Ubisoft have warned gamers against early reviews of The Crew. Let's reiterate that: Ubisoft are warning people against a product they fear might be rushed and not up to scratch.
Hello pot, meet kettle.
"While we fully anticipate that you might see some reviews immediately at launch — largely built around the preview sessions we facilitated during the past months or the limited content of the closed and open betas — they won’t be based on optimal conditions or reflect the finished game," Ubisoft have said.
"We sincerely hope everyone will take the time to customize their ride as they progress through all five regions, explore every corner of the map solo and with friends, dive into our competitive and cooperative mechanics, race to the end of the main campaign, choose a Faction and compete with your crew in Factions Wars, and so much more."
To be fair to Ubisoft, The Crew is a game heavily predicated on its connected world and its online experience. We've long said that it's an ambitious title, probably the most ambitious racing game of the year. It's the same sort of missive that Bungie sent out ahead of Destiny, suggesting that reviewers appraise the game across its first few weeks out in the public domain, and warning against early critical appraisals that would surely be ill-informed and ultimately unreliable.
It's okay to scoff, for a moment, at Ubisoft attempting to tell critics how do to their job in the wake of the shambles that was Assassin's Creed: Unity's release, but I kind of want to play devil's advocate here. See, in spite of the (perfectly justified) savaging I've given Ubisoft over the last few weeks, I actually sort of agree with them on this count.
This first year of new-gen has been plagued with a release-now-patch-later mentality as companies have ignored issues and forged ahead with releases. It began, of course, even earlier than the release of the PS4 and Xbox One, with the proverbial really hitting the fan with SimCity's release. As big sites who'd reviewed the game under closeted conditions were suddenly made to look like fools in the wake of the game's utterly dreadful public release, review practices began to change.
It's clear that there's still some way to go.
In an ideal world, we'd all get review copies well in advance of launch, have weeks to play through these massive games, quite possibly several times, and be able to deliver some thoughtful pieces reviewed and played in a manner similar to regular gamers. But that's often not quite as possible as we might like. For us, I feel, the answer lies in the way we cover MMOs. Diary-style reviews across the course of a fortnight are how we dealt with Destiny, and are almost certainly how we'll deal with The Crew. If the launch day netcode is awful, we'll say so. If the game sparkles out of the box, we'll tell you that too.
I think, going forwards, we're going to have to draw a line in the sand for games with heavy multiplayer components. The latest fiasco, the one regarding the matchmaking for Halo: The Master Chief Collection, has been something of an embarrassment for us. In spite of the game running perfectly ahead of launch in home conditions, and we reviewed it after embargo having waited for the servers to be switched on, the state of the game post-release has been a great disappointment. This isn't the first time such a thing has happened, and although it's a step up from reviewing an online game in a heavily-curated review event, it's still not ideal. We still stand by that Halo: MCC review, and Jon has updated it regularly with new information as 343i have implemented changes, but this needs to be addressed going forwards. The best thing we can do is evaluate our approach to multiplayer titles in the future, supplement our review coverage with updates and new information where possible and relevant, and deliver our appraisals with the utmost clarity.
There's something to be said for appraising a game's tipping point -- that is to say the moment the decision on a game or console turns from a "no" to a "yes", too. As games do get regular patches, updates, DLC, it's important to note that a botched release might well make for a decent game somewhere down the line. It's here that review scores start to make less sense. I like Kotaku's simple Yes/No approach, it's much better than Polygon's awful sliding scale, though even that is fluid when considering the tipping point. On a subjective level, that tipping point could be related to features or fixes or pricing or platform. Again, this is something we've been discussing throughout the last couple of months, and you can expect some changes to the way we do things in 2015.
But to go back to The Crew's situation and to assess things from the standpoint of a prospective buyer, the bottom line is to be wary. It's not an absolute truth that any game scuppering reviews until launch day or beyond has something to hide, but unless you've found an especially excellent deal for a game that you know you absolutely must have, there's almost no good reason for pre-ordering a game. We've said it time and time again on this site: if you have any qualms about the quality of a game, or concerns about a dearth of reviews ahead of launch, hold off and wait.
That sort of goes for everybody involved. Reviewers... if you can't review the whole game adequately, hold off and don't put a score on your review until you can. Respect your audience more than your embargo scramble. Publishers and developers... if your game is in bits or doesn't look like it'll be finished ahead of that launch date, delay the game, put out a beta, test thoroughly, and communicate with your audience. We've engineered this pre-order culture, this culture of rushing ahead of ourselves in all areas of this industry, and it's not healthy. So whether you're making a game, critiquing a game, or buying a game -- take your time and do it right.