As I said in my preview earlier today, I noticed a few performance issues in the build of Assassin's Creed Unity I played on Xbox One. Last year's Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag eventually ran like a dream on the competing platform, but both versions launched at near-parity. The PlayStation 4 version upgraded to 1080p/30fps with an additional free patch, while the Xbox One version was stuck at the launch 900p/30fps.
A similar performance divide popped up in Watch Dogs, which ran at 900p on PlayStation 4 and 792p on Xbox One, though the former version retained the more consistent graphical presentation. The assumption was that Assassin's Creed Unity would operate in a similar position, with the PlayStation 4 version having a comfortable graphical lead on its Xbox One counterpart.
Given that assumption, the fact that I played Assassin's Creed Unity on Xbox One seemed perplexing. Surely, you'd want to show off the better-looking platform to journalists, right? Ubisoft's answer is that there is no "better-looking platform". Both versions of Assassin's Creed Unity are locked to a resolution of 900p with a target frame rate of 30fps.
"We decided to lock them at the same specs to avoid all the debates and stuff," senior producer Vincent Pontbriand told VideoGamer.com in an interview. "Technically we're CPU-bound. The GPUs are really powerful, obviously the graphics look pretty good, but it's the CPU [that] has to process the AI, the number of NPCs we have on screen, all these systems running in parallel."
"We were quickly bottlenecked by that and it was a bit frustrating, because we thought that this was going to be a tenfold improvement over everything AI-wise, and we realised it was going to be pretty hard. It's not the number of polygons that affect the framerate. We could be running at 100fps if it was just graphics, but because of AI, we're still limited to 30 frames per second."
That explanation doesn't do much to explain a lack of resolution difference, but for potential purchasers of the PlayStation 4 version of Unity the problem is the perceived limiting of the game on that platform. Ubisoft probably could've chosen any number of things to say about the system parity, but that first quote probably wasn't the best choice for the enthusiast sector.
See, part of the reason for the the constant Console War and the hammering on resolution and framerate is enthusiast consumers want to be assured that they're purchased the "best platform". $400+ isn't cheap for most people and many stick with a single console for most of a generation, only purchasing the second console when prices go down. They want to be sure that they've gotten the "right" one the first time. The framerate and resolution is one way to empirically state "this console is the best," so if that's something you care about then it becomes very important. (It's worth noting that if the PlayStation 4 version is being held back by the Xbox One version, that's largely the same problem PC port players have been dealing with for years.)
Ubisoft's perceived holding back of the PlayStation 4 to achieve parity with the Xbox One version is subverting this natural order. "If the PlayStation 4 can do better," fans cry, "let it do better!" So using the power of social media, they've decided to make their voices heard, using the hashtag #PS4NoParity. Since the information broke early this morning, fans have been tweeting at @Ubisoft and @AssassinsCreed, lamenting the loss of a potentially more-powerful Assassin's Creed Unity on PS4. In response, Ubisoft has released an additional statement clarifying Pontbriand's statements.
"We understand how Senior Producer Vincent Pontbriand's's quotes have been misinterpreted," an Ubisoft spokesperson told USgamer in a statement. "To set the record straight, we did not lower the specs for Assassin's Creed Unity to account for any one system over the other."
"Assassin's Creed Unity has been engineered from the ground up for next-generation consoles. Over the past 4 years, we have created Assassin's Creed Unity to attain the tremendous level of quality we have now achieved on Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and PC. It's a process of building up toward our goals, not scaling down, and we're proud to say that we have reached those goals on all SKUs."
"At no point did we decide to reduce the ambitions of any SKU. All benefited from the full dedication of all of our available optimization resources to help them reach the level of quality we have today with the core Assassin's Creed Unity experience."
The explanation seems to have come far after the fans have set their narrative though. We have no real clue if Assassin's Creed Unity could perform better on PlayStation 4 outside of the past performance of Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag and Watch Dogs, and the gap seemed noticeable in those titles. Of course, the Xbox One versions were completely playable, but returning to my earlier statements, some enthusiasts want to know what's the best. So now there are angry fans and Ubisoft is working on damage control. The question: do you believe and trust in Ubisoft? If so, then the PS4 version was always going to look like this. If not, nothing the company says outside of "PS4 patch is incoming" will improve the situation.
I personally hope that there's an upgrade patch after launch, but for the time being, it looks like that's not the case. At the very least, I can hope Ubisoft is able to iron out some of the performance hitches I noticed in my Xbox One version preview before the game hits retail. I'll still be picking up for the game on PlayStation 4 when review time comes around, as that's been my primary platform of choice.