Are the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One Already Underpowered?
Ubisoft has announced that the upcoming game Assassin’s Creed Unity will run at a resolution of 900p and at 30 frames per second, no matter whether you play it on Xbox One, PlayStation 4, or PC. That idea didn’t sit well with some new console owners, who were hoping the game would run at 1080p and 60 frames per second. After all, shouldn’t these new $400 consoles be able to run new games at optimal specs?
But that kerfuffle turned out to be minor compared to what happened when an interview with the game’s senior producer, Vincent Pontbriand, was posted to Videogamer. Regarding Unity’s identical performance across platforms, Pontbriand said, “We decided to lock them at the same specs to avoid all the debates and stuff.”
This quote stirred up controversy because it sounded like he was saying the developers chose to limit the game’s performance on a machine that could’ve run it better (presumably the PS4) in order to prevent people from comparing it unfavorably on different consoles.
Gamers have reason to think the PS4 version could run better than the Xbox One version. The previous game in the series, Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, was originally released in 900p on both Xbox One and PlayStation 4. The PlayStation 4 version later received a patch that kicked it up to 1080p. It’s possible Ubisoft got a lot of flak for the performance difference between consoles and is trying to avoid a similar situation with Assassin’s Creed Unity.
In the interview with Videogamer, Pontbriand went on to explain why the game will run at slightly suboptimal specs. “Technically, we’re CPU-bound,” he said. “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 realized it was going to be pretty hard. It’s not the number of polygons that affect the frame rate. We could be running at 100fps if it was just graphics, but because of AI, we’re still limited to 30 frames per second.”
After the uproar over the comment began, Ubisoft issued a statement on its blog, saying: “Let’s be clear up front: Ubisoft does not constrain its games. We would not limit a game’s resolution. And we would never do anything to intentionally diminish anything we’ve produced or developed.”
Pontbriand is quoted in the post as saying: “We’ve spent four years building the best game we could imagine. Why would we ever do anything to hold it back? I simply chose the wrong words when talking about the game’s resolution, and for that I’m sorry.”
However, the 900p/30 frames per second issue highlights the larger question of whether the Xbox One and PS4 will be powerful enough to run the games developers want to make over the lifespan of the consoles. If they’re already bumping up against the CPU ceiling not even a year after the consoles launched, that doesn’t bode well for future games.
While this could be a problem in the coming years, we also know that developers find many ways to make their games look and play better as consoles age. Just compare any launch game from the Xbox 360 to a more recent title like Grand Theft Auto V, and you’ll see a major difference. The hardware is the same, but developers find ways to improve the games significantly.
Assassin’s Creed Unity launches on PS4, Xbox One, and PC on November 14.
Follow Chris on Twitter @_chrislreed
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