There was a lot for Assassin’s Creed fans to be excited about this week at E3, as Unity took the stage in multiple presentations with gameplay footage and cinematic trailers that were both equally stunning. The next installment in the blockbuster stealth action franchise will incorporate a new four-player co-op mode that gives players a chance to have a social experience while working through an Assassin’s Creed narrative like never before.
Both the cinematic and gameplay trailer kept the focus on the quartet of assassin’s and how the small band of trained killers are able to quietly charge into battle together. Despite the beautifully-rendered new-gen graphics and jaw-dropping CG cinematics, there was one noticeable omission from Unity’s presentation: a female playable character.
Although fans were very excited about the new possibilities that the co-op gameplay will bring to the table, it didn’t go unnoticed that there were so many dudes on the dance-floor and not a single playable female. It didn’t take long for the reporters at E3 to question Ubisoft reps about the absence of a female assassin in the gameplay footage and the developer confirmed that Unity will feature no playable females.
It seems like a strange choice considering the franchise’s recent moves in the right direction. Black Flag had the industry standard average white man model for its protagonist, but Liberation boasted an awesome female playable character, as did the multiplayer component of the most recent releases. Assassin’s Creed also stands out as having one of the most ethnically diverse range of protagonists out of any of the leading video game franchises, which has gone a long way towards making each new ‘era’ feel unique.
The step backwards for Unity is definitely a big disappointment to gamers who would like to see the other half of the world’s population represented in the gaming world and it seems like Ubisoft is starting to get the hint that a vocal minority of fans are disappointed in the choice to leave out a playable female character. Technical director James Therien spoke to VideoGamer about the decision to stick with four playable male assassins.
“It was on our feature list until not too long ago, but it’s a question of focus and production. So we wanted to make sure we had the best experience for the character. A female character means that you have to redo a lot of animation, a lot of costumes. It would have doubled the work on those things… And I mean it’s something the team really wanted, but we had to make a decision. It’s unfortunate, but it’s a reality of game development.”
The excuse basically boils down to an issue of resources. The team at Ubisoft claims that it would have really liked to produce a playable female character for the new-gen game, but it wasn’t willing to divert money or time to making that happen. With the recent trend in the Assassin’s Creed franchise to rush out a new highly-polished game every year, it isn’t surprising that the team didn’t want to slow things down to create an additional character model, but having a more diverse band of characters would certainly have made for a more interesting-looking team. At the very least we wouldn’t have had to rely on their cloak color to tell them apart.
Many gamers are also unimpressed by the wording that Therien chose when talking about female protagonists. From a development standpoint, we understand why he decided to refer to the creation of a playable female model as a ‘feature,’ but there’s no denying that the it implies that male is the default and anything else is just something extra to include if time and money allows. It’s worth noting one of the most famous assassins of the French Revolution was a woman called Charlotte Corday, who stabbed Jacobin revolutionary Jean-Paul Marat in the chest as he lay in a bath.
The reporter at VideoGamer was among those unhappy with Therien’s response and he questioned the issue of resource management. After all, Unity is a massive game for Ubisoft, being developed by nine full teams for the last couple years. It doesn’t seem like an unreasonable expectation to see the female population get some representation when there are four playable characters to go around.
“Again, it’s not a question of philosophy or choice in this case at all I don’t really [inaudible] it was a question of focus and a question of production…
“Yes, we have tonnes of resources, but we’re putting them into this game, and we have huge teams, nine studios working on this game and we need all of these people to make what we are doing here.”
Good intentions or not, at the end of the day Ubisoft is delivering a gorgeous game that under-represents a large portion of the video game demographic and the world’s population. We have no doubt that Unity will still be an incredible commercial success, and likely even a great step forward in the franchise in terms of gameplay and graphics, but it will still be a disappointment to many gamers on a different level.
While the conversation about female representation in video games continues to grow, we hope that Ubisoft and the other developers are listening and taking notes. We should point out that although Assassin’s Creed is taking the brunt of the abuse on forums and Twitter, the lack of playable female characters at the rest of E3 was noticeable across the board. The crowd went wild when we saw the new super-powered playable female character in the upcoming inFamous DLC, Lara Croft is making another comeback in Rise of the Tomb Raider and there were some new teases for Mirror’s Edge 2, but for the most part the brown-haired white guy with stubble still reigns supreme.
Were you disappointed by the lack of a playable female character in Unity? How about in other games at E3? Let us know in the comments.
Follow Denny on Twitter @The_DFC.