Since the November 11th unveiling of the seventh installment in the massively popular Assassin’s Creed series, publishing giant Ubisoft has been under increasing fire from critics and gamers alike. Criticism for releasing poorly optimized games, and other “anti-consumer” practices, are nothing new for the French developer against whom similar complaints were leveled after the release of Watchdogs in May of 2014.
However, Assassin’s Creed: Unity marks what is
sure to be hopefully a low point in games this year. Even before launch developers revealed that the game would be locked in at a mere 30fps at 900p on consoles, while many other games manage to take advantage of the same hardware to deliver double the frame rate, or at least a full 1080p experience. Once the game went live, it became quickly apparent that the developer had bit off more than it could chew when it promised a vast open world game brimming with beautiful graphics and cities overflowing with unique NPCs (Non-Playable Characters).
Bugs and glitches abound, the game failed to meet even its own already low performance standards as it slows to a crawl in particularly demanding segments. Textures pop in and out of existence, seemingly at random, creating images that are somehow both horrific and hilarious. Even more damning is the PC port of the game, which performs so poorly on even the best hardware on the market, that popular games critic TotalBiscuit stated that he wouldn’t be doing a review at all due to frequent crashes making it a “waste of time”.
“The game (in its current state) is issuing approximately 50,000 draw calls on the DirectX 11 API. Problem is, DX11 is only equipped to handle ~10,000 peak draw calls. What happens after that is a severe bottleneck with most draw calls culled or incorrectly rendered, resulting in texture/NPCs popping all over the place. On the other hand, consoles have to-the-metal access and almost non-existent API Overhead but significantly underpowered hardware which is not able to cope with the stress of the multitude of polygons. Simply put, its a very very bad port for the PC Platform and an unoptimized (some would even go as far as saying, unfinished) title on the consoles.”
This isn’t the result of Ubisoft simply trying to do something that just can’t be done with modern gaming computers. There are countless examples of games that can generate massive crowds and gorgeous graphics while operating within these limits. This is laziness and bad design; pure and simple.
The Developers has acknowledged there are bugs in its game, but as of this writing have not issued fixes for any of them. Except, of course, the bug that was preventing players from buying an in-game currency called Helix Credits. Surely it’s just a coincidence that the only bug to be fixed is the one preventing Ubisoft from squeezing more money out of its customers.
So we have a game from a beloved franchise released by a major company as a barely playable mess.
Where were the established gaming critics in the lead up to this? Where were the reviewers cautioning the public to stay away?
Bound, gagged, and unable to publish without fear of being blacklisted. In an increasingly common and disturbing trend in the games industry, critics were prevented from releasing their reviews until a full 12 hours after the game’s release. The PR divisions of major companies would tell you that this is to prevent reviewers from “rushing” their review out the door to capitalize on being the first one to market. Ostensibly, however, these tactics are being used more and more to prevent bad press from clouding a game’s day one sales.
With a similar embargo on reviews in place for Ubisoft’s upcoming release of Far Cry 4, fans of this series are understandably concerned. Given the near unprecedented bungling of Unity highlighting this developer’s already poor PR, it seems that any fan of an Ubisoft property has quite a few reasons to worry.