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Trying to Make Sense of Assassin's Creed: Unity's Main Character

Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw | 2 Dec 2014 16:00
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Over the years I guess I've inadvertently gotten invested in Assassin's Creed, just from having to play them all as they come out. Sure, if it keeps going the way it's going the good ones will start getting outweighed by the bad, but there's a cruel tendency of the human brain to become invested in a story and its characters, not because of its high quality, but because you've become familiar with them. Hence the continued existence of most American soap operas.

So believe it or not, I did take an interest in Assassin's Creed Unity's plot, and there are still a couple of things that bother me about it. SPOILER WARNING! Gonna be talking about the entire plot, so if you haven't played through the game because you're waiting for the 73 patches necessary to make it playable, then consider yourself warned.

For starters, I kinda liked that the main character, Arno, doesn't really fit in with the Assassin crowd. He's got straight-A's on the practical element but consistently fails on the theory. Most Assassin's Creed games tend to paint the Assassins as always righteous, and that being the best Assassin they can be is the ultimate goal for the protagonist to strive for, but Unity paints the Assassins as kinda out-of-touch and more than a little culty. They've let the ceremony and the ritual get in the way of their efficiency and core principles, and their lack of a serious threat makes them descend into infighting. All of which makes sense for the setting, since for once the downtrodden masses are fighting back of their own accord, and the Assassins are free to sit back, leave them to it, and catch up on some reading.

But since Arno fails to totally buy into the Assassin's shit, he eventually gets drummed out of the Assassins (although they let him keep all the murder tools they gave him, which seems like a bit of an oversight), leaving him free to pursue his personal goal involving his Templar girlfriend. That's all cool, nice twist on the formula and all that, but here's the bit that bothers me: After completing the story campaign, there's a bit of a time lapse, and suddenly Arno is not only an Assassin again but a Master Assassin. I'm not quite seeing how this added up. Fill in the blank: Disgraced Assassin -- embittered drunk -- Templar aide -- ??? -- Master Assassin. I feel like it's getting back to the black-and-white "being the best Assassin is the be all and end all" thing, which felt anti-climactic for a plot about grey areas.

arno and elise in ac unity

First of all, I'm not clear on what motive the Assassin order has for taking Arno back in. You'd think an ancient and highly secretive order tightly bound by strict ideology, who have "murdering people for being slightly in the way" at the very core of their tenets, would be a little more hard-line about takebacks, especially ones who are knocking boots with the enemy. Furthermore, I'm not clear on what motive Arno has for wanting to get back in. Literally the only reason he had was because his dad used to be one, I never saw much evidence of him fervently believing in the ideology. Maybe he just suffers from massive, cripplingly unhealthy daddy issues. That makes some sense, considering that, in the course of the game's plot, he has a worse track record with father figures than Peter Parker.

And the other thing that kinda bothered me was the whole acknowledgement of the bridging future plot. The game takes it another step closer to the meta-zone and now the game is presented as something we, the player, are ourselves playing in our fictional future living room, and the future Assassins address us directly, it's like that video they used to make you watch before you went on the Back to the Future ride at Universal Studios.

Ostensibly we are being shown the events of Arno's life in order to persuade us to the Assassin cause, but I was of the understanding that being an Assassin is a hereditary thing, you have to have the special gene that lets you see the magic writing on the wall, they don't enlist random plebs. And I find something very suspect about the way they inform you that, by viewing their material, you will be a member of the Assassins, no argument. It reminded me of that rather obnoxious habit of certain social justice types to attempt to dictate to people what interest groups they have to belong to. This seems like a very efficient way to spill all your order's secrets and recruit potentially disloyal members.

arno character in ac unity

Well, maybe they already background-checked us offscreen and decided we were a candidate. Really, my main issue with the future plot in Unity is how utterly token it has become. Didn't the future plot of the Assassin's Creed series used to have a sort of serial narrative going on, like it was building up to something? That was certainly the case during the Future Desmond saga, and perhaps I should have appreciated him while he lasted, because ever since he died (oh yeah, spoiler alert: he died) the overarching plot has been going nowhere fast. Black Flag was almost trolling us in this regard: the future plot spent the whole game pretending to be going somewhere, and then at the end it was all like "Psyche! Nothing happens." Unity doesn't even have that, it's just "Hey! We're the future Assassins! Templars bad, grr. You just have a good ol' think on that." The whole future situation has been reduced to a slacktivist 'raising awareness' campaign.

Oh, I know perfectly well why this is the case, it's because Ubisoft want to keep this gravy train rolling and don't want to even slightly commit themselves to a hypothetical conclusion to the series. But that disappoints me. Assassin's Creed seems to be one of the very few franchises that has an unfractured continuity. Most other current triple-A property either does a whole new story and characters each time (as in Call of Duty and Far Cry) or has already taken a hit or two on the reboot pipe. Even franchises that do have consistent characters (like Resident Evil, say) rarely have much in the way of serial narrative ongoing from game to game. Assassin's Creed switches up heroes and time periods a lot, but the whole bridging story has kept some kind of continuity going. There are characters and situations that have continually grown and developed.

Either we're doing the future thing or we're not. I'd prefer, Assassin's Creed, if you'd just make a clean break, not string us along with the occasional flirt and vague promises of getting together for lunch real soon now. I have quite enough uncomfortable reminders of my mid-twenties love life around.

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