I'm Forced To Retract My AC Unity Review
I would like to explain and clarify before proceeding:
I've been reviewing video games for 15 years. I have never felt the need to retract a review, although I have made mistakes in my analysis (though none so grievous as to warrant a complete retraction). I have issued reviews based on games I did not complete and despite what the obscenely righteous will say, you're unlikely to find any critic who has completed every game he or she has reviewed. Most times, it's simply not realistic for a wide variety of reasons (lack of resources for the publication, sheer lack of time, etc.).
Secondly, this is not an attack on Ubisoft. In fact, I'm one of their biggest supporters and I appreciate their ambition in new IPs like Watch Dogs. I will add that I'm a huge fan of the Assassin's Creed franchise, so this isn't a personal vendetta against the series. Now, in regards to my review, let me be clear: I stand by the sentiments of the review, although I must now retract the overall score. I will not issue a new review and I won't change that score; I don't believe that's the right thing to do. Rather, I'm offering this editorial to all gamers out there.
You may call it unprofessional if you wish. You can say I should've played the game longer or thought about it for an extended period of time before providing the reading public with a review. Personally, I don't believe I should have to play a game for 50 hours before I start questioning things. But regardless of my beliefs and how I approach my reviews, I'm in the wrong. When you write for a gaming website, you really have to produce reviews quickly if you want to remain competitive; whether gamers don't understand this or don't wish to accept it, I don't know. And it's irrelevant, anyway. What matters is that Assassin's Creed Unity didn't deserve a 9.
I still believe we should reward ambition in this industry. It's the only way we'll progress. I still say much of what we see in Unity is wonderfully ambitious and even astounding. However, after playing for a very long time, I've had to accept some harsh truths: First, while I knew Arno was too "sticky" from the start, I never realized just how much of a problem that could be, especially in the last few missions of the game, and in some of the harder Co-Op and Heist missions. In regards to the obvious technical issues, I can only say that they never bothered me too much; this retraction is not due to those problems. They factor into my decision, but those well-publicized glitches didn't dictate for me.
Up next is the fact that the more you play, the more you feel manipulated. You don't really find out until later that there's no way to earn all the Skill points you require simply by sticking to the single-player missions. Co-Op missions offer way more Skill points and while you can play them solo, they're quite difficult without allies. In order to open Initiate chests, you have to have a Uplay account; in order to open Nomad chests, you have to download (and extensively play) the Companion App; in order to see all the collectibles on the map, you have to use Helix points to snag Time Saver Packs. And as nobody can seem to figure out how to reliably earn Helix points, Ubisoft unsurprisingly asks you to pay for them. Prior to this game, viewpoints unlocked these collectibles and optional missions; now, viewpoints unlock less than half.
Parts of the main game are closed off if you don't get the Dead Kings Expansion. This includes the Guillotine Guns, various pieces of equipment, and a different section of the map; you can see these when you play the game, but you're told several times that in order to access them, you have to get the DLC in question. Granted, that DLC is now free, but only because Ubisoft so badly botched the launch; they originally intended for the DLC to be premium. Except, that's not an expansion. That's something else you need to unlock more of what appears to be the base game. This is wrong. This is the kind of practice we really can't encourage in developers and publishers these days and again, it's not the kind of thing I really noticed until after playing for many hours.
I didn't realize how much Ubisoft wanted you to be "connected" or how devious they were in essentially forcing you to play multiplayer. I will admit that you don't have to do all these things if you wish to simply zip through and finish the game. But really, that's not what an open-world sandbox game is about; almost nobody races through and does nothing else. In this case, it seems like most every optional thing in Unity has a string attached. I've been reflecting on the game as a whole for weeks now. I've tried to convince myself that the original score I handed out is justified, for a number of legitimate reasons. But if I sat down to review it now, after discovering everything that I've discovered, would I assign the same score? The answer, unfortunately, is no. As such, I'm issuing a retraction for the score although not the entire analysis, as a lot of that remains sound.
I'm sure this won't go over well with everyone, especially Ubisoft, but at least my conscience will be clear. :)
1/16/2015 Ben Dutka