There’s an old adage that goes something like this: you’re only as good as your last accomplishment. In this case, we’ll use video games. The saying is simple, but true: most of us have short term memory, and we are far too often to criticize failure than celebrate success. So when Ubisoft released Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag in October 2013 and people raved about it (myself included), it did not give them a free pass for the lackluster Assassin’s Creed: Unity release. The impressive E3 2013 and E3 2014 conferences announced upcoming titles and projects that appeared to be truly revolutionary. Unfortunately, they were anything but. As such, Ubisoft ends what could have been a breakout year of gaming with bad news and broken releases.
Ubisoft knows a thing or two about immersing the player into vivid, living worlds as evidenced by their Far Cry and Assassin’s Creed series. The idea of traversing through an open sandbox environment, exploring abandoned caves, seeking out random collectibles, or simply creating mayhem has always been a staple of what Ubisoft brings to the table. When Watch Dogs, a game about open world hacking and environment manipulation (street lights, cameras, bollards), was announced to the public, it brought forth a collection of amazing next generation imagery and gameplay vignettes. Dynamic weather effects, including wind that tore away at loose jackets and scarves, was proudly displayed. When the game launched, the graphics were clearly downscaled. Rumors that the game had been graphically gimped on the PlayStation 4 to match the weaker hardware profile of the Xbox One were all but confirmed as users discovered commented out source code on the PC. The situation was quickly dubbed “Resolutiongate” and brought forth a slew of accusations across the gaming industry as a whole. Unfortunately, this name is now synonymous with Ubisoft. While the game sold well and absolutely warrants a sequel, the negative press will require Ubisoft to fight an unnecessary uphill battle.
ASSASSIN’S CREED UNITY
A brand new gaming engine, built from the ground up exclusively for the Xbox One and PlayStation 4, was to be the backbone for the next installment of the coveted Asssassin’s Creed franchise. In addition to higher graphical fidelity, increased character count and draw distance was to be integrated into core gameplay mechanics, allowing the player to quickly dash in and out of large crowds. Although this had been done to some degree in previous titles, the sheer power boost between the console generations meant magnitudes of untapped power for such a task. Unfortunately, the game came out to mediocre reviews, most notably citing increasingly low framerate counts. In some benchmarks, framerates dropped into the single digit count, which is a very jarring experience for any player to partake in. A slew of other technical problems, including freezing, pop-ups, missed gaming queues, and the “faceless woman” all made an ugly appearance on all ports of the title (let’s not forget about the microtransactions for the treasure chests). Ubisoft has gone so far as to grant all season pass holders of the title a free game of their choosing, which just goes to show how much damage has been caused. This game has just undergone a fourth content patch (totaling over 8 GB worth of data) as developers still struggle with sorting out the technical glitches and solidifying the choppy framerate. It should be noted that the game had a review embargo in which reviews could not be released until noon eastern on launch day, which is never a good sign.
The Crew was hyped up to be a next generation team-based arcade racer, in which drivers would get to freely explore the entire United States of America. The roads were scaled down such that players could drive from Florida to New York in approximately 30 minutes, but would be given glimpses of key geographical features and landmarks on their journey. Players would also be able to drop into their friend’s games at any time, promoting a seamless single to multi-player experience. All of this sounded great until the reviews came out, which were all well below average. The graphics engine did not graphically represent the vehicles well, and many complaints pointed many to believe the game was developed for previous generation consoles and ported over at the last minute. In addition, there were a limited number of cars and upgrades. Most upsetting to many players was the inclusion of microtransactions to buy car parts which would otherwise take extensive grinding if purchased via in-game currency. It should also be noted that Ubisoft did not send out review copies of the title, which meant reviews were not available prior to the game’s launch.
(I purposefully omitted Far Cry 4 from this list because although not genre-breaking, it managed to keep core fans satisfied. The game did not push the envelope as far as Far Cry 3 did, but I can’t find any glaring negatives which would actively hurt Ubisoft’s image. Still, this is not enough to battle against a sloppy year of game releases.)
2014 CAN’T END SOON ENOUGH FOR UBISOFT
Ubisoft had a horrendous year. Sales will reflect differently, but gamers who were disappointed by their preorders will not be so eager to make the same mistake again. A major scandal involving resolution, the injection of microtransactions, and unpolished broken games seems to have defined their 2014 launches. Much like Electronic Arts did in 2012 and 2013 (after being named “Worst Company in America”), it is possible for Ubisoft to rebrand their image and to turn around fresh, quality products in 2015 and beyond. The important thing is they need to slow down and polish their games prior to launch. 8GB of patch data is unacceptable (espeically when the problems still persist!).
Do you think Ubisoft find redemption next year, or are they permanently marked by a failed 2014 campaign? Sound off below!