Assassin's Creed III is a very good game but also a fairly buggy game. And like many modern video games before it, the console versions were patched before they were even officially released. SPOILER WARNING: Our clip shows early sequences from the first couple of hours of the game.
This means that the version of ACIII that you might have on disc isn't really what you should be playing. The game's creators actually mean for you to be playing that version plus what was, on PS3, a 31MB patch.
What does the patch fix? Well, the video above shows something you've probably never seen before: three problems in a major game and well, two, solutions, captured by us to show you the effects of a day one patch.
The first two bugs that you'll see in the video we captured both involve gameplay, though the first is really a minor thing. It just makes the game look kind of stupid for a second.
The second, the one involving the guard who seemed to get stuck doing the cha-cha when he walked to a certain spot on the deck of his ship, was mission-ruining for me. The guard was supposed to be on patrol. I was supposed to get past him, without him noticing, if I wanted to earn a 100% completion rate. You don't have to get 100 per cent in a mission, but you should be able to. Notice the odd but effective way they fixed it... they make him hop over the trouble spot!
I talked about the bugs in my review of the game. While I've seen a few more graphical glitches, post-patch, in the 20 hours I played on PS3, nothing other than these couple of pre-patch gameplay glitches had any effect on my ability to complete a mission the way I wanted to. So it's a mixed bag, possibly one that's a little worse on Xbox 360, where our Kirk Hamilton has seen more cosmetic glitches (again, as mentioned in my review). The game functions a little sloppily, though less sloppily than without the patch. It remains less than a perfect piece of programming.
"With a game of the size and scale like Assassin's Creed III, it is impossible to find every single glitch until hundreds of thousands of players are heavily using the game," a Ubisoft rep told me late yesterday after I e-mailed to ask about the developers' take on the bugginess of the game. "We are committed to making sure people playing Assassin's Creed III get the best possible experience, and we will be aggressively addressing the issues with updates over the next few weeks."
I've asked if the PS3 and Xbox 360 versions are keeping pace with each other in terms of having their problems patched. They have to get back to me on that one.
It's hard to know where any blame lies or even if any blame is deserved. Old games seem to have been less buggy and the day one patch certainly has become not just a band-aid but a nearly essential element of every major non-Wii release of the last few years. But old games also weren't this complex and, to the extent they had bugs (glitches, bad translations, etc), the option to update or improve the software simply wasn't there. You could argue that the prevalence of patches now helps improve games that all games would benefit from this.
But why so many bugs? Is the complexity of a modern game a good excuse? Clearly, in this case, ACIII's developers knew the disc they shipped the game on included code problems, hence the day one patch. That's a little odd, given that the three-year development cycle for the game certainly doesn't give them the out to claim they were rushed.
Historians and people without access to downloading a patch will be all the poorer for not having access, with just a disc, to the proper ACIII experience. And what happens in the future, if Ubisoft ever stops issuing the patch, say, in five years? Will retro-gamers be without access to a better-playing version of the game? Hopefully they'll at least be able to develop a strategy to deal with a guard who just doesn't have that extra 31MB of info to tell him to jump out of the way.