The most infamous video game launch in history was E.T. for the Atari 2600, a game so bad the cartridges were buried in a landfill -- a gaming fact now slightly less obscure than Mario being a plumber. (The Internet has made many previously obscure questions like, "Do other boys like My Little Pony?" "Is that rash normal?" and "What do girls/boys look like down there?" alarmingly clear.)
Especially alarming when all three are answered in the same image.
The E.T. game executives couldn't have done more damage to gaming's reputation if they'd hidden in children's closets, wearing their mother's clothes, and tried to lure the kids in with chocolate.
E.T. learned that humans prefer to receive chocolates before a probing.
Of course, it wasn't really E.T.'s fault. That was only a symptom of an insanely greedy business that had become more concerned with making money than games. An industry where marketing things and making them were so ludicrously disconnected, it was marketing that got to decide when things were released. It was the death-knell of big-budget games, the final symptom of a consumptive industry that had finally shat out one of its own organs instead of another profit statement.
Why, hello, Assassin's Creed: Unity ...
#7. Assassin's Creed: Unity Is Unbelievably Broken
AC:U was recently released, and that's the same word you use for diarrhea. I could only truly describe how broken it was with a sequence of symbols that erases your ability to read. We're used to games having glitches, but this had the collision detection of a drunk ghost, the horrific visual glitching of that ghost's DT nightmares ...
That famous French Revolutionary figure, le Compte de Terreur-Visage.
... and even that screaming, disembodied death-victim can't describe the horror better than Ubisoft do on their official Assassin's Creed page.
Take a minute to unpack that. That's more condensed failure than transmitting reality television into a black hole. The game's makers admit that the main character falls through the ground (so you can't play the game on your own), the game crashes in co-op (so you can't play the game with others), the game traps you in hay carts (so you're doomed even if you do manage to start playing), there are problems in bringing up the main menu (so you might not even get that far) -- oh, and it might crash on all platforms if you get to that menu and do something unexpected like press "continue" (perfectly inverting that command).
And that's after a Day 1 update. What the hell kind of issues did Day 1 fix if those problems are still around? We can only rule out "lethal explosion" because there were still consoles left to patch. There's also the sheer unapologetic tone: they report like they're down here battling this inexplicable shit-rain with us, as opposed to flying above us in a gold-plated helicopter with their pants down.
The "Hay Cart of Death" is proof they didn't test it properly (or, more likely, didn't listen to the testers). Lead character Arno can hop into a hay cart to hide from guards, but then the game just forgets about it. No button to get out. No escape route. Welcome to your new life, Arno, Assassin's Creed: Hay Cart. A bit of a step down from previous entries' pirate ships.
I understand that modern AAA games are electronic Notre Dames -- one of which this game contains -- massively complicated structures requiring the labor of hundreds. Some unexpected glitches are bound to be found when it's released into the effectively untestable online environment. This is not that problem. This is a game that wasn't even nearly finished when it was squirted out. There are 24-hour game jams where they wouldn't release code in this condition.
#6. They Prioritized a Fix That Screws You out of More Money
Let's look at the second set of issues, listed in the same Ubisoft post as above.
So, what's wrong there? Graphics, interactions, and co-op -- aka the entire damn game. This is worse than Atari's Pac-Man, the second-most blatantly broken cash-in in gaming history, because at least Pac-Man couldn't fall out of the maze. And that was a game so badly programmed that even people used to Atari 2600 graphics thought they were broken. A license so thoroughly ruined that even the Alien game was a better Pac-Man.
Fox Video Games
At no point did this actively prevent you from playing or trap you in a pile of pre-horse manure.
But don't worry. Ubisoft is all over this: they released a patch that fixed the Helix Credits, the in-game, spend-real-money store. You noticed that "Helix Credits issues" in the above list? Yes, they fixed the ability for you to pay even more money before they made it so your character doesn't erroneously fall through the ground. That's like shitting on your bathroom floor and then charging you admission to come look at it. They created a game where you can fall into a featureless void where you can do nothing but give them more money.
In fairness, that's their dream game.
Even a quantum of care for customers would have seen them turn off the store until the game, you know, works. Instead we have clear evidence that the development team was told, "Screw the game, your only priority is the thing that gets us money. Again."
#5. Its Primary Feature Doesn't Work
Assassin's Creed is the exemplar of the recent trend in Seven Dwarfs sequels: nearly identical with slightly altered graphics and exactly one distinguishing feature. And we only wish these things were limited to seven entries. (AC is up to eight in the primary series.) AC:U's great big deal is multiplayer. E3, advertising images, even the cover -- they all focused on only one thing: there being more than one player.
The boys are back in town, the boys are DISCONNECTED.
The game's one true distinguishing feature. Just guess if it works.
Jack Hollingsworth/Photodisc/Getty Image
We wanted to give you a laugh after that pony art.
I'm hammering this because it's impossible to get across just how broken this game is without asking you to disconnect your Internet. Which Ubisoft did. They actually asked people to disable their Internet connections to "potentially" fix frame-rate problems. Which doesn't work. That's 10 levels past "turn it off and on again." We've arrived at "turn it off, then disconnect it, then just ... just go away. Stop bothering us. You already paid."
Oh, and if you want to deal with that little "game crashes at the main menu" thing? Delete all your game contacts! If Willy Wonka reviewed this game, he'd wonder why it was so insane and unworkable.
#4. They Prevented Reviews From Warning People
Make no mistake: Ubisoft didn't release the game this way unknowingly. They hurled garbage at the market, and they prevented reviewers from warning people to duck. Embargoes forbade sites from publishing reviews until up to 12 hours after the game was released. Rule 1 of buying things is: if they don't want you to check it out before you buy it, it's a con. Always. Always.
It is a con.
They knew the game was unfinished and consciously decided to sell it anyway, counting on players to just put up with patching.
While they got on with counting their money.
Ubisoft's strategy was "a lot of people will buy it right away just because it says Assassin's Creed on the cover." So instead of fixing the problem they silenced anyone who could warn others. That's not marketing, that's a cyberpunk corporate villain plot.