AC3 was my first Assassin’s Creed. As I was playing through, I just happened to be drinking a Sam Adams Boston Lager on the chapter where my character met the actual Samuel Adams (or a video game facsimile thereof.) When Black Flag rolled around, I decided to keep the tradition going by working my way through an economically-priced bottle of brown rum. Gaming has never felt so warm and fuzzy. So now that I’m traipsing around le gay Paris, I should probably go find a nice red wine. Anyway…
You know who else is probably drinking right now in relation to Assassin’s Creed Unity? Ubisoft. (Zing.)
The problems surrounding the ACU launch have been myriad from technical glitches (http://bit.ly/11jOept) to Embargo-Gate!!! (http://bit.ly/1pNOSXn) to perhaps the most damning accusation of all (http://onforb.es/1sEEM6E). Now the latest AC-related news is about Ubisoft’s falling stock price ( http://yhoo.it/1zNe7w6 ).
I’ve been playing ACU this week and while my experience with the game hasn’t been quite so negative, I can hear the franchise creaking under the weight of the developer ambition and player expectation that’s been placed upon it.
This game is bursting at the seems with ideas. There’s four different currency systems based on in-game money, in-game progress, in-game assassiny progress and real-world money. The real-world money is, of course, the infamous micro-transaction time-saver boosts (Well, I think once you exceed the price of the game, it should be called macro-transactions.) There’s a (free) companion app with its own missions, unlocks and micro-transactions in the form of a “premium” upgrade to the app available for $1.99. There’s a tie-in to the cross-AC-game Assassin’s Creed Initiates web app that I still don’t completely understand.
Here’s the problem: there’s so much going on and the game does a piss-poor job of explaining it to you. My level is too low to do this in-game quest, but I have no idea what to do about it. Do I need to progress more in the story? Do I simply need to purchase more upgrades? Is it tied to my AC Initiates level or is it a separate ACU level? I can’t open that chest until I play the companion app, but I’ve been doing that all morning and I still can’t open the chest. For a series that has always been free and open, where I can just take a break from the story for a while and clear all of these activity icons off my map, this entry feels very limiting.
There’s also the technical side of things. I honestly feel that Ubi has gone and Molyneux’d themselves here (referring to Peter Molynuex, formerly of Lionhead Studios, who is famous in the gaming industry for overpromising and underdelivering.) Ubisoft made such a big deal about the tech specs this time; about how this was the AC game that could only be done on new gen consoles whilst slamming the door in the face of poor Nintendo, of whom Ubi had been a big supporter up to this past year. They made such a big deal of the technical prowess required for the crowd dynamics. In the end, what they delivered (late, I might add) is graphics that are good, but not great (the hair looks horrible); crowds that stand around awkwardly gawping at you rather than behaving independently and realistically; and load times that are just too long. Oh, and the game engine is glitchy as hell too.
Now typically, I don’t care about any of this. Tech specs really don’t mean that much to me. That’s why it took so long for me to jump on the HD train. But, choo-choo, baby. I’m onboard now. If you’re going to make a big deal about something, you damn well better be able to deliver on it.
AC3 felt like a bunch of random game systems thrown together into one experience. I don’t know why I’m crafting a Glass Armonica, but sure, whatever. AC: Black Flag felt like a nice, cohesive pirate game, even if the assassin connection felt tacked on. ACU feels like they wanted to push hard in the cross-platform, micro-transaction, multiplayer and technical areas all at the same time. It feels like a game made by committee with managerial oversight out the yang, which is why, I suspect, it was deemed that whatever the issues may be, this game would not be delayed again – or else. Assassin’s Creed is a on a yearly release cycle. This game will not slip into 2015. Pay no attention to that other AC game releasing this year that we decided to limit to last gen consoles only.
A lot has been said on our show and elsewhere about player expectations. Nick made an excellent point a few weeks back about people simply wanting to get what they feel they’ve paid for. And I get that. If you’re gaming on a high-end system you want a product that showcases what that system can do. But even more that that, I think gamers are ultimately willing to forgive some resolution loss, texture detail or an app tie-in for a game that works. At launch. Without massive patching.
Ubisoft showed considerable wisdom in this area last year when they determined that Watch_Dogs would be delayed into Spring 2014. They caught some flack for it and their stock price took a hit, but ultimately it proved a good decision, which is why it is so vexing that Unity doesn’t measure up. As a wise, legendary developer once said, “A delayed game is eventually good, a rushed game is bad forever.” Whether you wholly agree with that quote or see it as a poetic approximation, one thing remains clear: Assassin’s Creed: Unity was a rushed game.