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Assassin’s Creed Unity is free on PC to highlight Notre-Dame and encourage donations

Players may climb the spire toppled by Monday’s blaze

Assassin’s Creed Unity concept art - Arno climbing the flying buttresses of Notre-Dame de Paris
Concept art of Notre-Dame de Paris in Assassin’s Creed Unity.
Ubisoft Montreal/Ubisoft
Owen S. Good is a longtime veteran of video games writing, well known for his coverage of sports and racing games.

Assassin’s Creed Unity is free for Windows PC on the Ubisoft Store for the next week, because the 2014 game prominently features Notre-Dame de Paris among its many landmarks. The 856-year-old Gothic cathedral burned on Monday, transfixing millions worldwide.

Ubisoft also announced a €500,000 donation to aid the restoration and reconstruction of Notre-Dame. “In addition, we want to give everyone the chance to experience the majesty and beauty of Notre-Dame the best way we know how,” Ubisoft said in announcing the free game.

“Video games can enable us to explore places in ways we never could have otherwise imagined,” the company said. “We hope, with this small gesture, we can provide everyone an opportunity to appreciate our virtual homage to this monumental piece of architecture.”

Assassin’s Creed Unity was set during the French Revolution, a time in which the cathedral was vandalized and burglarized. A major set-piece takes place in Notre-Dame — protagonist Arno Dorian stalks and assassinates the Templar Sivert there.

Notre-Dame’s appearance in the game was constructed by Caroline Miousse of Ubisoft Montreal. In a 2014 interview on Ubisoft’s blog, Miousse noted that the cathedral’s spire, in the game, was different from the one that was toppled by Monday’s fire.

The cathedral’s original spire was removed in the mid-17th century after being damaged by wind. Miousse gave it a historically inaccurate version of the modern spire, which was rebuilt in the mid-1800s following a surge of public interest generated by Victor Hugo’s novel The Hunchback of Notre-Dame.

“Notre Dame is kind of a key point of the Paris skyline,” Miousse said at the time. “You see it and can recognize it immediately, and part of that is due to the massive spire.”

The wooden spire and roof suffered the most damage in Monday’s blaze; nearly all of it was consumed by fire, but French officials have since said the cathedral’s stonework structure remains intact. Numerous treasures and antiquities were saved; an investigation is ongoing, but authorities believe the cause to be an accident.

The New York Times reported Wednesday that nearly $950 million has been pledged toward Notre-Dame’s rebuilding. The French government on Tuesday set up a portal directing interested donors to four foundations collecting contributions for the cathedral’s restoration. Ubisoft encouraged others to donate as well. President Emmanuel Macron set the goal of rebuilding Notre-Dame within five years.

In 2017, Ubisoft Montreal developed Discovery Tour for Assassin’s Creed Origins, to be used as a teaching tool showing the history of ancient Egypt in and around Alexandria. Maxime Durand, the series’ historian, said that teachers and professors had asked for a version of the game without its narrative or violence, so that its historical settings could be appropriately brought into a classroom. Discovery Tour was a free add-on for any who owned the game, and a $19.99 stand-alone purchase on PC.

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