There's no doubt that Assassin's Creed Unity had technical problems, otherwise Ubisoft wouldn't have apologised for the game's performance and issued a series of ever-larger patches. So what's it mean if the graphics, then and now, seem to in many ways be the same?
This might seem like a strange point of view. You've heard, after all, that ACU was a mess. But after downloading Patch 4 — the game's biggest update yet — I'm in the odd position of having to trust my eyes and the footage I've captured in the game.
Would you believe me if I told you the game has always run pretty well on my Xbox One, and looks as good now as it did a month ago on launch day?
I am sure that the good people at Digital Foundry or other sharp-eyed graphics-watchers will spot and log differences in the game's pre- and post-patch framerate and graphical performance.
There are some of us gamers, though, who I believe don't spot finer distinctions in performance. Maybe we're more forgiving. Maybe we're lucky. Maybe we just don't care as much and are pleased with a certain level of graphical splendor.
To each their own, but in light of the confusing discussion about ACU's Patch 4 — in light of theories that the draw distance has changed or that characters pop in differently or that the game now looks so much worse or better, I wanted to add some material to the discussion.
Let me show you what I've seen..
Last night, I dug up footage I captured of the game for my review on launch day, November 11. At the time, the game had only received its first major patch.
Here I am atop Notre Dame:
And here I am, as of this morning, atop Notre Dame once more:
I've seen theories online that the new patch has changed the draw distance — how far out you can see. Has it?
Today (outfit change! I'm wearing grey in the day one shots and purple in the capture from this morning):
Supposedly, some of the Unity's virtual Paris has changed. Ubisoft said as much when explaining why the game's latest patch was so large: "Part of the team's effort to enhance frame rate for players involves replacing and updating portions of the Paris city map where we are seeing issues."
Well, I've been staring into the distance and not spotting any differences! Where could they be? I'm curious if anyone who is playing the game has spotted changes to the game's map. If so, please let me know!
Anyway, back to comparisons.
Not a chimney changed!
The scenes I've shown so far are all from the game's central Notre Dame area. It's one of the showpieces of the game and one of the spots most tightly clogged with civilians. Here I am running through it on launch day:
And here I am running through it this morning:
Note: I tried to make the lighting match for each of these comparisons. While you can set the lightning manually in the game's options menu, there still seem to be enough variations to produce some of the differing looks you see in some clips.
I ran through the game a bit this morning in order to test one of the wildest claim about the new patch. There's a thread on the NeoGAF message board topped by an amazing GIF that implies that non-player characters pop-in really badly post-patch-4 and that they do so with a flashy new special effect.
Here's the GIF:
I've scoured my old footage and have run through the newly-patched game quite a bit. I've not been able to spot this flashing animation. I wonder if it's some sort of effect that only appears in a particularly troublesome area of the city. Or a fluke. Or... who knows.
Watch me run through a chunk of the game this morning, post-patch-4. I was trying my best to make people pop in!
Do you see characters snapping badly into scene? I do notice pop-in when I look at the civilians, but, when I play, I'm usually more focused on my own guy.
There's something worth highlighting about the game's tendency to abruptly change how its non-player characters look. You'll approach one of them and see a low-detailed version of them change into a high-detailed version.
Here's that happening on launch day (watch the dress worn by the woman in the center of the screen):
Now, here's that happening today:
Seems the same, huh?
Bothersome? No big deal? Call me crazy, but I don't mind it much.
I've got video of both, if you'd like to compare.
I think there might be more clothing-snapping in the newly-patched version of the game. Or it's the same. Again, hard to tell.
But all of this gets me back to the weird position I find myself in: not seeing much of a difference and yet knowing there must be one, or else Ubisoft wouldn't have taken such radical steps. Sure, the game launched with a non-functional Initiates service and a busted Companion App. It was glitchy enough to merit some maintenance. As someone who played through Unity with very few technical issues, I nevertheless remain a bit baffled why this all became such a huge deal — and how significantly things have changed.
I suspect I'm missing something. I suspect I'm in the wrong parts of Paris. If there are Unity players out there who have spotted big differences, please let me know. I'd love to see them, and it might help us all get a better understanding about what in the world happened with this game.