Assassins Creed:Syndicate PC Technical Analysis

Publisher Ubisoft
Developer Ubisoft
Platforms tested PC
Roll up, roll up, for the latest historian angering tale in Ubisofts uber franchise Assassins Creed, Syndicate now available for PC players a bit later than console players but linked with Nvidia it sports some additions over the PS4 and XboxOne releases.


To learn more about that and the game itself please check out our in-depth analysis which covers the versions and how they differ, perform and the game overall. Here I will concentrate on the PC improvements and performance across both my mid-range PC powered by AMD and my high end Intel/Nvidia rigs. And how they sit against the console and more importantly each other.


Visual Fidelity

The single biggest change from console is the resolution options, with both consoles locked into a 1600x900 resolution paired with a post Anti-Aliasing the game can suffer from a soft look at times and shimmer/pixel crawl on thin and distant objects a constant in the vast London playground you are exposed too.

Here on both machines a native 1080 is chosen and certainly sharpens up both geometry and textures alike, but paired with a similar but not the same FXAA pass it still suffers from the same issues just to a lesser degree. With the sharper display helping cut scenes and gameplay alike it is a nice addition if not really a standout change, if you have the machine you can use the driver panel to boost this further and use down sampling on a 1080 screen just like Unity. But you also have the further option on PC to ditch the relatively poor FXAA and mix with some MSAA to clean up edges leaving FXAA to catch other areas, again a minor but welcome addition. But for the cleanest option you can go full on TXAA Nvidia own solution and as such only available for said cards. This does a much better job of cleaning up the shimmer and sharp edges at the expense of screen clarity giving an overall softer and less sharp image, which can at times look softer than even the 900p of consoles but nearly removes all shimmer in movement as it employs a temporal pass to work on the noise between frames that FXAA ignores. It is a similar approach to SMAA used in other games recently in black ops III on console and PC alike but it can soften the image a lot which some may not like. It does come at a big performance cost though something common with nearly all the PC additions here that I will cover later.

But in such a rich and historic period now sporting a full day/night cycle the game can shine at times combined with its volumetric lighting, IBL that allows light bounce to improve its impressive visuals and also used with a decent cascaded shadow map across the world to deliver a convincing time cycle added to with rain that sadly still includes a cloud system but now devoid of its previous shadow casting bonus seen in all previous version of Unity. But here on PC we can bump shadows over what the consoles run which is a near identical match for High, both consoles run a pretty much identical visual display across the board. After high you can choose from 2 Nvidia linked options PCSS and PCSSultra which add a higher resolution and softer edge to shadows. This also includes the contact hardening a more realistic depiction of real life that has shadows softening at the edges the further away from the object and light source they are, ultra improves the resolution of these further still. And although they are nice the cost on the AMD machine makes them a simple no option for playable rates (60 is never an option on this machine anyway) with the same high option chosen here. The Nvidia machine fairs better but the cost is still high and like other features e.g. hair works as seen in then Witcher 3 lack refinement and therefore brute force is the only real chose. In this like for like simple example you can see from high to ultra on shadows the cost is 10fps loss and this only gets more the heavier the scene, with the visual upgrade IMOP being simply not worth the cost and this is on the Nvidia machine.

Ambient occlusion also has the same bump moving up from standard SSAO to HBAO+ and ultra, this again boosts both resolution and coverage and is more significant a change than the shadow bump, again in the video you can see moving from off to ultra and the contact edges of the door and wall show more depth and smoother than the console, which appear to run nearer the SSAO but not the same so most likely like AA on console the removal of the higher DX abstraction layer delivers more options and the use of their own SSBC (as seen in far cry 4 and rainbow six siege) is used which sits between SSAO and HBAO+. But again the cost is high on the ultra-settings and only suited to Nvidia cards but still comes at a few fps loss, the choice though is yours and the benefit of the PC option.

The other options are more standard fair with draw distance or world density having an ultra option which only really adds more small details and foliage up close with the draw view on ultra being near identical to console, with up close world detail being somewhere between high and ultra. NPC count does seem higher on PC again a clear sign of the CPU headroom afforded on the platform. The last option texture quality scales from low to high with again like Unity console being the same as the highest on PC aside some streaming loading changes and the occasional normal map difference here and there that would never be noticed aside this kind of detail look.

So at this point the changes do not seem massive and this is pretty much the case, the Nvidia deal offers up the same bumps we always see and as I mentioned and predicted with the promised tessellation addition in Unity that never materialised again here we see no similar bump. Even the volumetric lighting that was improved in Far Cry 4 on PC we see pretty much the same solution here down to it performing the same across platforms with even the same fade out range used.


Performance


So with resolution increased and some extra refinement on shadows we must be left with the PCs standard frame-rate increase, but no we do not. And sadly with even the delay the PC release feels as refined as the console release, and all these tests have been run with the Nvidia game ready driver and the latest AMD driver. But performance on the AMD machine at a superior 44% resolution increase over consoles but identical settings aside that comes in far worse than both. Compared here against the XboxOne it never runs as solid or as consistent in both game-play or cut scenes, the opening sections allowing a like for like comparison we see low teens on the PC here and in game-play it spends most of its time below the 30 target, even helingp the AMD machine out running an unlocked rate still brings the average way below the XboxOne and the PS4 performs even better than that.

Moving to the much more powerful i5/gtx970 combo we see a better performance metric as expected, at the same settings as console with the again superior resolution we do run around the 60's in play with occasional dips into the high 40's but most stay within the 50 range and are greatly helped with the streaming issues. Once you move outside of these settings and into the extra AA away from FXAA the game can take much bigger dips. Being a deferred render MSAA can be quite a performance drain with double digit frame loss happening. But the pretty much identical cut scenes see it dropping to sub 30 also and below the PS4 tests here and this is not even the highest settings available, and in game play with the shadows and AO bump we are again around or below the console level. If we max out the PC with all settings in highest and TXAA we see it run in the low 20’s with again streaming being an issue within the engine helping the dips. The drop of resolution explained here with the console release, it is in a much better state than Unity released but far from a polished or solid state. If we drop to the same 900p on our AMD machine we see tangible gains that allow the AMD to get much nearer but not quite the PS4 level, but still far from a locked 60. And from console to PC you get a near identical game complete with 19th century children that when not busy practising their robot walk, while time away leaping of piers lemming style.... Bless em, better than working in a match factory I guess.


Summary


In the end the delay for PC gamers and linked with Nvidia has not helped the game on PC at all, and again brings into question just what these deals bring and if they are beneficial overall in the PC space. The choice of 60 is not the issue here as that should always be case by case basis dependant on the developer choice and plan etc, but a native display and a pretty much locked 30 should be the base that is set and even more so with such a high profile hardware manufacturer deal in place it should come with some type of Q/A that is simply not the case. I would like to see the PC platform given better options that add to the game much more with the same cost as even when looking for the changes they can be hard to spot, unlike the performance impact. To be clear With the right PC specs it still can look and run better than the console versions and if you have such a machine is the way to go, but that is IMOP a far more powerful machine than should be necessary to deliver a solid 1080/30 as the engine is clearly designed around a 33ms budget. The 900p choice on console is a clear example of easy optimisation, highlighted with my AMD machine sporting a very similar performance level at this settings. The CPU use is very good with all 4 cores used on my i5 and all 8 on my 8350 which is again a very good display and the engine does sport a vast array of work from physics, lighting and AI scripting, it does not scrimp in areas you would expect. Dynamic reactions from dipping a vocal in the Thames to dislodging a jugglers balls ( less painful than it sounds ) it still Impresses with a superb toolset and lighting engine that captures GI throughout the world making for a beautiful display and one of the best PBR material shaders and creation in games at the moment let alone open world ones. But it still feels rough, and less refined than it should be, more solid than previous releases and little paired back in presentation and assets but still very impressive. Just a shame the gameplay and enjoyment Has not moved on as much, I really hope that watchdogs 2 next year is the focus for Ubisofts open world games and the franchise can have a year out to rethink it plan and performance targets.

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