Assassin's Creed III Benchmarked
A new era. In November, Ubisoft releases two candidates for the game of the year at once. Alongside the open-world shooter Far Cry 3, the action-adventure game Assassin's Creed III seeks to lure the affection of the PC community. This article is primarily devoted to the technology involved and the hardware requirements for the Assassin fable.
Even if Brotherhood and Revelations were considered more or less add-ons, with Assassin's Creed III Ubisoft is already releasing the fifth part in the popular action series. Although the fascination with assassination and climbing has somewhat abated and lost its charm (keyword hay-cart), this fresh offshoot makes an excellent impression.
Like its forerunners, Assassin's Creed III is split across various time levels. In the present we control Desmond Miles, a cheeky spring chicken, who in part I -- spoiler alert -- is carried off by the mysterious Abstergo organization and hidden under the cover of the obscure "Animus" machine, in order to relive the experiences of his ancestors (here the templar-against-assassin fight dominates).
Abstergo's goal is to obtain the so-called Piece of Eden: a secret artifact that gives the possessor enormous power. At the end of part I, with the help of Lucy, an employee of Abstergo, Desmond escapes. Assassin's Creed II revolves around the characters' flight. After the runaways have found an adequate hiding place, with his own Animus apparatus, Desmond is sent back into the "past".
With which we're already back to the topic at hand -- as the Abstergo story "only" establishes the narrative and cross-game framework. We spend the majority of our time with the Animus i.e. memory passages. While in Assassin's Creed I you slip into Altaïr's skin and fight your way through the trials and tribulations of the Crusades, in the second part you're on your way as the Renaissance-Italian Ezio.
After the release of the two supplemental chapters, Brotherhood and Revelations, of course fans were excited for the third offshoot's scenario. The French Revolution, our personal favorite, unfortunately wasn't their pick. Instead, Ubisoft Montreal went for the North-American continent and picked the famous American Revolutionary War. To be honest, we were a little skeptical when we heard the announcement -- and even more so when we considered the screenshots. Snowy white forests and brown colonies in the style of the Wild West don't guarantee much variety. The final product quickly taught us a lesson.
After the linear but quite well-staged introductory chapter (we go to the opera and take a boat ride) the gamer lands in an architecturally and stylistically well-executed Boston. Ubisoft does an excellent job of creating a believable open-world full of atmosphere. You discover charming details everywhere, for instance roaming animals (mice, dogs, pigs, etc.).
Highest praise in that regard goes to the density of people. Dozens of folks are going about their daily routines, whether in the marketplace or the harbor. They converse among themselves, go fishing, paint the walls of houses, advertise goods, carry barrels, saw wood, etc. etc. etc. Aside from a few KI and Clipping bugs, the illusion creates a "real" environment.
The game provides the tried-and-true delights of the series. Despite the new scenario, the typical "Assassin's Creed feeling" develops quickly. We jump, sprint and exercise our acrobatic moves through narrow spaces between buildings with ease. Great: Ubisoft tightened some of its loose bolts in regards to the controls (though they still take some getting used to). The former artistic quirks are now a touch more fluid and exact.
Technologically improvements are equally noticeable. Along with the quantity of characters, the quality of textures and effects (water, lighting, etc.) has also been enhanced. The main characters in particular score big with lots of details; though you shouldn't expect too great a quantum leap. In a league with The Witcher 2 Assassin's Creed III can't make it up too far; but most gamers will be satisfied with the visual effects. The graphics are good enough to plunge you into an imaginary world.
Also excellent: the music and the English speakers are delightfully high-quality. The "console" menus and the somewhat insufficient enemy intelligence aren't so phenomenal. In general the level of difficulty is most suited to beginners. As soon as you've internalized the fight mechanics and the counter-attack methods, AC3 tends towards being too simple. This drawback was true of its predecessors too.
Otherwise the action game hardly has any issues. Ubisoft created a motivating, atmospheric and distinct specimen of this genre. A little tip for the Assassin's Creed newbies: in order to understand some of the story elements, it would help to read up about the saga in advance.
The benchmark sequence we selected is quite demanding, once again. The arrival in Boston formally presents itself for speed measurements. The second chapter begins with a sweeping tracking shot, displaying an expansive harbor basin with several ships. The picture zooms in on the playable characters, who are received on the pier by Charles Lee. A close-up presents the detailed countenances of the two figures.
After a short conversation, we are led through the animated harbor-area in the direction of our accommodation. Along the wooden bridges hordes of ground staff bustle about, which truly works the hardware to its full capacity. We follow Charles Lee until a woman to the right trips with her crate, and oranges roll all over the ground.
The complete sequence lasts about 60 seconds. To determine the average display refresh rate we used the Fraps tool, as usual. In order to play comfortably it should be 25 fps at minimum in the benchmark.
The graphics menu doesn't exactly have a lot of adjustable screws at the ready. Resolution, texture sharpness, environment quality, shadow details and anti-aliasing: those are the only options. Changes are generally only noticeable based on the conditions of your current place in the game. Looking at screenshots, in some cases it's difficult to see any difference at all. Even when using the "Normal" level the action-cracker looks little more than acceptable. With all the controls on stop the display becomes not only calmer (better anti-aliasing) but also somewhat crisper and more vivid. The shadow edges improve as well. High-quality TXAA is only available to certain Nvidia GPUs.
Tip: for the benchmarks we manually deactivate the vertical synchronization. In Windows' Owner folder, under Documents/Assassin's Creed III there is an .ini file named "Assassin3" (created after the start of the first game), which can be easily opened in an editor. Near the top we replace VSync=1 with VSync=0.
A look at the results reveals that currently AMD graphics cards are still at a distinct disadvantage. For example the Radeon HD 7970M: the high-end GPU still sometimes has to admit defeat in the face of the competing mid-class GeForce GT 650M. But at our Ultra setting (1920x1080, Very High) it still reaches the GTX 675M level.
We trust that AMD will be working on some improvements in the coming weeks and months. Our drivers were certainly the most current on the market (see below). Older versions should be categorically avoided -- especially as an AMD user (with the Catalyst 12.4 we had terrible graphics errors).
Assassin's Creed III only makes moderate demands on the hardware. For 1366x768 pixels and high settings even a mid-class GPU like the GeForce GT 630M (about 30 fps) is satisfactory. Very high detail and 1920x1080 pixels are distinctly more demanding. Without a potent high-end graphics card this action game quickly becomes a mass of jolts. Nothing less than a GeForce GTX 675M can shoulder the above settings with 25 fps.
The poor AMD performance also concerns the desktop models. As such, the Radeon HD 7970 is ranked behind the actually weaker GeForce GTX 660 Ti. In general, the CPU is often the limiting factor at low resolutions and settings -- at least with luxury graphics cards. As we are already speaking of processors: with the Intel chips HD Graphics 3000 and HD Graphics 4000 (both under 20 fps) gamers aren't going to be at all pleased. Cheaper or older entry-level models can barely handle the game, or can't handle it at all, period.
Assassin's Creed III is an absolutely obligatory buy for action-adventure fans. Ubisoft worked very hard on the conceptual design and development of the fable-universe. The game plays with comfortable fluidity and entertains at a high level. Audio-visually the developers did a great job as well. The same goes for the interesting story.
Many thanks to Schenker Notebooks, who kindly provided us with the three following laptops (mysn.de):
- XMG P502 (Core i7-3610QM, GeForce GTX 660M, GTX 670M, GTX 675M(X), GTX 680M & Radeon HD 7970M, 8 GB RAM)
- XMG A502 (Core i5-3360M, GeForce GT 650M & HD Graphics 4000, 8 GB RAM)
- Xesia M501 (Core i7-2630QM, GeForce GT 630M & HD Graphics 3000, 8 GB RAM)
The GPU driver versions used for the listed laptops were: Nvidia 310.61 Beta, AMD 12.11 Beta 8 & Intel 22.214.171.12475.