Ubisoft's Assassin's Creed franchise has long seemed destined to head to France -- from the studio's French roots to the French Revolution's bloody history of assassinations, the chaotic conflict fit into the series' roots like a well-placed hidden blade.
Ubisoft's E3 demo, available to both the press and the general attendees, showed off the gameplay footage implied by the action seen in the game's debut trailer. After a quick tour of the area surrounding Notre Dame and the Court du Justis with the series' new hero, Arno Dorian, the developers showed off the new features that will serve to make a jump akin to Assassin's Creed 2 or 3.
The two most impressive changes revolved around the game's stealth and parkour. As our developer guide perched by the bells of Notre Dame, he showed us that in Unity, the assassins have abandoned the bales of hay in favor of quick parkour moves down the building (presumably there was a hay shortage in the French Revolution). Leaps of Faith still seem to be present in other game elements, but Ubisoft seems to be making major intrinsic shifts to parkour as a whole.
The second change reinforced the original idea of Assassin's Creed as a stealth franchise -- if the player encounters more than three enemies at a time, they will be killed. Ubisoft removed combos and chain-killing in favor of a rebuilt combat system, which encourages the player to focus on stealth and avoiding fights as much as possible. With the inclusion of a new "stealth mode" (a fancy word for crouching), Assassin's Creed finally joins the ranks of Deus Ex and Splinter Cell in the cover-based stealth genre.
To be fair to Assassin's Creed, this change goes hand in hand with their new dynamics, such as assassination missions set in elaborate French palaces designed to be entered and exited seamlessly. One of the revolution's highlights was the peasantry storming through the hovels of the rich and wealthy, and a quick co-op mission showed the assassins supporting one of these rampages to kill a foppish French noble.
The co-op Assassination missions appear as a strong replacement for the support mechanics that sprouted in Brotherhood, with players working together and moving independently in a ballet of parkour and assassinations. I'm not entirely sure why a game about the French Revolution was chosen to support this mechanic. Without full narrative justification at this time, I worry that Assassin's Creed: Unity will join the list of overstuffed features that populate the most recent Ubisoft titles (like fully functional chess).
Other small changes, like the removal of guards from the rooftops and a streamlined icon system that prevents frequent switching to your map, will go hand-in-hand with a return to the grand architecture of Europe after our voyages in the Americas. The multi-story architecture definitely evoked memories of Assassin's Creed 2, and with crowds of over 2,000 NPCs wandering the streets below, we can return to a vivid, active urban life.
While I'm still hoping for bigger, radical changes that will help keep the Assassin's Creed series fresh, or a hint of the story's thematic possibilities, the core gameplay updates seem to be moving in a solid direction and Paris looks like a worthy setting for the new game. Now, if Ubisoft would only include female assassins...