Thursday, June 26, 2014

Dammit, Ubisoft

  Ubisoft is both the developer and publisher of one of my favorite game series of all times. Since 2007, there have been seven primary-platform games in the series, each tied to the overall narrative of two secret societies at war with each other throughout history. Due to the subject matter of the first game, involving Crusades, early Islam, Saracens, etc, they launched the game with a disclaimer that has since accompanied every Assassins Creed title since.

“This game was developed by a multicultural team of various faiths and beliefs.”

     Basically, Ubi's way of saying "We're just telling a good story, and don't want to disrespect anyone in the process." And they've done fairly well with that. Assassins Creed has covered Crusades-era Middle East, Renaissance Italy, the American Revolution, the Constantinople/Istanbul strife, the Pirates of the and more. Throughout the series you've undergone trial by combat witnessed by Richard the Lionheart, freed slaves on plantation houses, and curb-stomped a Pope. You've played as a Syrian, an Italian, an American Indian, a half-African Woman, an escaped slave, and a drunkard Welshman. And through it all, the only culture to really get the piss taken out of them has been their own, as Ubisoft is a primarily French company.

     Recently, the internet's been very mad at Ubisoft. Their next game, Assassins Creed Unity, is set in the French Revolution, and stars Arno, a white guy. Specifically, the second white guy protagonist in the series (unless you count deeply Mediterranean Ezio Auditore de Firenze) out of now eight titles. Compounding this is the announcement that AC:Unity's cooperative multiplayer will be four male assassins and no playable female assassin. The internet has taken this as incontrovertible proof that Ubisoft hates women and hates diversity.

     This is complete bollocks. You're right to be mad at Ubisoft, but not for the reasons you think, internet. Ubisoft is lazy. Spitefully lazy. The reason that they didn't build female animations (their primary excuse, at least) is that the four male playable assassins are all clones of Arno. You'll play as Arno when you join someone's game, who is playing as Arno, with two other people also playing as Arnos. On top of all that, the well-received competitive multiplayer, which has been a staple of the AC series for the last four years and four releases, has been axed, so they can't even import female animations from that portion. So it's not out of some desire to show a lack of representation or anything underhanded, Ubisoft just seems to be looking for any semi-legitimate way to make less work for themselves. And don't get me wrong, while I'm all for the creative choice of the artist, I'd have liked to have seen a second female starring Assassin. AC:Liberation's Aveline de Granprie made a good impression on me.

     Those of us who game on PC have seen this sort of thing from Ubisoft for a while. Assassins Creed: Revelations, the last of the Ezio games, was the last time we had a (mostly) bug-free and (mostly) stable AC experience on PC. ACIII, ACIV Black Flag, and even AC:Liberation have had terrible problems with framerate, screen-tearing, and generally poor performance even on powerful systems. It really is hit-or-miss when it comes to Ubisoft and PC gaming, and the relationship has had its real ups and downs. From way back in the day with Assassins Creed II's always-on DRM and the development head of “I Am Alive” basically calling all of PC gamers thieves (hello, sir, that game is in my Steam Library, thanks) to the other side of the spectrum with Far Cry 3's fantastically lush and rather well-done port, we're really never sure what to expect from Ubi.

     Even more recently, with Watch_Dogs and the un-released Far Cry 4, we're still seeing reasons to worry about Ubi's laziness. Watch_Dogs has such erratic and unstable performance that even identical systems are having different results. Modders have unlocked settings and graphical options that were locked away in the files of the game that improve both the look and the performance of the game within weeks of release that Ubisoft hasn't been able to patch in. Far Cry 4 will allegedly run at PC's “Ultra High” settings on X-Box One and PS4, a claim that has PC-focused developers like Crytek giggle-snorting in derision at them.

     It's fine to hate on a company. Just make sure you're hating on them for the right reason. In a perfect world, Ubisoft would have made additional characters for the co-op. Being angry at Ubisoft for a lack of diverse representation is laughable. In a perfect world, Ubisoft would have properly ported these games optimized for PC, after delaying most of them and claiming they were optimizing them for PC. Being angry at them for being lazy and sloppy with their coding? Well..

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