Assassin's Creed II 4-Years Later ReviewGuest_Jim_* -
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If there is one thing this long console cycle has achieved, it is bringing out the creativity of game developers when it comes to graphics. Though both Assassin's Creed and Assassin's Creed II were built for the same console hardware, the graphics have been obviously improved in the sequel. Of course some of it is achieved by clever tricks, such as including shading in textures, so the actual models can be simpler, but in two years, the tricks can get quite clever.
Being a third-person game, the playable-character models have to be exquisite, as the player is always looking at it, and it is. Some spots reveal the limited polygon-count of the model, but not many, and mostly you can only notice it during some, but not all, animations. Also making the model look as good as it could (at the time) are the very detailed textures. Threads, folds, and wrinkles are all contained within the textures, but due to their high resolution, it is hard to pick out any artifacts that would expose their two-dimensionality. At least when the camera is at its usual distance. When it zooms in during attack or assassination animations, any imperfections become quite evident if you are looking for them. If you are not looking for them though, then you may miss them.
One graphical issue you may notice more often though is clipping. There are many possible interactions between different elements in the game, such as the weapons at your side and your legs or robes, so it is not unreasonable that some clipping occurs. Helping to conceal this is a cloak Ezio wears on his left shoulder, over his weapons. The fabric falls such that it covers the weapons, hiding the weapons and any clipping, but at times you can still see it. Also your weapons are not the only objects that can clip through something else.
The environments are actually very well designed as well, with detailed textures to give a realistic look, and plenty of small touches to further the effect. Of course there is a limited distance for detail, causing some objects to pop in, but during normal play, I doubt you will notice it much. I did notice it a few times, but I had to intentionally stop to get the screenshots of it.
One graphical aspect of the environment that does look bad, though, are the shadows. These are noticeably lower resolution than the rest of the world, so the aliased edges are very evident. Compounding that is how the shadows will actually move around, shifting as though the object of light source is moving. The problem is the aliasing also moves, making the pixels dance around, and that is hard to avoid. Of course the shadows also have a limited distance for detail, which can be exceedingly evident at times (ie. I have a screenshot where the detail cuts through a tree's shadow, so you can see leaves in one section, and a QR code in the other).
Animations, especially those for counter attacks, are very well done, though the blood spurts are not particularly convincing. Really the flying blood can look like something someone drew it on top of the image. The blood stains on your hands and clothes are a little better though, depending on where they fall. On your hands, it looks like you just reached into a punch bowl, but on your equipment, such as your hidden blades, the effect looks a bit more gruesome.
Returning to the animations for a moment, there are a number of attack animation for the different weapons you can use. For example, there is an animation for an axe that has you cleave someone's head, an animation for a hammer that has you drive through the enemy's skull, and for the hidden blades, you can actually stab your opponent's eyes out. Gruesome and violent, yes, but very satisfying to watch.
There are certain graphical elements that are just hard to get right, including fire and water. The reason for this is that both are fluids, and they are just hard to model accurately, so creative means of impersonating them have to be used. The fire in Assassin's Creed II is an animated volume, so it is not necessarily that fluid, but it still looks good. The flames actually appear to move and curl in space, when they appear. There are not many fires in the game, but there is not much wrong with that. Assassin's Creed games are not supposed to be filled with explosions, after all. However, the fires are not particularly high resolution. Look carefully and you can notice the pixelated edges. Of course the fire is also not very real looking as it does not really live in the environment. It does not burn objects as you watch, and does not even cast enough light to obscure shadows. Still though, it is not bad looking video-game fire.
Water is also present in the game, as you travel to Venice and get to swim or row around the city. The water is not particularly lively, when left alone, and it does not even react to boats that much, though you can see lighter patches behind you as you row around. Where the water does look quite good is on you. After climbing out of the water, you are literally dripping wet, causing light to reflect off of your character differently than usual. Definitely a nice touch.
Now it is time to talk about performance, so here are my specs:
- Processor: AMD A10-5800K @ 4.40 GHz (44.0x100)
- Motherboard: ASUS F2A85-M PRO
- GPU: EVGA GTX 570 1280 MB
- PhysX: MSI GTS 250 1 GB
- Memory: G.Skill Ripjaws 4x8 GB (32 GB total) at 1866 MHz 10-10-10-27
- OS: Windows 7- Professional 64-bit
At the highest settings, I noticed little if any performance issues. The framerate was consistently at 60 FPS, though there may have been times it dropped to the high fifties. This did not happen often. During the entire game, I only noticed two issues. One happened when Ezio apparently got pulled into a cutscene during an animation, causing him to hold a somewhat awkward and amusing pose. Simply trying to move fixed the problem, so this was really not a problem. The other issue was a problem, but I am not sure what caused it. At times my mouse was misbehaving in the game, seemingly skipping around the screen, instead of smoothly moving from point to point. I did not notice this outside of the game, but restarting my computer fixed it, so I am not sure what the cause was. (The restart was for other reasons than the game.) Though I mention it, I doubt you will experience it.
Like the previous game, cinematics cannot be skipped in Assassin's Creed II, which is not a problem, considering how much story is conveyed through them. Unlike the previous game though, Assassin's Creed II does offer subtitles! That may not be important to you, but I am one of those people that likes to have them there, so I can read along, in case I do not understand what is said.
For being four-years-old, Assassin's Creed II still looks good. It may not have the amazing lighting and high resolution of this year's best, but it has where it needs where it counts. Of course as you actually play the game, the imperfections will be hard to notice.