As the first year of the new generation of consoles comes to a close the highlights are, in the main, far from obvious. Could it be that software developers are yet to catch up with the new hardware? Or are we seeing a lack of ambition on their behalf? This cautious approach to development could be a mixture of both those points. And while cross-generation releases are still evidently being pursued (see Watch Dogs) the results are likely to be more ‘miss’ than ‘hit’.

Seven year itch

November could herald a marked change in fortunes. With Ubisoft’s scratching it’s seven-year itch (Assassin Creed was released on the 13th November 2007), we will finally get to see an Assassin’s Creed title built for the new architecture (but not forgetting the PC). Ubisoft are only matched by EA in the annual redress of an IP that has proved to be so successful. So while EA continue to develop FIFA on both old and new generations of hardware, Ubisoft have, to a degree, taken a calculated risk by not releasing Assassin’s Creed Unity in the same way.

If more developers follow the same strategy we should see this promote some broader inventiveness. And may yet see the best from this current generation of hardware in years still to come.

Adjusting the formula

Much is being made of the size of the world, the visuals, new parkour system, the depth of gameplay, no female playable character in cooperative multiplayer and so on. And while the option of cooperative multiplayer is nice and the lack of female avatars is a little odd but there is something else to consider here.

Assassin’s Creed Unity lead is again a male character – Arno Dorian – now in the historical setting of Paris during the French Revolution. But central to the story is his relationship with Elise De LaSerre, the daughter of the man who takes in and adopts Arno. This is where Ubisoft could give some rest-bite and deliver a well-written, female character that is not a one-dimensional token female. Indications could lead to the possibility that Elise will become a playable lead in a future DLC for Assassin’s Creed Unity.

Female characters are, unfortunately, not held up to the best light and suffer from some terrible stereotyping in the history of all types of fiction. That being said this is not just limited to the female roles (no matter how small) and poor male stereotyping is just as easy to promote. Ubisoft have a very good opportunity here to treat both male and female characters – playable and npc – with a respect that many developers shy away from. It’s by no means an excuse but shallow stereotypical characterisation is quick and easy to write while depth and complexity is seen to be lost cause that doesn’t readily meet the metric needed for that which sells – multiplayer.

Art vs. Consumerism

We’ve heard the arguments regarding whether video games are art or not. Can a medium which relies so heavily on appeasing a target audience ever then claim that it develops more than a product to be consumed? Isn’t Art also about giving people what they sometimes don’t believe they need? Showing things that are hidden or even forgotten? I rarely feel that way when spinning a new game on a hard drive.

Whether Ubisoft is going to give us what we all expect from an Assassin’s Creed game in Unity is far from certain. But this trailer hopefully is an indication that the formula is looking to be repositioned.