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Assassin's Creed Unity Review

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Graphics:

Without a doubt, Unity is the best looking game of the franchise. In fact, it is among the best looking games I can recall playing. A significant part of this is because of Paris, the in-game world, being so detailed. Roofing tiles, the roads, carved ornaments on buildings, everything is so tremendously detailed to be truly amazing. I am not talking about the textures here; I mean the geometry is that well detailed, which is likely thanks to a lot of tessellation. The textures are very detailed too.

Named character models are also amazing, though some are better than other's. Élise's face is especially well detailed, even compared to Arno's. Facial animations are of equally high quality, with many actually seeming naturally smooth, instead of there just being points around the mouth that move while a character speaks. Some characters could use some touching up though, such as adding some shading to the imperfections on their skin. Hair almost always looks stringy to me, which is not very appealing in close ups.

Clothing often had at least some physics to it, such as Arno's coat, which freely hangs around his feet, and Élise's sleeves, which move around even more freely. Clothing also leads to some clipping issues, especially during the in-game cutscenes. One of the hoods I wore also had a rather high collar to it, and when Arno turned his head in these cutscenes, his chin passed right through the collar.

Another issue that happened too often involved depth-of-field, which is not an option you can set. At times in cutscenes, objects or people can be very near the camera, and when they are, they are blurred. Not out of focus, but blurred, and that really does destroy the beauty of the frame. If only there was an option that it could be turned off.

 

 

 

 

Unnamed characters, meaning the people you run into on the street, do look good, but are not on the same level as the named characters. They can also have some odd clipping and model issues. The clipping issues are just that; it is not uncommon for you to clip through parts of these bodies. What was unusual to find was couples sitting together, enjoying the scenery. What made it odd, was that sometimes the woman would be clipped into the man's legs. Apparently her model was not always placed above the ground at the correct distance. I also noticed that many of these character models lacked a body and were just the clothes you see. While it does make sense to not model and therefore render what you do not see, there were times that pieces of clothing did separate from each other, causing the character to resemble the Invisible Man, as the bandages are removed. One of these times was with a couple sitting together, with the woman's lack of upper-legs revealed. She only had legs from the knees down, because the dress was supposed to cover the rest, but that only works when she is standing.

Animations of these NPC's tended to be good, with them throwing their arms up and running away when you enter combat. Death animations can be a bit messy though. When an NPC dies, its body will fall to the ground, but the physics is not quite right, so the limbs can start to twist around, into impossible positions, and even cause the body to quiver for a while. It is a little creepy to watch, especially if the NPC's head faces the camera, because they have no eyelids.

The lighting looks a little odd at first, with the game having such high luminance everywhere, almost as though the sun were always at its brightest and there was a slight haze in the air to catch it. Basically I would expect most people would wear sunglasses if it were like this outside. In the game, it works fairly well. It still looks a little unnatural, but none of the surfaces share this appearance. The lighting on surfaces all look quite good, as is.

 

Shadows generally look good, which makes sense given the use of NVIDIA's HBAO+ and Percentage Closer Soft Shadows. Shadows are somewhat important in this game, or at least easily seen with all of the buildings, and you can indeed see the softening. It can be seen more easily in some places than others, but is still very present and visible. With HBAO+, more objects cast shadows, including the many people you can see on the Parisian streets. There does appear to be a limited draw distance for these less significant shadows, but not for the shadows of buildings. Sadly, there are many times that shadows had a sawtooth look to them, but at least this seemed contained to those shadows cast over very short distances.

 

 

Water actually does something in Unity, I cannot recall seeing in any other game and I am very glad to see it. Normally in other games, water interaction, even at its best, involves an animation being rendered on the water and sometimes above it, to show off the splash. Here the splash above the water actually appears to be rendered, in 3D! It is not very complex or detailed, but when I spotted this, I actually stopped running to my destination to go back and play in the water, to confirm what I saw. I know it may sound weird to turn around to look at water effects, but I always find it interesting to see how the fluid is handled by different developers.

 

I know there were some instances of fire in the game, but not terribly many. In fact, I would have forgotten to even grab a picture of it, if there were not a small fire hovering over the floor for no reason in one mission. Mostly, it is kept in environmental lighting objects, like torches and braziers, where it moves slow, seemingly for dramatic purposes. It also looks like someone confused smoke and fire, as the flames seemed to cover the area and move as though they were smoke. The effect itself is a flat, animated texture that is rotated as needed, unlike the 3D water effect that actually has a volume to it.

Time to talk about performance (and the bugs I experienced) so here are my specs:

  • Processor: AMD A10-5800K @ 4.40 GHz (44.0x100)
  • Cooling: Corsair H110
  • Motherboard: ASUS F2A85-M PRO
  • GPU: NVIDIA GTX 980 4 GB
  • PhysX: EVGA GTX 770 2 GB
  • Memory: G.Skill Ripjaws 4x8 GB (32 GB total) at 1866 MHz 10-10-10-27
  • PSU: OCZ Fata1ty 750 W
  • OS: Windows 7- Professional 64-bit

I ran the game at maximum settings, which means that geometry and textures were turned up to Ultra High, Soft Shadows were enabled, as were Bloom effects. Unfortunately I cannot say I ran at these settings because the GTX 980 was powerful enough to push them out, but that there was little difference between the highest and lowest settings, in terms of performance. My average framerate may have been around 30 FPS, but if I had some way to record it, a framerate below 30 would not surprise me. Truly, it was rare to see the framerate go above 30, though there was one section in a rift sequence that actually achieved and maintained 60 FPS. Why this one section performed so far beyond every other section, I do not know.

What I do know, is that the experience is so different when the framerate is that high. One possibility I thought of was that it could be my CPU slowing everything down, because of the number of AI's needed for all of the people on the screen, which would make sense as that rift sequence had no people. Neither did the other rift sequences though, where the framerate remained low, so I truly have no specific idea why this one section was better.

At 30 FPS, the game experienced micro-stutter, but when it dropped below, as it often did, it was no longer micro. There were multiple times I simply ran from fights because the stutter would make the fight just too difficult. Some gameplay changes from previous titles did not help, but even then, to not have consistent control and awareness while fighting multiple enemies is a problem. At times the game even pretended crashing, as in it froze and killed audio, as though the program had crashed, only to start up again after a few seconds. This happened multiple times and I actually have video of it.

I did experiment with the graphics settings in the hopes of easing the framerate upward, to improve the experience, but this amounted to nothing. There was one particularly frustrating mission that was in part difficult, because of the stuttering, so I turned to the Low preset and restarted the game, as the texture setting requires a restart to actually change. The framerate and stuttering was no different between Low and Ultra High for the whole of the mission, and everywhere else that I tested it.

 

When experimenting with the settings, I found that changing them could cause the NPC's walking along the streets could actually fall into the streets, with only their heads visible. Walking closer to them would cause them to either fall through the ground or fly up and continue walking. People hovering in the air until you approached them was not uncommon throughout the game, even without messing with the settings.

I did not mention the anti-aliasing option earlier when I gave the settings because of an unusual issue I had with it. For the beginning of the game, I ran with it set to TXAA, the highest setting. Below it are MSAA, from 2x to 8x, and FXAA below them. As I have mentioned before, when I first experimented with TXAA in other games, I have seen a halo effect around characters, like compression artifacts, which is something I refuse to tolerate. That specific issue did not appear to happen, but at one point I did notice a halo around Arno. Immediately I suspected TXAA, even though it was smaller than what I had seen before and was actually lit up, instead of a distortion, but when I went to a different AA, something happened I did not expect. The lighting of the area changed.

Yes, the lighting of the area, a hallway, changed. The hallway would be complete dark if not for some lamps hanging from the ceiling. With TXAA on, there was a halo of light outlining Arno and the light on the ground was only around him too. With any other AA selected, the length of the hallway was lit by the lamps. I have no idea, at all, how any AA option could cause this. We are talking about the light literally not being rendered on the floor, because of TXAA. After this, I ran with just FXAA on, because it worked about as well as the MSAA options did, but uses fewer resources, so maybe the framerate was higher than it would have been otherwise.

 

Another issue I found with the lighting was that some floors seemed to blink on and off with it. Not sure why that would be, but I also found that blood could blink on Arno's clothes. It is kind of weird to see large blood spots vanish just because of the angle Arno's back is at.

One final issue I noticed, which may not be strictly gameplay, is that sometimes the mouse become non-responsive, laggy and/or sluggish. The video I recorded may not capture it very well, but at times the camera would refuse to move with the mouse, only to jerk forward randomly before stopping again. In the video, I am moving my mouse smoothly back and forth, about the width of my mouse pad, and the camera kind of snaps around in response. I tried setting the game to Borderless Fullscreen, thinking it may cause the cursor to be treated differently, as in theory it could leave the window, and this seemed to help. As it randomly occurred, it is hard to know what the solution was. Unfortunately, I am unable to record game video in this mode, so I have none of the latter half of the game. At least there won't be much in the way of spoilers there.

What this all seems to add up to I believe, is a game with very good graphics, but a horribly optimized engine. The best evidence of this last point is the lack of difference between the Low and Ultra High settings, as framerate goes. Visually the difference was definitely present, but the framerate should have shot up. Then there were the mouse issues, the stuttering, and the pretend-crashing. I am left dumbfounded by these issues and can say little more than that the experience does suffer from these issues and that these issues, all of them, do need to be addressed, if not for Unity, then for whatever comes after it.




  1. Assassin's Creed Unity Review - Introduction
  2. Assassin's Creed Unity Review - Graphics
  3. Assassin's Creed Unity Review - Story
  4. Assassin's Creed Unity Review - Gameplay
  5. Assassin's Creed Unity Review - Additional Gameplay Media
  6. Assassin's Creed Unity Review - Conclusion
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