The Slowly-Revealed Performance Of The New Consoles

I’m pretty sure I’ve already laid out my opinion on “resolutiongates” and the importance of framerate on this blog. Now people are worked up over Assassin’s Creed: Unity and Ubisoft’s PR. Despite how I feel about framerates and such, I actually think people are selling the game short.

But first, Ubisoft’s claim that 30 frames per second is more “cinematic” than 60 is utter crap. 30fps is a performance choice, not an artistic choice. 60fps looks smoother, and you can definitely tell the difference if you pay attention. Playing almost nothing but 60fps games on my PC for a year has made 30fps impossible to miss to my eyes. More importantly, higher framerates mean less input lag which means tighter controls. This is a clear advantage for action games (including shooters) and is pretty much recognized as a requirement for racing and fighting games. The sole advantage of choosing 30fps is it gives the hardware twice as much time to render what you see on the screen, resulting in more intense graphics. This is why I always expected Unity to run at 30fps.

Over the past year I’ve been pleasantly surprised to see so many 60fps games when big developers had settled on 30 throughout most of the Xbox 360 and PS3 years (and any hardware can run 60fps depending on how intense you want the graphics to be). I guess a lot of people really started to see it as a new standard. I think a lot of it though has to do with so many games being designed to run on both the old consoles and the new ones. Games that have to accommodate the 360 and PS3 are given a lot of headroom when running on the Xbox One and PS4 — definitely enough to double the framerate in some cases.

Maybe a lot of people still think Unity is just going to be another small upgrade for the franchise. I guess that’s easy to think when every Creed game since Assassin’s Creed II has been an incremental upgrade of that game’s formula. Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag runs at 1080p on PS4, why shouldn’t this one?

I already did one blog post about everything Ubisoft seems to be changing about the franchise’s formula for Unity. I really think it’s going to be the most drastically different game in the series since the original. More importantly, this will be the first time Creed has fully transitioned to a new console generation.

If you look at screenshots and real time videos it’s easy to see that Unity’s graphics are a considerable leap ahead of Black Flag. In my opinion the game looks significantly better than even Watch_Dogs in areas like character and environment detail. It is clearly a technological league above anything Ubisoft has published so far. The most important part of Ubisoft PR’s response however has been how CPU-bound Unity is, and I believe them. They’re trying to run something like 10 times as many AI characters in an environment compared to Black Flag. Paris by itself in this game is also supposed to contain more accessible terrain than any previous Creed game. People like to point out how so many other games so far have been 1080p on PS4 and 900p on Xbox One as evidence of some conspiracy Ubisoft is running with Microsoft, but in Ubisoft’s defense, Unity just might push the PS4’s and Xbox One’s CPUs harder than any game yet. Even though resolution is more dependent on GPUs than CPUs, Ubisoft could theoretically be choosing to put less strain on those GPUs to make up for the CPUs’ struggles. Just a suggestion.

I think a lot of people have had their expectations of PS4 and Xbox One graphical quality lulled by the prevalence of cross-generation games. Unity is basically the only big new-console-only game coming out this fall and I have a feeling it’ll surprise a lot of people. Over the course of 2015 we’ll start to see the real capability of these consoles in games like The Witcher 3Evolve, and Batman: Arkham Knight. The extra headroom that allowed developers to so easily attain 1080p and 60fps will eventually disappear. I hope 60fps remains a standard for action games, but we can only hope.


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