Assassin’s Creed Unity Graphics Parity Makes No Sense

Earlier this week, Ubisoft announced that Assassin’s Creed Unity would be set at 900p resolution and 30fps for both the Xbox One and Playstation 4 consoles. After the news broke, the social media wheels started turning, mostly of PS4 owners who disagreed with Ubisoft’s decision to limit the resolution and frame rate of the game on PS4, a system that’s been routinely confirmed to handle 1080p and 60fps for its software. The #PS4noparity Twitter hashtag skyrocketed in use, with Ubisoft’s main justification for the parity being to “avoid debates.” Ironically, that’s exactly what we’re getting. Despite what Ubisoft might think, their decision to lock both versions to 900p/30fps doesn’t make a lick of sense.

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Let’s face it: Assassin’s Creed has always been a series about graphical spectacle. We all remember the introduction of the first Assassin’s Creed, the trailer that showed an organic, living world to explore. It’s no surprise that gamers want this series to look as good as possible, preferably at that magic 1080p/60fps ratio. And it’s not like Ubisoft is inexperienced with 1080p for this series. Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag runs at a beautiful 1080p/30fps on PS4 (not ideal, but very nice), but the Xbox One version is stuck at 900p/30fps. With a series that was envisioned to push the polygons to their limits, it’s confusing to limit the graphical spectacle at all, let alone on a single console.

So in the midst of the console argument, where does that leave the gamer? In a nutshell, it comes down to exclusives. The important thing to note is that when choosing a console to buy, a gamer will always weigh the distinctive elements, not the shared ones. It’s the reason that multi-platform games are a terrible talking point when discussing which console is better…at least in general. With Assassin’s Creed Unity, however, the discussion is a bit different. The general term for “exclusives” is games, but exclusivity is not limited to just software. Exclusives, by definition, are the things that only one system has. They also include exclusive modes, varied price tags, or in this case, the power of its graphics. Sony has had a strong hand in being the console for the widest use of the golden 1080p/60fps ratio, so in a way, that’s their exclusive to flaunt. It may not be the best reason, but that’s a valid reason to buy a PS4 over an Xbox One: better looking games.

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The problem is that Ubisoft is a multi-platform publisher and they have an obligation to make a game work on multiple consoles. They’re casting a broader net instead of using different tricks custom-built for each system. It’s not a bad mentality, but what makes it bad is the cost: the confidence of PS4 owners. The sales have shown that the PS4 is selling better than the Xbox One, so this decision is discouraging the larger PS4 install base with a version that isn’t as good-looking as it’s capable of being. Xbox One owners, on the other hand, aren’t getting any significant advancement. Assassin’s Creed Unity on Xbox One isn’t going to be getting any improved visuals; it’s likely going to be as technically strong as it was before (based on the Xbox One version of Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, anyway). This means that Xbox One owners have nothing to gain with this decision, while PS4 owners are losing an ideal resolution and frame rate.

As for Ubisoft’s claim that parity was used “to avoid debates”, that’s also troublesome. Their goal is to make “equal” versions of the game, but by limiting the PS4, they’re doing the exact opposite. They’re providing preference, giving the Xbox One the strongest attention and catering this multi-platform game around that version, not the PS4’s. In an effort to balance the versions out, Ubisoft has neglected a large majority opinion, tipping the scales away from them.

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So what could the positive outcome of this decision be? What is Ubisoft trying to gain? The general opinion it’s to appease Microsoft’s parity policies, which makes sense considering the Assassin’s Creed series’ popularity on Xbox One as well as PS4. But it’s not Ubisoft’s job to balance the scales; if a console is capable of going further, it seems like a disservice to limit it to appease its competitor. PS4 owners deserve the version that their system can handle, even if another can’t. Sony is also being disserviced, as their console’s hardware isn’t being shown in the ideal light. With the #PS4noparity hashtag taking off, the sales of Assassin’s Creed Unity are likely what will determine if this decision was worth it. Will this decision balance out the PS4 and Xbox One sales difference? Maybe, but right now, the parity decision is a limiter, an example of Ubisoft providing preference for one console at the expense of another.