The seventh entry in an annualised franchise, Assassin’s Creed Unity has to prove that it’s more than the sum of its parts to win back fans that have been slowly migrating away from Ubisoft’s biggest franchise. games™ spoke to Ubisoft Montreal’s senior producer, Vincent Pointbriant, about how Ubisoft is looking back to go forward, and how Unity is the Assassin experience players have been asking for…
“History is our playground,” Pointbriant tells us, “we try to be historically accurate as much as possible so whenever we can find a hole or something that’s not as well documented, we’ll try to exploit it. Otherwise we try to respect history and just suggest things that might have happened to explain it. So yes, it’s always a challenge, and we try to be very respectful.”
The French Revolution also treads the line of being recent enough in history to still be a sensitive matter – as with any uprising, revolutionaries were vocal in getting their message across, while nationalists were keen to make an example of uprisers; acts of brutal violence, rape, torture and execution were commonplace between 1789 and 1799 – the decade within which the Revolution is considered tied to (though there were significant developments either side of the decade, too). It’s a moral grey zone, one that Ubisoft will have to cautiously navigate.
“The French Revolution is a very complex period, there’s no clear winners or losers,” Pointbriant explains. “I mean, and there’s different events during the Revolution that were very complicated to explain, so what we did is that we used the French Revolution as just a background for the main story which is about Arno, a character [who’s role is more passive] than the likes of Forrest Gump. He’s not necessarily involved in beheading the king or any of these things; it just wouldn’t make sense and it wouldn’t feel right. But you’ll see these events that are happening there in the background, and you might be witness to them.”
It’s an altered path – a refined and more prospective route than previous Assassin’s Creed games have taken, using the chaotic setting of the game to provide a contextual framework for the narrative, rather than trying to wrangle a superficial story out of predetermined events just to justify the Assassins’ presence (remember the magic pope from Assassin’s Creed II?)
“What we do is, with each iteration of the game, we try to see what people would really like to see in a future entry, and if that is even possible,” details Pointbriant. “We managed to get two of the most requested features, actually number one and number two, [into Unity]. First, the ability to play with friends: this is what a lot of people have been asking for, waiting for. The second? The ability to craft or customize your own character.”
It seems Unity really is the result of Ubisoft putting its ear to the ground and listening to the raucous chatter of its fans – Ubisoft has been belligerent in its trek down the path in getting Black Flag where it was (the result of revisions in both Revelations and III), so to U-turn on that progression demonstrates a true desire to listen to the demands of the player.
“[Co-op and customisation aren’t] the sole focus for Unity: it’s like a refresh of the franchise. Returning to the roots, we want players to feel the fantasy of being an assassin. You know, tasked into going on an assassination, all over again. And we really wanted to have that lore explained back to players like assassins versus Templars. We’re going back to the roots. This is what Unity is all about. And then of course we’re featuring shared missions for the first time, so you can play with the brotherhood and go on assassination missions. And then of course it’s next-gen, so better graphics, better everything, more systemic stuff to do in a living, breathing sandbox.”
The full interview with Pointbriant is available in games™ issue 150, on sale now.