Assassins Creed:Syndicate PC Technical Analysis
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.
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.
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.