Video games aren’t recalled very often, in spite of the leagues of problems plaguing many of the year’s biggest releases.
Rockstar recalled Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas in 2005 after a pair of highly sexual minigames were discovered in the game. The content had been locked away but was easily unlocked by the gaming community, and retailers began pulling the game from shelves in what is now dubbed the Hot Coffee controversy.
Nintendo recalled Mario Party 8 in the UK due to the use of the word “spastic” which, apparently, is an offensive word there. (This isn’t the only game recalled in the UK for the use of this word.) Nintendo also recalled Metroid: Other M in Japan due to a bug that would freeze protagonist Samus Arun in various regions of the game, requiring a new game to be started in a new save file.
The original Final Fantasy XIV MMO was shut down and scrapped, with a new team rebuilding it from scratch and making a much, much better game in the process.
There are a handful of others, but the list remains depressingly short. If that was simply because video games were so polished at release that consumers never had anything to worry about, a short list would be fantastic. Sadly, this isn’t the case. Quite the contrary.
There Will be Bugs
We’ve seen numerous launch-related disasters in the video game industry over the past few years. But there was no recall of SimCity when that game debuted to an always-online DRM nightmare. There was no recall of Battlefield 4 in spite of its myriad issues. And now Assassin’s Creed: Unity is—for many gamers, at least—so unplayable that publisher Ubisoft is recommending things such as disconnecting from the internet in order to play, and turning off social features. Hey your brakes aren’t working? Just don’t drive the car and you won’t ever need to stop!
Ubisoft’s Unity blog is littered with posts about patches, fixes, and work-arounds. You won’t see a similar blog for Super Smash Bros. or Mario Kart 8.
And this means just one thing: Unity was obviously not ready for release. As Paul Tassi noted, both Halo: The Master Chief Collection and Assassin’s Creed: Unity are suffering from the problems each faced in their hurry to release in time for the holidays. (The Halo re-release was plagued with match-making issues in its multiplayer.)
Reviewers were gentler on Unity than the general public, but the response to its many glitches was still damning.
“Crash bugs, characters falling through the environment, faces not loading properly (resulting in some memorably horrific abominations), and Arno suddenly being unable to engage in combat in the middle of a battle are among the many, many tech issues I had while playing through Unity,” Giant Bomb’s Alex Navarro writes.
“Unfortunately, Ubisoft seems to have had some issues adapting the series to current-gen systems,” writes Chris Carter of Destructoid. “I encountered a number of nasty glitches on the Xbox One. For starters, the most common ones were constantly repeating dialog during key story parts, issues with the close-combat animations, some freezing while climbing tall structures, and falling through the floor during the start of certain missions. Since Unity offers checkpoints constantly it wasn’t really a game-breaking affair, but I encountered at least one small glitch every two missions or so. Enough for the technical issues to get annoying.”
And here’s Jim Sterling’s take:
Assassin’s Creed: Unity could have been a great game. Last year’s Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag was my favorite in the series, and I had high hopes for Unity. But the rushed development and poor quality control have led to a situation in which myriad gamers are feeling burned and the game itself is hurting not only the reputation of Ubisoft, but of the franchise itself.
At this point we sort of take it all for granted, however. Another buggy game release? Color me surprised. We’ve done this so many times before it hardly makes us bat an eye.
But we wouldn’t stand for it in any other industry. If I go to see a movie and it’s littered with problems I’ll go ask for my money back and leave the theatre. If a car has serious problems it’s recalled. Video games have been historically difficult to return to retailers, and digital returns are even more complicated. What Ubisoft needs to do may be expensive in the short term, but it would be wise in the long term: Issue a recall, pull Unity off the shelves, and release it when the problems it’s suffering from are fixed. Don’t subject consumers to patch after patch after the fact.
To some degree consumers will always be quality control guinea pigs, especially in huge games with big open worlds and tons of stuff going on. A few stray bugs are tolerable. But consumers should punish truly shoddy releases by voting with their wallets and, even more importantly, getting off the crazy pre-order train. That train runs on hype, and hype plays right into the hands of companies whose priority is releasing a game on time rather than a finished product.
Ubisoft obviously has the ability to release great video games. Far Cry 4 is great as was Far Cry Blood Dragon and Child of Light and the Rayman series. They have plenty of talent and they’ve put out plenty of wonderful titles. They’ve even made some smart moves delaying games to give them more development time and polish. Unfortunately, Assassin’s Creed: Unity (and to a lesser extent Watch Dogs) have undermined much of the good will the publisher built with its consumer base recently.