This is part two in a series on how I was able to get a sense of nostalgia about past travels while playing the Assassin’s Creed franchise. Part one can be found here
As my previous post mentioned, traveling to London mirrors my feelings towards the AC games. It’s enjoyable, but the original appeal has dwindled for me. For a while, Ubisoft would release a new game every year, it was undeniably a cash grab. Similarly, it seems as if I am always traveling to London. Ubisoft and the city of London both keep taking my money and I keep willingly coming back, no matter how much they both frustrate me. But the point where it was cemented in me that the Assassin’s Creed franchise had lost its spark was when Unity came out in 2014.
I had always wanted a French Revolution themed game. Most European historians make the distinction between early modern history and modern history around the year 1789, when the revolution started. It was a major turning point in history, full of political and social upheaval, the French Revolution had so much potential in a franchise that uses history as its playground and weaves the protagonist’s story into major historical events so seamlessly at times. Needless to say, I was disappointed when Unity was released. It was the first Assassin’s Creed game on the next generation of consoles, I bought a Playstation 4 just so I could play it. Sadly, they did not make as much use of the rich history as they should have. I remember being angry about how major events such as the Women’s March on Versailles and Danton’s Execution were limited to uneventful multiplayer missions. The assassination of Marat was a side quest! In a franchise about assassin’s, why they wouldn’t do more with that event and Charlotte Corday baffled me.
Nonetheless, the game was enjoyable. The combat was fun and there were some pieces of equipment in the arsenal that I had way too much fun with (it was the poison gas). I remember spending hours running around Paris with my friend in multiplayer. While the plot was disappointing, it had likable enough characters that I even teared up at the end. Despite my bitching, it wasn’t a bad game. I just could have been more.
Perhaps my favorite part of the game was the setting of Paris. While the game itself looks very different from modern-day Paris as it lacks the distinctive 19th century architecture and wide boulevards that came about from Emperor Napoleon III’s 1850s restructuring. In-game, most of the streets are narrow and barricades are around every corner – part of the reason Paris now has wide boulevards was to stop people from building barricades in times of political upheaval. The Eiffel tower is nowhere to be seen and the Bastille and Tuileries Palace still stand. Yet, there are still recognizable landmarks all around. I climbed up Notre-Dame and got stuck due to a glitch – I had to restart my game to get out. I had a sword fight inside of Saint Chapelle and was finally able to see the stained glass windows at the altar. When I had visited Paris before there was restoration work so I only was able to view the windows along the aisle. It was beautiful, and had a pleasant lack of tourists.
I wandered into the catacombs and was reminded of how I felt intense embarrassment upon seeing an American family posing their kids on an altar and having them pretend to be dead. I’m sure it made a very tasteful Christmas card. I ran around a completely trashed version of Versailles and was reminded of how it was filled to the brim with people in real life. I again experienced intense embarrassment upon seeing a family whizzing around the grounds in a golf cart shouting “Excuse Moi!!!!” at the top of their lungs. Unsurprisingly, they were Americans.
Video games certainly are not a suitable substitute for travel. In video games you only interact with pixelated people, not real ones. In games you see beautiful scenery, but it doesn’t compare to the feelings on insignificance you feel when you are there in person looking at it with your own two eyes. Yeah, I can climb on top of Notre-Dame in the game, but being there in person and realizing how old it is and all of the people before you who have stepped through those doors, that is a feeling that you can’t get anywhere else. In games you can’t smell the bakery or the flower stands, you can’t feel the wind and raindrops, you can’t taste the food. No, games and any form of media never are a substitute for real life travel. But, they can remind you of how great real life travel is. By the time Unity had come out, it had been years since I had visited Paris. When I started playing that game, memories of that trip started coming back. I started thinking to myself “Paris is so cool, why haven’t I gone back yet?”
Paris is one of those cities you don’t ever forget. I have only traveled there once, and hope that I get there at least one more time in my life. If the stunning architecture and rich history aren’t enough to suck me in one more time, perhaps the baked good are. I hate sweets normally, but damn, those chocolate croissants are something else.
AN: As my trip to Paris was so long ago, I don’t have my photos on my current computer. The image used in this article is a screen cap from Assassin’s Creed Unity, 2014, Ubisoft. ign.com