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From: The Socialist issue 835, 26 November 2014: 14 day deadline to breadline

Search site for keywords: Revolution - France - European - Feudalism

Video game review

Assassin's Creed Unity

Iain Dalton reviews Assassin's Creed Unity

This year is the 225th anniversary of the beginning of the French Revolution. It forms the backdrop to one of this year's popular Assassin's Creed series of games.

Revisionist

Unfortunately, the game follows the standard revisionist history of the revolution. It tries to separate out the early phases of the revolution (bringing "liberté, égalité, fraternité") from the 'Reign of Terror'. They show this later period merely as madness rather than the logic of an isolated revolution desperate for survival against both the armies of European feudalism and internal grain speculators.

Its skewed portrayal of the revolution drew criticism from leading figures in the Parti du Gauche (left party) in France, who call it 'propaganda' portraying the French masses as bloodthirsty murderers while showing sympathy for King Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette.

It also contrasts their treatment of the US War of Independence in Assassin's Creed III. In that game you played from the perspective of a half-Native American taking the side of the revolution, but also saw its limits, with slavery continuing and the virtual annihilation of the Native American population.

Innovative

Despite this, the heady atmosphere of revolution soaks through the game. Huge crowds line the Paris streets, in taverns revolutionary songs are sung.

Some of the side 'missions' try to slightly amend the distorted view of the revolution given by the main narrative - a mission where you solve the murder of the Jacobin Marat springs to mind.

Technically, the game pushes the boat out - both in the scale of Paris and integrating cooperative game play into it rather than a separate add-on. This is innovative, but also potentially lucrative with companion apps and websites to unlock extra features, but at a small cost.

Masses

Yet, as with most video games, the game focuses on the individual player and history revolves around them. The crowds look and feel epic, but they are largely passive rather than active participants in any struggle. A game that integrated the player with the movement of the mass would truly be groundbreaking.

As Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky commented "The most indubitable feature of a revolution is the direct interference of the masses in historical events." By these standards, Assassin's Creed Unity didn't feel revolutionary enough for me.

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Article dated 26 November 2014

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