A producer for the upcoming Assassin’s Creed Unity said yesterday in an interview with the website Videogamer that, in regards to the performance of the PS4 version of the game versus the Xbox One, “We decided to lock them at the same specs to avoid all the debates and stuff.” Not surprisingly, the internet backlash was swift and fiery. It didn’t take long for Ubisoft’s PR department to do damage control, and in an email statement sent to Game Informer, they stated, “We understand how senior producer Vincent Pontbriand’s’s quotes have been misinterpreted. 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.” So did Pontbriand not quite mean what we all assumed he meant–that the PS4 version was deliberately held back in order to have the same performance as the Xbox One version–or did he mean exactly that but probably shouldn’t have said it, and Ubisoft is trying to cover their butts? This is all still unfolding so it’s hard to know for sure, and it’s very possible we will never get a straight answer. Either way, I don’t think any of us are naive enough to believe that this type of thing never goes on, and hasn’t been going on for a long time now, going back multiple console generations. To be honest, I actually kind of hope Ubisoft really did lower the specs on the PS4 version so that there would be parity across all versions of the game, and it wouldn’t break my heart if all companies did that for all of their multiplatform games.
It is annoying to me how much talk there has been in this current console war about things like resolution and frames per second. The horsepower of a console, and the quality of the visuals it’s capable of pumping out, has certainly been a point of discussing in console debates for as long as there have been console debates. But it has never been taken to such a ridiculous degree. What people used to do, back in ye olden times, is decide whether or not a game looked good by simply looking at it. You looked at some screenshots, you watched a trailer, you played a demo, and that’s how you decided. You didn’t break the game down by the numbers and use those to determine whether a game’s graphics were acceptable or not. When did we all start looking at things like The Matrix, and only seeing the technical mumbo jumbo overlayed on top of everything rather than just looking at the actual worlds underneath it? The last time I gave a damn about things like resolution and refresh rates is when I bought my TV. That’s it. When I start seeing numbers like that thrown around in the discussion of a new game, I immediately zone out. It really is sad to me how large a part a game’s intended resolution and frames per second play in the hype machine now. Those should not be things that are discussed with as much importance as how the game plays, whether or not it has multiplayer, what the story is about, what its features are, and so on. The part of the hype concerning the graphics should just be whether the game is shaping up to be a good-looking game or not, plain and simple.
Which brings me to why part of me wishes that all multiplatform games would look identical from now on: So we can take all of that nonsense off the table and get back to discussing what is truly important. What we actually love about games. The reasons we play games, and the reasons we choose one game over another to spend our precious time and money on. And if a game “only” being 900p and 30fps is enough on its own to give you pause as far as whether you are excited about a game, well then you’re doing video games wrong. I’m not an advocate for a one-console future for reasons too numerous to expand upon here. To boil it down, though, I believe that competition breeds creativity. It makes people hungry; it gives them something to lose, so it makes them try harder. With Sony and Microsoft and Nintendo doing everything they can to one-up each other and compete for our attention and our dollars, it only means good things for us. And the best of those good things, in my opinion, are exclusive games. At the end of the day, what sells systems, and what wins console wars, are the games. The most powerful console has never once won a console war. Look it up. In fact, in the previous two generations, it was the least powerful system that took the crown, and not by a slim margin. If that doesn’t illustrate how little graphical horsepower truly matters, nothing will.
As we debate this console generation going forward, I’d like to see that debate be about the actual genuine quality of the games, not their p or their fps. I’d like to see that debate be about how the Wii U is the best because it has Mario and Zelda, and the PS4 is the best because it has Uncharted and Bloodbourne, and the Xbox One is the best because it has Halo and Quantum Break. Not because the PS4 versions of Call of Duty and Assassin’s Creed run a little faster and look a little crisper than the XB1 versions. And if all multiplatform games are equal, it takes that ultimately arbitrary nonsense off the table. I normally enjoy a (friendly and good-natured) console debate, but I’ve completely checked out of it this gen, and that’s because it never takes long before pointless numbers start being thrown around. I don’t want to debate math–I want to debate games. When you think back to your absolute favorite games of previous generations, and you are asked to explain why they are your favorites, how many technical stats will you use to make your case? I’m guessing none. And that’s the way it should continue to be, even though we happen to actually know more of those stats these days and so many of them are easily definable. Call me old fashioned–which would be accurate obviously–but I miss the days when all of that stuff was just happening behind the scenes, without me being aware of it, and all I knew was what the numbers were doing, not what they actually were.