Thoughts on Ubisoft’s ACU Project Widow

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Ahead of Assassin’s Creed Unity‘s release in North America on November 11 and in the UK on November 14, Ubisoft has launched an online experience they are calling “Project Widow.”

Project Widow’s name comes from one of the many nicknames for the guillotine, the recognizable beheading machine popular during the French Revolution for its showmanship qualities.

In a nutshell, it’s Google Earth with an Assassin’s Creed overlay. You’re able to explore photos of modern day Paris, clicking on points of interest, called memories, that will bring up additional information on people, places, and events that happened on that spot during the French Revolution. We say explore with air quotes because it is actually more of a predetermined path for you to follow that doesn’t really have any deviations. Sure, there is plenty of stuff to click on in each frame but there’s no sense of adventure, and the experience is more akin to a hand-held guided tour.

There are a few quaint aspects to Project Widow, like the Assassin’s Creed style HUD overlay, with recovered memories in the upper left and the top-down map in the lower left. As we said before, certain points of interest will appear on each screen, including historical facts, ACU screenshots, and YouTube videos with ACU music. There are even a few buildings that you can enter that then appear to give you a first-person view of what that exact place will look like in-game, but done in the style of Google Earth.

In the upper right-hand corner of the overlay, there is a window labeled Revolution Spread, a percentage, and a top-down overlay of France. Clicking on Revolution Spread will show stats that include Number of Revolutionaries, Total Memories Recovered, Total Shares, and Total Tweets. We’re going to assume that these stats are calculated by how many people have used Project Widow, how far they’ve gotten through their exploring, and how many social network shares they’ve managed to net. That in itself is a neat little statistic and to tie it in with the spread of the Revolution in the context of ACU is admittedly clever.

Where Project Widow fails, however, is much more noticeable than where it excels. We experienced Project Widow on two separate PCs on two separate networks and both proved to be extraordinarily slow, both lagging in the Project Widow window and causing slow downs system wide. Admittedly, we only got through the first 10 clicks before frustration set in. Even before that, though, when you first open Project Widow, it tells you for the best experience to either turn on your speakers or plug in your headphones. We were told that UK actor Andy Serkis would be our virtual guide during this experience, however all we heard was the intro music, and the occasional background noise of far-off conversation, footsteps, or a dog barking. Mr. Serkis seemed to have better things to do this morning. Apparently, he’s supposed to give you his own “personal experience” of the Revolution but it was completely missing from ours.

Supposedly, too, as you click your way through Paris, you’ll be able to win prizes, but the prize conditions and prizes themselves remain elusive. There’s also exclusive bonus content hidden away in dark corners, but just like the prizes, we have no idea what those might be… or how the experience is supposed to track this information and get you these mythical extra bits, since there’s no log in or information exchange.

Project Widow is a good idea that is badly executed. We love the concept but we just can’t get past the major lag problems and the lack of Mr. Serkis, leaving only silence interspersed with the barking of a lonely cur. We’re not sure why Ubisoft decided to release Project Widow when it clearly states that it’s still in beta. If they had ironed out these problems we’d be a lot more receptive to what it has to offer, but instead we are terribly disappointed at what could have been a really neat experience.

It’s possible that Ubisoft could address these issues before Assassin’s Creed Unity launches, but if you’re really that keen on experiencing the French Revolution the way Assassin’s Creed has brought us all its other historical events, you might as well just wait a month.

Jenna Fraser
A New England born, Boston native, Jenna says "wicked" with reckless abandon. She loves video games almost as much as she loves words and to say that she has an obsession with Queen would be the biggest understatement of all time.
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