PIXEL BURN – Ubisoft and Microsoft stuck in a tree, GLI-T-C-H-I-N-G!

In which Matt probes the deepest, darkest faceless terrors of glitchy Revolutionary France
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[TRANSCRIPT]

Hello my name’s Matt and this is Pixel Burn, where I look at some of the more important, interesting or irritating things to have happened in gaming news this week. Most of it being shoddy broken games and ridiculous review embargoes.

And nothing so brilliantly encapsulates those twin topics of glitchy bugginess and publisher embargo shenanigans than Assassins Creed: Unity, which came out this week. Yet another instalment in Ubisoft’s ongoing saga about a war through the ages, between a bunch of sanctimonious, moralising control freaks with money and power, and another bunch of sanctimonious, moralising control freaks with springy knives hidden up their sleeves.

This latest Assassin’s Creed title takes players to Revolutionary France, a time of rampant poverty, aritocratic decadence, mob violence, bloodshed and chaos. In fact most people were so poor then that anyone who scored a sweet set of digs like this fireplace here was considered fortunate, if not blessed.

Now that is some profound social commentary right there.

Of course it wasn’t just the existing social order that got thrown into turmoil by the French Revolution, the very laws of nature were too. If Assassin’s Creed Unity is anything to go by, Revolutionary France was also a dark and mysterious age of invisible walls, people walking through the sky, garden walls that trapped the unwary for all eternity, places where time itself congealed into a thick slurry, and where unspeakable faceless nightmares stalked the boudoirs and cafes.

Huh. I guess rendering female character models IS as difficult as Ubisoft said it was.

Despite Ubisoft releasing an enormous day 1 patch clocking in at over 900 meg, people are still reporting glitches and capturing them on video for our amusement. Still, it’s not all night terrors, guillotines and falling through the ground into a watery underworld. Assassin’s Creed Unity also has incredible hair.

Not so much Viva la Revolution as Viva le Fuckup then. But then you always do get glitches like this with open world games, and at least they’re amusing. Although this is still probably why Ubisoft set the embargo date on reviews for AFTER the game was released.

Specifically Tuesday at midday Eastern Yankee Time, by which point the game had already been on sale for at least 12 hours. Long enough for plenty of people to have bought the game sight-unseen, without any forewarning as to it’s glitches, bugs or other technical issues. Not that you always trust pre-release reviews of course. Case in point being the numerous gleeful handjobs masquerading as reviews for Battlefield 4 prior to that game’s release. Whereupon everyone discovered it was actually a gobbet of frozen spunk so broken it was practically catatonic.

A post-release review embargo doesn’t always mean a game is going to be a stinker. For all its glitches and bugs Assassin’s Creed Unity isn’t anywhere near as wretched as something like Ride to Hell Retribution. And even if reviews had come out for it prior to release, few of them would have mentioned Assassin’s Creed Unity’s in-game microtransactions.

Courtesy of the in-game Helix Credits which can be used to “hack” – Ubisoft’s choice of word, not mine – the game to give you the best weapons, if you can’t be arsed to unlock them through regular in-game progression. Essentially they let you access cheat codes, albeit cheat codes that cost you actual real world money whats in your purse, wallet or medieval coinpouch. Christ. Remember when cheat codes used to be free?

[“PEPPERIGE FARM REMEMBERS”]

If you’re so terminally lazy you can barely summon the willpower to even breathe, bundles range from 500 Helix Credits for $9.99 up to a bundle of 20,000 Helix Credits for a mere $99.99 in Yankee money. Or, in Her Majesty the Queen’s currency…SIXTY FIVE FUCKING QUID?!

Hey Ubisoft, how many Helix Credits would it cost to get rid of the bugs or to unlock a higher framerate? Or to let me play a female character in multiplayer?

Actually forget that last one.

And you won’t see much written about this despicably pernicious little travesty in many reviews, since all the copies Ubisoft sent out for review had the microtransactions disabled. There were mentions of Helix Credits of course but with no way to actually BUY any, reviewers couldn’t see the ridiculous prices Ubisoft were charging for them. Still, at least it proves you can play the game without them.

This whole shambolic affair prompted a lethargic response from Ubisoft, although their share price tanking by 12% was probably the main deciding factor. Speaking to the BBC of all places a Ubisoft representative had the following to say:

“The nature of games themselves and the way they are being reviewed is changing, as evidenced by games like Assassin’s Creed Unity, Destiny and The Crew – games that have significant online components. Achieving this prior to launch is incredibly complex, which is why some games are being reviewed much closer – or as was the case with Destiny, even after – the game launches.”

Except Destiny has a far heavier emphasis on multiplayer than Unity does, and even with that the only real issues Destiny had on launch day were some connection problems. But then there was precious little TO go wrong in Destiny what with it having fuck-all content to begin with.

Ubisoft are promising to address these issues and others, like players falling through the ground, the game crashing when joining co-op sessions and menu screen delays, in a future patch. Which will be little comfort to all the people who rushed out and bought it on release day.

So what could lessons could Ubisoft could learn from all this? Well one would be that maybe releasing an Assassin’s Creed game every single year, regardless of how many studios you have working on it worldwide, probably isn’t all that great an idea.

Another lesson would be that while emulating the worst excesses of EA and Activision might be good for their bottom line in the short term, cynical mercenary tricks like $100 microtransactions won’t do their reputation any good in the long-term.

And that review embargoes are utterly pointless in an age of twitter and livestreaming, where video evidence of shoddy QA can circle the world three times before a reviewer has even finished typing their opening sentence. This isn’t the dark ages anymore, when a game would come out on a weekend and people wouldn’t find out how good or bad it was until they all gathered in the baron’s court on monday.

Embargoes still serve a purpose in levelling the playing field between review outlets, discouraging some from knocking-out rushed reviews or shoddy first-impressions videos filmed on a potato. In terms of actually keeping “off-message” info like technical issues and obscene microtransactions all hush-hush however, they’re about as much use as a border checkpoint made of chocolate slap bang in the middle of the Sahara.

In fact Ubisoft’s failure to keep a lid on this clusterfuck is a good thing for review outlets and consumers. They’ve now been forced to examine their review procedures, and it sends a message to other publishers that they can’t control the flow of information as tightly as they used to. So it’s not all bad. Every cloud, silver lining, etc etc.

Ubisoft weren’t the only company under fire this week for releasing a broken game. The much-anticipated and hyped to the heavens Halo Master Chief collection also came in for a barrage of complaints after it shipped this week, with a veritable laundry list of complaints. Most of the issues are connected with the collection’s multiplayer matchmaking, but with the Master Chief Collection being four games in one handy box you get a whole bunch of other bugs for your buck. Some are unique to individual instalments while others are spread across the entire tetralogy .

Now I’ve never been one to pass up a chance to put the boot into the Halo series. The multiplayer always struck me as a poor man’s Unreal Tournament, the character of Master Chief is about as compelling as a shoebox full of dead leaves, and I’ve read better sci-fi stories on the back of a packet of Space Raiders.

But that’s not to say I don’t sympathise with fans who’ve bought this collection. It’s not like Microsoft and 343 Industries were developing this collection entirely from scratch. They were taking pre-existing games that were mostly fine, with one or two only needing a bit of spit and polish to bring them up to par with the rest. How hard could that be?

Alright, so it wouldn’t have been without its technical challenges, particularly when it came to integrating all four games into the same multiplayer architecture.

The biggest issue that’s got most players’ ire up is that the time for in-game matchmaking queues is aeons long. When you do get into a match then assuming the game didn’t freeze up on the loading screen, it might be full of people 10 ranks above or below you. Which isn’t supposed to happen. Nor is findging yourself in a team match as the only Green Spartan in the village, against a Blue team of 6 and a Red team of 3, because the team formulation is buggered.

And that’s all assuming somebody on one the other teams doesn’t just boot you from the match on a petty whim, or simply because they can.

And you can’t get away from the bugs in single-player either. In Halo 1 there are reports of audio tracks looping or overlapping, and completed single player games refusing to save, while Halo 2 suffers random crashes when attempting to start a campaign mission. Meanwhile Halo 3 refuses to even start for some players, and when it does the game doesn’t let you move forward in a straight line, because of a bug with the controls.

But hey, at least you get access to the Halo 5: Guardians Multiplayer beta!

The most amusing bugs I’ve seen however are the typos. Trivial things in the grand scheme of course but they can make all the difference, like the quintessential poisoned cherry on the proverbial cake of shit. Like when you prove your battle skills in a match and come…wunth? Firth? Not to mention the Big Team Battles where two teams of up to 6 players can engage each other in a big old ruckus of…16-player warfare?

So there you have it. Two highly anticipated triple-A productions riddled with more bugs than that episode of the Outer Limits based on a George RR Martin short story. The question on many gamers’ lips right now is “how?” shortly followed by “why?”, even though the answer is all too bloody obvious.

Because this is November, which from a publisher’s perspective is when everything must come out in time for when the US Christmas Rush begins on Black Friday. Publisher’s would rather suffer losses resulting from bad press than the bigger losses from not having a massive title available for the holiday season. Because hey, who cares if it doesn’t work right away? We’ve got at least a month to patch all the crap out before the kiddie-winks unwrap their presents on Christmas Day.

So what can we do about it? Well the best thing would be not pre-ordering games, although I did that myself recently with Alien Isolation so I’m not really one to lecture. It’s a tough habit to break but one we’ll have to if we don’t want to keep getting shafted with buggy releases.

Secondly we could stop bloody moaning so much when a game we’re looking forward to, like Witcher 3 or Batman Arkham Knight, is delayed until February or March. As well as giving developers more time to do proper Quality Assurance it’s also better for your wallet, purse and/or coinpouch. Think about it, by then you’ve got the Christmas spending rush well and truly done with, at least one paypacket under your belt, and there’s fewer games released to agonise over. That is until more publishers get wise to this and create a “February Rush.”

Finally, and this is a bit of a long shot but…we could always cancel Christmas.

Just throwing that out there.

That’s all for this episode of Pixel Burn. If you liked it then please do let me know, and let your friends, family and Cortana know as well. At the very least I hope you found it tolerable. And if you didn’t like it then you’ll have to wait for the forthcoming humour patch, which should be out just before Christmas. For the time being you can go now.

Matt

About Matt

Matt is the irresponsible degenerate behind bitscreed.com and the sarcastic writer, editor, director, presenter and tea boy of Pixel Burn.