Assassins Creed:Syndicate Head 2 Head
What can be said about assassin’s creed that has not already been said, tired, lost its way, lacks refinement! These are more are all true but it also forgets that it was and can be a fun, almost big budget action movie historic affair with roughly the same amount of historic accuracy to go alongside that (see poetic licence).
But now we are another year on from the series previous faux-pas in Unity and have Ubisoft improved from this, more importantly have they delivered a superior product and does one Console edge out to rule them all. I aim to find out all that and more as we delve into Syndicate, 19th century Victorian London style, let’s get it on in this ear Gaff! As they say in the big smoke.
Like Unity, Syndicate take place with its biggest star being the city in which it is set, jumping forward some 100 years into the industrial revolution and one of the most iconic and instrumental times in human history. It is also a period flush with historic art, style and flamboyance coming on the back of its gothic revival architecture not to mention overcrowded, disease ridden streets. Using the very same Anvil-Next engine that coughed and spluttered a little with Unity and more recently pushed out a 30/60 split in the forthcoming Rainbow Six here it has undergone some changes from Unity and also now closer resembles the engine that powered Watchdogs, another name allocated but Ubisoft have a strong pool of engines and tools to use.
Unlike revolution soaked Paris, London now comes with some extra features from a full dynamic time of day ( which now updates to set points as story missions begin, just like watchdogs ) but also has been bolstered with roads and cars, well horse and cart but it all fits the time. Now you can relive your rag and bone dreams to your hearts content, being an Industrial Age it now has a much better water and river system with blissful trips on the Thames accompanied by tug boats and ships, although diving in and swimming is allowed at the time it may just have given you more than just wet feet. Running with a simplified tessellated surface reaction and brimming with boats you can cross the entire width without ever getting your hair wet, something I have done a few times myself when traffic gets bad, again a fully authentic showing lol.
But all this additional benefits must have out even more load on the engine and systems. But the balance has been managed more effectively here, now the lighting model is no longer running within 4 fixed points but now managed through most likely IBL and blended between fixed points to allow a smooth transition which delivers a very convincing smog skyline and sun drenched streets. The sun rays beam through building as you explore all look beautiful and the engines PBR system is very impressive again here with such a vast selection of materials, buildings, objects and creations on offer it really excels and again with such a vivid period to work with the teams hard work, incredible art work and impressive tool system has created an atmospheric representation of the City and it feels alive and jostling with activity. With weather also changing albeit very slight with either sun or rain and the occasional thunderstorm which again allows the systems lighting model to shine, some of this can be reduced ever so slightly by some lower quality specular and normal maps of points both on objects and characters but with such a huge expanse and varied sections it really is a commendable job, even more so when you know how incredibly tight the 2 year cycle is with this game even though it is carried over a huge staff quota within Ubisoft studios.
In comparison to Unity it is very close and can look absolutely breath taking as you wander the slums or explore Whitechapel at night or day to rip shit up. The view from Big Ben is as wonderful as you would imagine, a whole new meaning to FaceTime. But the sheer scale of Unity's city and intricate interiors have been reduced somewhat here, with far less interiors to explore and none shining quite as much as our adventure in France, the lighting is also slightly reduced with the atmospheric scattering less intense which also included light penetration on cloth which with that games sumptuous volumetric light just being subtly reduced. As have the character models and consistency in animation both in the games plethora of real-time cinematics and in game action. Some of this comes from parts of the game still using what looks to be half sampled animations sets (15 instead of 30) or even lower at points, cut scenes are where the game and it's visual punch can hit the most with again a good sub surface scattering used on characters along specular on skin and anisotropy on hair can all look very impressive at times and others not so, some of this comes from its varied shadows resolution with in-game using most likely Ubisofts Own SSAO giving characters a contact shadow against walls and doors along with self-shadowing on faces and hoods, although the cascade range is short and can leave errors at times that stand out, but this is a minor niggle. The previous games superb Depth Of Field returns sporting its own confusion zone bokeh and it looks a cracking as ever, this also is of a high resolution resolve and can be the cause of some of the small dips in cut scenes on Ps4 and XboxOne, but certainly is a favourite of mine. Mixed with the very talented animation team at Ubisoft with its motion captured scenes really delivering with its nuanced animation sets that allow characters to convey the subtleties within the
performance and although the obvious disparity in lesser concerned characters is very evident the main characters all move and animate very well, and with Jacob and Evie played brilliantly and are both very strong and likeable characters that you warm to very quickly, and the game has regains its humour with some well written dialogue and snappy delivery bringing genuine enjoyment and chuckles as the cockney tale unravels.
LOD is well hidden overall with its dithered load like previous games and others like Far Cry 4 stopping any glaring signs, but even though the NPC count is reduced from Unity the city never feels empty and can be still very crowded at times but both machines handle this much better than before, you can still get pop in from these at rare times along with vehicles but not the constant level as before or as jarring. The intelligent and self-preservation levels remain constant across the channel and century's though, proving Darwin right more often than not in play.
And both machines as before deliver the same set of graphical features, effects and resolution with both machines pre or post patch having a 1600x900 resolution along with a 30fps target that they deliver much better than before, well one more than the other. This is backed up by a post processing solution in addition to a temporal anti-aliasing solution to reduce the shimmer and it does a decent job considering the variation in textures, objects and string specular in places. It looks to use an EQAA type edge detection with a reprojection of the frame buffer from previous frames jittered as you play, this helps edges of characters and objects to hide the shimmer as you move, fast movement can see it stand out more along with it missing textures so these can still suffer from heavy noise equally as you would expect from a sub native display then upscale internally. It is a better display than Unity but like that game textures can be muddy and blurry at times.
Gameplay is the same but here the PS4 dips more than in cut scenes but still much less frequently and as low as the Xbox. Driving can cause dips on both machines align with random points of heavy drops as you play, including similar issues as per Unity with the old frames per second being replaced with seconds per frame as you can see in the video. I have not managed to replicate this on the PS4 but this is just another sign of the engine still not being in a refined state and like all these games it cries out for some optimisation (More time) and polish that it sadly never gets. CPU use is as before very high and I am sure multi-threaded as much as possible within the timescales the team is given, but long plays can see the random dips happen more often and even though these near 1000ms frame times are very, very rare they do indicate a clear area that is intrinsic with the engine no matter the host platform. Both machines deliver a decent run at 30 and it now sits firmly back into the standard level of an Assassins Creed games performance but with the added addition of the game now not having an online intrusive system adding to its woes but this sadly also means no online co-op.
The day 1 patch bring's the game to level 1.11 on PS4 and most likely on XboxOne also does resolve some of the bigger stutters and smooths out performance on both machines in cut scenes and gameplay so it is worth the download. But if you have the choice of both machines it is a no brainier with the same visual offered up the superior GPU of the Ps4 offers up the more solid performance and as you can see by my identical run of tests across both machines is averaging around 2/3fps more than the green machine. The game is not a rock solid 30 on both machines with the XboxOne running an adaptive v-sync to help means it can occasionally tear but this is always confined to the top 10th of the screen and would never be noticed outside of this in-depth analysis, as with this it can also occasionally deliver a 16ms frame mostly around the time it drops to stay in sync it like the tearing it is very, very Rare. The PS4 runs fully V-synced so never tears but this makes sense with the performance metrics showing the clear divide, so the extra GPU headroom is not going entirely to waste. And if the game was a full 1080 on PS4 you would most likely be looking at a performance level around the XboxOne. The game also seems to have reduced its dense cloth simulation that uses GPU resource, it is still in use on characters and objects but as like other areas has been reduced slightly to aid performance, more so from the wealth of directions the engine has to scatter over a frame than any direct hardware requirement.
Syndicate is a better game than Unity but not quite as impressive from a visual stance but far more enjoyable and entertaining, the performance is around the expected line of the franchise with the PS4 being a tangible level above to be the chosen platform of the two, but the XboxOne release is not far enough behind and in isolation will deliver the same level of enjoyment. When the PC version ships next month I will take a look at to what that version delivers and what extras it may have, but for now you can join the rooks on console only. A fight that I have enjoyed and laughed at with Jacob being one of the best leads from Ubisoft since Edward Kenway.