Assassin’s Creed Unity, the latest entry in the video game franchise that lets you take control of a hooded murderer murdering history people during history, has been catching a lot of flak for populating a game set in Paris during the French Revolution with a cast of British accents. Not just a few here and there, mind you. The entirety of Unity’s gorgeously rendered Paris is populated seemingly exclusively by Brits. Going in to Unity I was prepared to call this incongruity a clause in the ever unspoken entertainer/entertained agreement. Something akin to being willing to brush aside the fact that every creature in most science fiction movies speaks English because every creature in the galaxy speaking English makes things easier on the audience. But after listening to British Parisians sprint through sporadic French words peppered into their monologues for a few hours it became pretty clear that there was really no good reason for the decision. I mean it’s not like I’m being asked to brush aside a bunch of French people speaking English in a French accent. These characters speak full on English. They speak better, more proper English than you.
Whatever the reasoning behind the bonkers decision, the nonsensical accents in Assassin’s Creed are indicative of a larger problem throughout the game.
Assassin’s Creed Unity is like a big shiny globe of a Christmas tree ornament (topical!). It’s bright and shiny but ultimately hollow, and it shatters under even the most delicate scrutiny.
The game’s open world is lavish and expansive. Time after time I’d find myself pausing on rooftops to look around at the stunning Parisian cityscape or the dense throngs of the angry citizenry conglomerating on the streets below me. Bright. Shiny. Paris is fantastic. I don’t even feel like I need to go there in real life anymore.
But Paris is all you get.
Call me jaded but the last entry in the Assassin’s Creed franchise, Black Flag, let you island hop and deep sea dive and spearfish. You could explore caves and jungles and sack fortresses and pillage the high seas. Despite my righteous liberal outrage toward the game, Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag was probably my personal favorite in the series. In Unity, you get to explore one thing. Paris. It’s vast and gorgeous and densely populated. But it’s also all you get. It’s hard for it not to feel like a huge step backwards for the franchise.
Unlike my time in Black Flag, I spent almost no time on extracurricular activities in Unity. Why would I? In Black Flag I got to hunt and kill a Great White. Unity offers the chance to solve murders by talking to a bunch of British French people and searching for clues. Optimistic, Cole. I felt little to no desire to explore on my own in Unity, which meant my experience leaned heavily on the game’s primary campaign. Which wound up being pretty unfortunate.
An introduction lets you, through the avatar of Arno Dorian, run through the storming of the Bastille. You get to join an order of Assassins in the heat of a revolution. There are guillotines! Again, bright and shiny. This game should have been thrilling.
I play games for the story. It’s what I look for to separate a serviceable game from a fantastic game. But by the time I was halfway through Unity I’d all but lost sight of why anyone was doing anything, most of all me.
Unity starts out as the story of a young man seeking revenge. Then it continues down that same road for eight more hours. Arno and his adoptive sister, the story’s two primary protagonists, are so obtusely defined by a thirst for vengeance that you’ll assume there’s more to their quest and that perhaps you’ve missed some small detail on the way. You haven’t. You definitely haven’t. By the time the game reached its emotional climax I’d been waiting for it impatiently, like a late train, for hours.
None of these things make Assassin’s Creed Unity a horrible game. After all it’s a game not a novel, and my boredom with it was largely condition. Perhaps I’d have thought more of Unity if I’d skipped over Black Flag. But Unity is a game that feels empty. It’s a game whose characters I couldn’t have cared less about. It’s a game that rests on the laurels of being really pretty.
It’s a game where all of France has a British accent.