The Storming of the Bastille on 14 July 1789 by a crowd of Parisian citizens became an important symbol for the Republican movement during the French Revolution. The Bastille is one of a number of landmarks represented in Assassin’s Creed Unity’s fictionalised version of revolutionary Paris.
In the interests of expedience and game design, it’s a chopped up, distorted and frequently anachronistic version of Paris, which privileges monumental structures, stereotypes and interesting ways of traversing the city. Yet for its compromises, it’s also the most impressive virtual recreation of the city we’ve ever seen. Corporeal Paris remains on our list of places to visit, but for Bastille Day we revisited the world of 2014’s Assassin’s Creed Unity.
Although destroyed by revolutionaries shortly before Unity’s narrative begins, the Bastille is an iconic part of the game’s interpretation of revolutionary Paris.
Originally built during the Hundred Years War, the Bastille had become by the late 18th century a prison for upper-class dissidents and a symbol of royal authority. The crowd that arrived at the Bastille on 14 July 1789 demanded the surrender of weapons stored inside and the release of remaining prisoners. A violent confrontation resulted in its capitulation.
Notre-Dame de Paris
The medieval Catholic cathedral Notre-Dame is a major landmark on the Île de la Cité, an island on the river Seine at the centre of the city. According to Ubisoft, the digitalised Notre-Dame de Paris at the heart of the game was the result of 5,000 hours of graphic design and modelling. Notably, it features spires that did not exist on the cathedral at the time.
Following the fire which devastated parts of the Cathedral on 15 April 2019, Ubisoft released a Virtual Reality tour called Notre-Dame de Paris: Journey back in time. It enabled virtual access to ten different parts of the building, from the nave and transept to the roof.
Palais de la Cité
The Palace that embraces the Gothic church Sainte Chapelle (“Holy Chapel”) and the Conciergerie, the former prison, can also be found in Ubisoft’s interpretation of the city. In the game’s fiction, the conspiratorial Parisian Brotherhood of Assassins have their headquarters beneath Sainte-Chapelle.
The layout of Paris in Unity is different to that of the historical city. The major landmarks are all in familiar places, but the overall scale is adjusted. The relative distance between the Palais de la Cité and Notre-Dame feels remarkably consistent, however. Other sites from the Île de la Cité represented in the game include Place Dauphine and the Equestrian Statue of Henri IV beside Pont Neuf.
Palace of Versailles
Located 12 miles southwest of Paris, the Palace of Versailles was the principal residence of the French monarch. It was also the childhood home of Unity’s protagonist Arno Dorian. We visit the Palace three times during the narrative of the game. The last time we explore it, the Palace has been vandalised following the Women’s March of Versailles.
On 5 October 1789 a crowd breached the Palace, motivating the royal family to flee to the Tuileries in Paris. Versailles’ recreation was the work of Jean-Francois Duval. With the game’s rich static interior lighting, it’s cognizant of the extravagance with which Versailles was regarded prior to the revolution.
Holy Innocents’ Cemetery
Formerly the oldest and largest cemetery in Paris, the Holy Innocents’ Cemetery was closed in 1780 due to overuse. From 1786, corpses were exhumed and nightly transported to a part of the network in the city’s subterranean mines now known as the Catacombs.
In Unity, the ground in the cemetery overflows with human remains unearthed by gravediggers. In reality, the cemetery was replaced by a herb and vegetable market after the church was destroyed in 1787.
Luxembourg Palace was originally designed as the residence of the regent Marie de’ Medici between 1615 and 1645, but by the late 1700s it had become a museum. After serving as a prison and the seat of the French Directory, it became the first residence of Napoleon Bonaparte in 1799.
Many of the interiors in Assassin’s Creed Unity’s Paris can be explored, including those of Luxembourg Palace. Strolling around, you’ll hear nobles speak with each other in French, whispered through inexplicable English accents.
The Avenue des Champs Elysees features in Assassin’s Creed Unity, but it’s missing the famous Arc de Triomphe that was only completed in 1836 at the western end. It had been commissioned by Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte in 1806, following his victory at Austerlitz.
While the architecture in Unity feels consistent with what we would expect of the time, it’s much more open. Its roofs have been shortened, while alleys that are wide and brightly illuminated would probably be cramped and quite dark. Episodic violence took place during the revolution, but Paris was also a more communal place than is depicted in Unity, with perhaps fewer spontaneous assassinations by skulking conspiracists.