The week's highs and lows in PC gaming

Assassin's Creed Syndicate 1

THE LOWS

Chris Thursten: Assassin’s Creed: Mary Bobbins
I think I’ve come to accept that Assassin’s Creed is not a very good series and hasn’t been for quite some time. Of the last four, only Black Flag really stands out: a from-the-blue swashbuckling success amid a sea of dry-as-dust annualised adventures.

I admired the first game and adored the second—it and Brotherhood are the only open world games I’ve ever 100% completed. I even quite liked Revelations, but only because Ubisoft had stumbled onto such a likeable leading man in Ezio Auditore. Assassin’s Creed III, which I reviewed, was a tremendous disappointment. Unity was broken. Rogue was a late port, amounting to more Black Flag but not much more.

And so to Syndicate. I can’t be the only person who came away from this week’s live reveal utterly underwhelmed. Here’s the same thin set of stealth systems. Here’s the same commitment to reducing a (beautiful) open world and vast amount of motion capture to a few rote interactions. Here’s the same philosophy of taking one fun idea—win over a gang by eliminating their leader—and franchising it, spinning it out into a template. The moment the camera zoomed back out to reveal that this gang territory was only one of several Gang Territories I felt exhausted on behalf of the person who will spend their winter break dutifully ticking them all off.

An aside: there’s a bit where a horse knocks over an iron street lamp. Horses do not work that way, Ubisoft. Horses do not work that way at all.

Then there’s the setting. Victorian London poses a challenge to Assassin’s Creed because it’s such well-trodden ground for fiction. Everybody knows Sherlock Holmes. Everybody’s read or watched Dickens in one form or another. A vast amount of work has been done in this territory. The last time the series encountered this issue, with Black Flag’s pirates, it actually did a decent job of offering a different take on the source material. The one cutscene they’ve shown from Syndicate so far involves a wily scoundrel in a top hat, a helpful street urchin, and a villain called Bloody Nora. Bloody Nora.

Then I saw the phrase ‘The Darwin & Dickens Conspiracy Mission Pre-Order DLC: Over 45 Minutes Of In-Game Content’ and sighed so hard that I sublimated into a disappointed grey mist. It was the most British thing that could have happened.

Tom Marks: The Black Glove
I was really disappointed to hear The Black Glove had been shelved by the developers. Like a lot of people, I didn’t really understand what the game was going to be like, but I was excited and intrigued by it. It was my low of the week when it initially failed to reach its Kickstarter funding, and it’s my low again to hear the another nail has been pounded into the coffin. Still, I suppose that’s how Kickstarter and crowdfunding works. If not enough people believe in what you are pitching, it doesn’t get done. Fortunately Creative Director Joe Fielder was optimistic that they could return to the project, but I won’t be holding my breath.

GTA 5 Angry Planes Slide

Chris Livingston: Malware Bites
It doesn't get much lower than this: two mods for GTA 5 were found to contain malware. I downloaded one of them—Angry Planes—I ran it, I wrote about it here, and I suggested others try it. My PC was infected, and as a result of the mod being mentioned here, some of our readers' PCs may have been infected as well.

I just want to say I'm sorry. I feel rotten about the whole thing. I feel stupid and sheepish for letting some disgusting bit of malware slip onto my machine, I feel angry and disappointed that some distant sleaze would fit his mod with a timebomb, and most of all, I feel guilty and irresponsible for passing on this poison to people who trust me. It's completely unacceptable. I always try out the mods I write about, and read the comments of others who have used them to see if there's anything I need to know before recommending them, but it's usually done in an effort to avoid passing along mods that aren't worth your time or that don't work properly. That's just not enough.

I need to do a better job at my job. As a guy who's been using mods regularly since, gosh, 1994 (Aliens TC is the first mod I recall using) this is the first time I've ever been infected by some malicious spyware due to a mod, but that doesn't mean I'm smart, it just means I've been lucky. I'm no tech wizard, so I can't do the kind of analysis this guy did, but I need to do something. At the very least, when it comes to new mods for new games, I will hold off a while before writing them up, and give experts some time to determine if they're safe. I also need to make sure the sites that hosts these mods have some system in place to ferret out dangers.

Please check your PCs for malware if you've been using GTA 5 mods. There are instructions on what to do in this helpful post. And again, I'm truly sorry for my part in spreading this malware around. I'll do everything I can to make sure it doesn't happen again.

Tom Senior: The hidden price of VR
We always thought but virtual reality would need a powerful rig to work, and today that was confirmed with the release of the baseline hardware specs Oculus are working with. You’ll need a GTX 970 at least, as well as 8GB of RAM and a solid i5 processor before you consider the price of the headset itself.

It’s not a great surprise, considering the fact that the tech requires your PC to output two high-res monitors worth of game imaging at a high refresh rate. I wouldn’t be surprised if the HTC Vive setup demanded an even hungrier setup. Hopefully this generation of cards will be halfway affordable by the time these VR units actually go on sale.

The Witcher 3 Slide

Samuel Roberts: The Witcher 3 is great! (Allegedly)
I would love to be able to recommend The Witcher 3 on PC this week. I’m really looking forward to playing CD Projekt Red’s grand-looking RPG myself, and I can’t wait to explore that big, detailed world they’ve built. But I can’t! We haven’t received review code, even though the finished game is out on Tuesday for everyone in the world to play, and the PS4 version has already been reviewed by a bunch of outlets. Related: I got a press release almost exactly a month ago (April 16th) saying the game had gone gold (feature complete).

I think the release has been quite poorly handled from a press perspective. The embargo for The Witcher 3 reviews lifted on one format, PS4, days before we’ve even seen what it plays like on PC. Why PS4? There has never been a Witcher game on a PlayStation format before. Why lift a review embargo that informs people’s purchases based on just one of three versions of such a big release? The logic of that is broken to me. It’s out on Tuesday but you have no idea how it runs on multiple PC setups.

It’s up to publishers/developers as to whether they want to send out review code, but ideally you should, as a consumer, be able to make an informed purchase ahead of release. Sometimes we get that from publishers within a really comfortable timeframe (Dragon Age: Inquisition) and other times we get code after release (Assassin’s Creed Unity, Far Cry 4). At the time of writing, I’ve been told by CD Projekt Red that they’re pushing hard to get us PC review code as soon as possible—but meanwhile, the entire critical consensus is based on just one version out of three.

Wes Fenlon: Color or speed?
I've been researching G-Sync and FreeSync monitors recently, and spending some real gaming time using them. Gaming at high refresh rates, especially with adaptive sync enabled, really is amazing. It's hard to overstate how smooth it is. Even if you have a great rig, you still get little stutters and slowdowns in games here and there that you may barely notice, but once they're gone, you realize just how much better a smoothly varying refresh rate can be. There's just one problem: to hit those high refresh rates, almost all of these monitors use TN panels, and TN panels have crappy, crappy color quality.

If you've been using a TN panel for years, you probably don't even know what you're missing. But spend a few minutes gazing into an IPS screen and it's hard to go back. The colors are so much more vibrant, and the viewing angles are so much better, it's really hard to go back to the washed out colors of a TN panel. So we're at an annoying crossroads. High-refresh is amazing, but at the sacrifice of color quality. I hate having to choose. Hurry up, technology. Give me 144 Hz monitors with fantastic color reproduction. And I'd appreciate if you could make them cheap while you're granting unlikely wishes.

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