Book Review – Assassin’s Creed Unity
Abstergo Entertainment: Employee Handbook
Author: Christie Golden
Publisher: Insight Editions
Length: 152 Pages
At first when I was sent the Abstergo Entertainment: Employee Handbook (which I’ll just refer to as the Handbook from now on for the sake a brevity) I thought I was being sent a book, like the expanded universe books that exist for this series, and when I received this in the mail I was surprised at the size and weight of it. Instead of a novel the Handbook is instead a mix of extended universe fiction but also an art book and a semi-interactive puzzle. That’s actually a really cool idea conceptually, to build on and add to a game with a book that provides more background to the story while also working as an art book that exists within the context of the existing universe. The question is how well the book manages to pull this concept off?
For starters let’s talk about the quality of the Handbook. It’s a grey hardcover book with thick covers and the size of your average coffee table book and embossed with the logo of Abstergo Entertainment. The pages within are of high quality glossy stock similar to that of the Assassin’s Creed Black Flag art book I reviewed for the site previously. The beginning of the book starts with some art of Arno, the main character of Assassin’s Creed Unity, and a letter directed to the simply addressed Agent, a fictional new hire of Abstergo Entertainment. The Agent is a member of the Templars and is being assigned with going through the files of Robert Fraser, a research analyst who had previously been working on the Arno Dorian case but was overwhelmed by the ‘bleeding’ effect and attempted to destroy his own research.
This is an interesting beginning and a great way to tie in the content in the book with the game. The page itself is designed to look like an official letterhead memo complete with signature and carbon copy information. Oddly it’s designed to appear as though it was paper clipped onto the Handbook, but through illustration only, when later in the book there are pages glued, taped or post it note stuck to further give the appearance of a work file. Not sure why they didn’t just use an actual paperclip here or elsewhere in the book for consistency sake, though there are a lot of faux paperclips in the book and maybe that would’ve been too much.
After that the reader is tasked through the persona of Agent to read on through the childhood and imprisonment sections. Prior to those sections though you get a letter of welcome from your supervisor and some information about Abstergo Entertainment. I’m not sure why but the Animus also gets referred to as the Helix project back and forth because the Helix project is apparently the name of the entertainment branch of the use for the Animus. There’s a mission statement for Abstergo sort of glued onto one of the following pages which detail the history of the company and some images of workstations and the building, which look like reused material from the last art book.
There’s a NDA for Fraser listed with the dubious line that punishments for violating the agreement can include termination and memory removal, which I’m fairly sure isn’t an industry standard though after the London information breach I’m thinking that Ubisoft wishes they had included it. There’s some fun PR about different Abstergo products that are being worked on along with a detailed description of the Animus and what it’s about if you haven’t been paying attention to any of the past games. In particular I enjoyed the photo of the original Animus prototype called the Memoriam 2000 which looked like a dentist chair hooked up to old computers.
After that is a section that goes over the previous protagonists and antagonists of the series with amusing descriptions of them as viewed by the Templars. For example Ezio is described as being a young man who after suffering a family tragedy spiraled into a maelstrom of revenge, perversion and violence. The work in progress stuff is cute as well, though I would totally pay for the Wounded Dragon, Rising Phoenix game as detailed.
From then on it’s a detailed account of Arno from Assassin’s Creed Unity as told through art, descriptions of other characters in the game, and notes from Robert Fraser the analyst who ended up getting a little too into his research. There are some heavy lined sketches, many of which are attributed to be by Robert Fraser, and what I’m assuming was concept art for the game. As it goes there are little warning signs that Robert is slipping deeper into the bleeding effect before bringing up even greater concerns which I will not detail here though are interesting to think about as something that could play a bigger part of future Assassin’s Creed games.
The end section tries to tie together Abstergo, the Templar’s, the Sages, the aliens, the pieces of Eden, triple helix DNA and what the point of all of this is and it’s a really weird turn from the rest of the book which has more to do with the goofy Gordian knot story line that exists in the background of the games than with the Handbook. It does a good job attempting to make sense of the weird stuff introduced throughout the series that feels like an afterthought in the series of games right now.
As a complimentary piece I think that if anything it should have been bundled with the game since it provides a unique perspective from the Templar point of view and actually attempts to make sense of out a long plot arc that hasn’t been the focus of the series since maybe Assassin’s Creed 3. If a complimentary piece does more to inform the audience of what is going on with the story and builds more towards future events than the main body of work then you should really reevaluate your priorities. For that reason it’s certainly worth any Assassin’s Creed fan to check out though new comers to the series may not get some of the humor thrown in or many of the references made at the beginning and end of the Handbook. Conceptually I felt that this stayed a little too close to being an art book and not enough of a separate narrative. At times it felt like the middle parts were a long advertisement for Unity talking about how cool and epic the character or his love life was, when at the end of the book instead I felt less inclined to play Unity because it felt like the book covered what I most needed to know in order to skip the game and catch the next one. I wish it had done a little more with the stuff it stuck into the books, some QR codes and little stuff added some additional atmosphere to the narrative of the Handbook only I wish there was some further way to interact with the fiction presented, like an email to submit a report to as this fictional Agent or anything that might’ve connected the book into the fiction more instead of just being a passive audience to what it was presenting.
Short Attention Span Summary:
Great concept, interesting book that adds more to the story running through the Assassin’s Creed series than any of the last three games and attempt to make sense of the corner the series has written itself into. If you’re a fan the art alone makes it a worthy addition, the additional narrative is just icing on the cake. I would like to see further attempts made at this sort of expanded content in a way that expands on the concept in the future if they continue to do these sort of books.