is still gorgeous today, as building interiors and sweeping city vistas have never looked better in all of video games. Unfortunately, its performance is completely unoptimized. Its framerate can barely keep up with the city’s scale and fidelity, or the massive crowds being rendered within.

The fine parkour control Ubisoft Montreal gave players was again, the peak of the series’ parkour, a dragon the series is still chasing today. When it works, the stunning animations combined with the player agency are nothing short of breathtaking in motion. Sadly, the parkour was left unfinished. Where players could jump and what they could grab onto in the environment is so inconsistent, ruining the flow of chases and daring rooftop escapes. Unity’s brilliant parkour mechanic is hampered by a city that wasn’t properly built to take advantage of its controls.

Even the game’s plot was a letdown. Ubisoft really tried to “both sides” the French Revolution, instead of saying anything remotely interesting about the rampant class inequality that triggered the vox populi’s forceful removal of an ineffectual monarch. It marked the first time I noticed the company’s refusal to take firm political stances on anything, even on issues that existed more than 200 years ago. It’s a trend that would continue to plague their games in the decade to follow.

Assassin’s Creed: Unity’s launch was plagued by infamous bugs like these.

Ubisoft

What hurts is all of these issues could have been solved if developers were given some time. It was a realization of what the series had been aiming to accomplish since its inception, ruined by the fickle nature of the AAA development cycle.

For years I’ve wondered what Unity would be like if developers had more time. I’ve wondered how much the series trajectory would have changed as a result. Unity’s poor reception is a big part of why the next game in the series, Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate is so underrated, and why the franchise would take a year off in 2016. It’s also why the series made a hard, lasting pivot to the RPG genre with 2017’s Assassin’s Creed: Origins.

When Guillemot talks about older games having “extremely rich” worlds, I can only think of Assassin’s Creed: Unity. In an era where remakes are rehashes for rehashes' sake, revisiting Unity could break the mold. It could make good on all of the incredible ideas it had but fell short of in execution. It could elevate a middling game to something special.

A remake of Assassin’s Creed Unity could be more than just prettier graphics and higher framerate. It’s the perfect chance to make the most ambitious game in the series reach its full potential.

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