"No target is unreachable. If you can't find a weakness to exploit, make one. Opportunity is everywhere, it's on you to take it." These are the words of Pierre Bellec, the master assassin who brings me into the brotherhood in Assassin's Creed Unity. Bellec sets me up for my first big assassination mission, and with these words in mind, I'm looking for ways to infiltrate the Notre-Dame cathedral and get to my target. I haven't played this game in a little under six years, but as I make my way through a crowded street to steal a key off a guard, I'm reminded of just why it is that I'm back here again after so long. I want to feel immersed in my role as a hooded stealthy assassin, and there's no better way to do that than by experiencing the black box missions that were first introduced in Arno's adventures through Paris during the French revolution.
My desire to return Unity was unexpectedly sparked by the recent Assassin's Creed Valhalla Siege of Paris DLC. The expansion includes infiltration missions, which are Ubisoft's modernized take on the black box missions found in 2014's Assassin's Creed Unity and 2015's Syndicate. For the uninitiated, these missions essentially present you with the freedom to explore your surroundings and discover opportunities that can be exploited to make the most of your skills. By uncovering useful information, finding helpful items, or creating diversions, you can open paths to perform a rather stylish and dramatic assassination that's more memorable that your standard backstab. So, with Valhalla's expansion reigniting my love for this style of mission, I decided to go back to where it all began in Unity.
The past is your playground
In the opening minutes of Assassin's Creed Unity, you're in a sort of virtual portal as a voice introduces you to Abstergo: Helix, the software that allows you to relive moments in history. The narrator says "the past is your playground", and I can't think of a better way to describe black box missions. By presenting you with the freedom to decide how you want to bring your target's life to an end, the infiltration area really is like a playground where you can experiment and have free reign over what route you take. It also makes these missions feel more immersive since it gives you the sense that you're more in control of how the assassination plays out. There has always been an element of freedom when it comes to taking out a target in Assassin's Creed, but the black box-style missions feel arguably more inventive and satisfying overall.
As I perch outside Notre-Dame and eye a soldier down below who holds some valuable information, I assess the scene around me and take note of other opportunities nearby. Sivert is the poor fellow I need to strike with my hidden blade, but he's right at the heart of the cathedral with plenty of guards close by. At the beginning of each mission like this, you're shown your objectives just like Valhalla's take on infiltration missions, but there are some key differences. In the absence of being able to use a raven or eagle to fly overhead to show you useful spots, Unity outlines some tips which tell you how many entrances you can find and make use of, as well as how many unique ways you can kill your target. In this instance, there's only one unique way to get rid of Sivert, and it's up to me to find out how.
Since it's been such a long time since I did this mission, everything feels fresh and new again, and I'm entirely drawn in as I try to work out how to get inside the Notre-Dame. Once I've found a key that opens some access points high up, I stumble upon a unique opportunity to get close to my target, and I can hardly wait to try and pull it off. See, Sivert is going to confession in the cathedral to converse with a contact I got rid of moments earlier, and now I'm the one who will bring him some peace.
Running up along the rafters of Notre-Dame, I land in an all too conveniently placed haystack below… Why a haystack is here is anyone's guess, but I'm not complaining. Once I sneak my way into the neighboring stall, my hidden blade pierces through the gaps of the confessional window with a single button press and strikes Sivert with a deadly blow. I exit out of the confessional and see the blood begin to seep out from under the curtain of the enclosed stall – it's time for a swift exit before the guards catch on. Disappearing without a trace, I can't help but revel in just what transpired; that's certainly one memorable way to accomplish my goal. With the first assassination now behind me, I run through the streets of Paris and feel a swell of excitement as I think about the prospect of rediscovering what other unique opportunities await me in future missions.
Learn secrets and bring peace
After the first few missions, I feel like I'm getting a handle on Unity again, but I have to admit it's quite strange to return to an older entry in the Assassin's Creed franchise. After losing myself in Assassin's Creed Valhalla for months, I can really see how much the series has developed and grown over the years, but I'm surprised by just how much I've been enjoying rediscovering some of Unity's features. Sure, it's still a little ropey at times, the map is harder to read than some of the later games, and the controls can be fiddly – it even crashed on me when I dipped back into it – but it still looks great most of the time, and the assassination missions present some interesting challenges. It's sometimes hard to believe that it was released almost seven years ago.
One of the features I really appreciate is Unity's progress tracker, which allows you to revisit missions you've played through before to see if you can achieve all of the optional objectives. It's especially useful when it comes to the big assassination missions, which feel like they're designed to be replayed since they often present various ways to take out your target. I find myself going back to missions just to experiment and see how I could go about things differently, and it's a feature I wish I could make use of in Assassin's Creed Valhalla's to easily replay infiltration missions in Siege of Paris.
I can't say I ever expected Assassin's Creed Valhalla's latest expansion to convince me to play Assassin's Creed Unity again, but I'm certainly not mad about it. Despite the reception Unity initially received at launch – issues with optimization and stability on all platforms – I do remember enjoying my time with Arno all those years ago, and it's been quite a nostalgic trip down memory lane returning to the adventure in 2021. Even with its flaws, Unity really has hammered home just how great the black box missions were and still are. And with the welcome return of this style of assassination in Valhalla's Siege of Paris expansion, I hope the black box missions continue to appear in the future.
For more, check out our ranking of the best Assassin's Creed games.