Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell Blacklist ReviewGuest_Jim_* - September 3, 2013
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The day after Blacklist released, NVIDIA and Ubisoft announced a partnership they formed during its development to incorporate some of the newest graphics technology the green team has developed for PC gamers. This means NVIDIA's technology team and Ubisoft developers worked closely together during development to provide us with the best looking PC game they could by adding TXAA and tessellation, as well as debuting HBAO+.
Temporal Anti-Aliasing, or TXAA, is an advanced anti-aliasing technology that combines MSAA with a temporal filter to achieve superior quality, especially for motion in the game. This could be the camera motion you control or the motion of environmental objects. To use it requires a GTX 600-series graphics card, or better, and as I only have a GTX 570, the option is not available to me. Instead the anti-aliasing method I used is FXAA, which was my default setting.
Tessellation is one of the features Microsoft added to DirectX 11 to increase graphics quality without hitting performance too hard. It operates by adding vertices to a mesh, thereby smoothing out curves. As the GPU adds these new vertices each frame, instead of them being part of the original mesh, the mesh does not fill up the frame buffer or take up extra room on a computer's hard drive(s).
Horizon Based Ambient Occlusion (HBAO+) is a special Screen Space AO (SSAO) algorithm that is able to produce more realistic shadows, but for performance purposes is often limited to half-resolution. With HBAO+ though, NVIDIA worked to make it faster, so suitably powerful GPUs can apply it at full resolution. The company also strived to improve its efficiency on DX11 GPUs by using an interleaved rendering approach, instead of a full screen pass with per-pixel jittering. This setting is not dependent on the Kepler architecture like TXAA, so my older card is able to run it.
Of course the partnership enabled other technologies to be implemented in the PC version of the game, but these three are probably the most interesting. You can visit NVIDIA's website for more information on the technologies.
Without a doubt, Blacklist is a good looking game on the PC. Character models take very good advantage of tessellation, with nary a stray vertex in sight. The environment is also highly detailed thanks to tessellation and parallax mapping, which simulates more detailed geometry without actually adding it. Shadows and lighting also look spectacular and realistic, compared to many other modern games.
Those positives being said though, there are some negatives. Sometimes when light reflects off of your face, it has a hard quality to it, as though your face were made of plastic instead of skin. In fact, it reflects similarly to the material your suit is made out of, which most certainly is not skin. Also water does not really interact with you as you walk through it. Your steps do throw splashes into the air, but no ripples are created. Those splashes also look like a collection of 2D sprites thrown together at different angles to look three dimensional. Finally, there are some places lacking the high resolution textures found throughout the game. This includes an area in the Paladin, your flying base of operations.
While these negatives do exist, they are not particularly distracting as you are not always exposed to them. You do not walk through water very often and the only spot I have really noticed the odd reflections is in the close up when you decide to start a mission.
One other thing that is neither a negative nor a positive, but I feel like mentioning anyway. Even though you are playing in a third-person perspective, at times light will reveal spots on the virtual camera lens. Considering the lens does not actually exist, this seems like an odd attempt to add some realism. (Now that I have pointed it out, you are forever doomed to noticing it! Mwhahahaha!)
Performance time, so here are my specs:
- Processor: AMD A10-5800K @ 4.40 GHz (44.0x100)
- Cooling: Corsair H110
- Motherboard: ASUS F2A85-M PRO
- GPU: EVGA GTX 570 1280 MB
- PhysX: MSI GTS 250 1 GB
- 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
- Drivers: GeForce 326.80 Driver – Beta
I mention the drivers here because I had to update to them to fix some… interesting graphical glitches. (I will include some screenshots in the Additional Gameplay Images section, just so you can see what it looks like.) Other than that, I have noticed that the game will spontaneously crash, lose window focus, and throw me to the desktop. When this happens I have to use Task Manager to manually end the game. Fortunately the game remembers the last checkpoint you were at, and allows you to start from there. I am not sure exactly what was causing those crashes, but I believe the cause is related to my GPU's overclock and the beta drivers. Given the timing of the crashes, and my removing the overclock at one point, I believe it is most likely the beta drivers misbehaving, so hopefully the eventual release drivers will be more stable.
Despite having a relatively older GPU, my system is able to run the game with a framerate between 40 and the mid-50s, even under the Ultra settings. This setting includes tessellation and HBAO+, which while effective at improving image quality, indeed appear to have not drastically hurt performance. The anti-aliasing was initially FXAA, and I left it there instead of playing with the setting.
The audio effects are definitely satisfying as light bulbs do not break, but pop when you shoot them. Be careful where you walk too, as glass on the ground will break and boards will creek under your weight. One thing odd is the subtitles, which are accurate to the what is being said, but at times are delayed. In some spots the verbal conversation has ended before the final sentence has even been placed on the screen. Not a big issue, but something that could be annoying if you try to read along to what you are hearing.