The release yesterday of Assassin's Creed: Unity in the US has caused a bit of a storm in parts of the consumer press.
A range of issues are at play, including technical troubles and microtransactions, although the issue that has caused the most consternation is Ubisoft's review embargo for the game.
It was released at midnight on Monday night in the US (and this Friday in the UK) but the publisher's review embargo prevented websites that had received early code from publishing their reviews until Tuesday afternoon, some 12 hours after the game was available to buy.
While not a first this is certainly uncommon, and the perception is that publishers often implement post-release embargoes to stop potentially negative reviews getting to consumers before they've had the chance to go out and spend 50 on the game.
Note two other games this year that have had post-release embargoes – Destiny and Driveclub. Neither is terrible by any stretch but both have certainly been less popular with critics than was expected.
And Assassin's Creed: Unity is the same story. While it has received solid 8/10s from the likes of GamesRadar and OXM, it has also taken a bit of a beating from others. Polygon gave it 6.5/10 and Joystiq just 2.5/5.
All of which seems to have proved to be a tipping point for some outlets.
It's rare and it's not ok on the face of it – it potentially means that an outlet that knows that a game isn't very good can't tell their readers this for some period of time after the game is out,” Kotaku said of post-release embargoes.
Receiving review copies is a professional courtesy afforded to us by game creators both big and small. It's not a right, and we would probably do just fine without them. But we do like to get games as early as possible so that we can give you, the readers, the most informed review possible. It's to our benefit and yours, I think, that I've already been able to play Unity for several days.
We nevertheless also think it would be a courtesy for publishers to allow any reviews based on early copies to be published in time with a game's release, not a minute later, not 12 hours after a midnight launch.
As such, you can take this as policy that, in the future, Kotaku will not accept post-release review embargoes tied to early review copies. It's what our readers deserve and it seems like a reasonable standard that all publishers, Ubisoft included, have largely honoured for years. It's a line that need not be crossed again.”
Polygon also published a critical piece, stating: There's no valid reason for a review embargo such as this; it's blatantly anti-consumer and likely designed to get the first rush of hardcore fans into the stores to buy their copies of the game before the reviews hit.
When a game's embargo isn't up until the day of launch you need to be careful. If it isn't up until a few hours after the game is launched you should probably run screaming the other way. That's not a signal that the game may have middling reviews, that's a signal that the publisher is trying to sell copies before the word hits the street.
The longer you have to wait to read the review, the greater the risk. In the future we're going to work to do a better job of sharing information about embargoes and when to expect reviews.”
"You can take this as policy that, in the future,
Kotaku will not accept post-release review
embargoes tied to early review copies. It's
what our readers deserve and it seems like
a reasonable standard that all publishers,
Ubisoft included, have largely honoured for
years. It's a line that need not be crossed again."
Stephen Totilo, Kotaku
However, the site fell short of mirroring Kotaku's outright ban on post-release embargoes, with its reviews editor adding on Twitter that refusing early code due to ‘late' embargoes doesn't actually serve our readers any better – it only results in much, much later reviews”.
Said Gies: In the real world, far fewer people read late reviews. Sucks, but true. I'd rather adhere to a crappy embargo than have no review at all. I'll say the same thing I did with destiny: if you want the lowest chance of feeling burned by a game, wait for reviews. Don't pre-order.
Reviews were unity were live 9ish hours after it launched. If you couldn't wait 9 hours to read the reviews, I don't know what to say.”
Adding further fuel to the heated debate is that many are claiming that Assassin's Creed: Unity has some significant technical problems on Xbox One and, specifically, PS4. Framerate concerns are widespread, while other allegations include stories of extreme pop-in and crashing.
Even the PC version seems to be underperforming on very powerful machines.
On top of that there's also a storm brewing about microtransactions. This is a 50 game, remember, but Ubisoft has chosen to bury some content behind a number of barriers. For instance, some treasure cheats can only be opened by those who play the game's smartphone companion app. Others require users to register on Ubisoft's Assassin's Creed stat tracking website.
However, these barriers can be overcome – or in Ubisoft's language, progress can be accelerated – by purchasing one of the title's in-game currencies with real-world money.
Credit packs range between $19.99 and an eye-watering $99.99. All of this content can be unlocked without spending a penny, of course, but the mere dangling of the carrot is enough to infuriate many gamers.
All of which detract from the fact that, once all the noise has calmed, we're left with what is still an at times very impressive title. Digital Paris is certainly a sight to behold, and Unity's current Metacritic averages of 76 per cent on Xbox One and 80 per cent on PS4 are nothing to be ashamed of.