Computer game developers always face a dilemma when creating cutting edge games: do you try to target the lowest common denominator in terms of graphics and performance, or do you try to create a truly next-generation game and hope that the hardware is able to support it at launch? When The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion was released, we saw the most recent instance of a game that reached beyond the limits of the graphics cards available at launch, and even now 8 months after its release it still is one of the most stressful games available. Part of the problem with pushing too far into next-generation hardware requirements is that developers run the risk of people being disenfranchised with their product, due to poor performance. After all, it doesn't matter how great a game looks if it's basically an unplayable slideshow.

Bethesda was fortunate that they created a game that received enough critical acclaim that many people were willing to live with the low frame rates, or even spend the extra money to get hardware capable of running the game with all of the details turned up. Certainly, the fact that Oblivion is a sequel to a popular franchise helped overcome the performance limitations. Ubisoft is in a somewhat similar situation with their successful line of games in the Splinter Cell series. Recently they released their newest installment of the series, Splinter Cell: Double Agent (SCDA) for the PC, which is essentially a direct port from the Xbox 360 version released several days before. We even see configuration files designed for the 360 included with the PC version.

Splinter Cell: Double agent doesn't break the same type of graphical boundaries that The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion did, and unfortunately there seem to be a lot of technical problems with the game. Aspects of the game feel rushed, and even though there is a patch available which addresses some issues (such as anti-aliasing) the game is still rife with bugs and glitches. Luckily though, when working the game itself is very enjoyable and a great addition to the series; we just wish Ubisoft could have waited till they fixed many of the technical issues in the game before they released it (or better yet, address the issues and release the game on schedule in the first place).

One of the major issues we have had during our testing is the exclusion of a usable timedemo feature. Timedemo functionality has been included in previous generations of Splinter Cell, and even the readme file distributed with SCDA makes reference to using its timedemo feature to test the performance of in-game settings. Without the ability to make use of a timedemo, we had to fall back on FRAPS for our performance testing. This does introduce a higher degree of variability to our tests, but our numbers will reflect the performance gamers will see when playing on a system similar to our test configuration. Hopefully Ubisoft will release a patch that exposes the timedemo (and console) features that are inherent in games built around Unreal Engine 2. If they do, we will be there with an update to our testing.

As with our initial Oblivion performance articles, we tackled Splinter Cell: Double Agent's performance tests in multiple parts. We found that the game has a wide range of environments, some of which have higher or lower impacts on performance, so we chose two benchmarks that represent a good balance of CPU and GPU limited scenarios the gamer encounters throughout the different maps. We will also be testing different graphical settings to find out what works the best for the different types of mainstream and high-end graphics cards out there right now.

Benchmarking Splinter Cell: Double Agent
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  • frostyrox - Wednesday, December 13, 2006 - link

    The PC gaming scene is slowly becoming a joke, and this is coming from a avid pc gamer. Nvidia and ATi release 10 different tiers of cards completely ripping off all of us because only 2 out of the 10 cards can actually play games well and last at least a year before they force another upgrade down our throats. I'm not buying it anymore. And Ubisoft releasing games that don't have any support for Shader 2.0 cards (Rainbow Six Vegas and Double Agent) when many many people are still using these cards because they're really not that old or slow. And THEN the games come out buggy as hell because they were designed for consoles and weren't properly optimized for PCs. Anyone else notice Rainbow Six Vegas PC has a PATCH out before the review is even up for the game? Hahaha. PC gaming scene is a joke, and the jokes on all of us. The question is whether us gamers are gonna take it anymore. I'm not.
  • frostyrox - Wednesday, December 13, 2006 - link

    I'd also like to point out websites like Tomshardware and Anandtech fully know that the only reason Oblivion runs like a total turd on every videocard configuration available is because it was poorly ported over to PC. It has literally NOTHING to do with the game being "a true test for videocards" or "amazingly NASA advanced graphics LOL". But instead of being real about the whole thing, toms and anand try their hardest to not upset the bigwigs and bring attention to this fact. I suppose so they can keep getting their free test hardware and other support for their site. It's all good. Any monkey can clearly look at the game and see the truth. Microsoft doesn't care about gamers. About the only thing they do care about is "beating sony and nintendo" (which they wont, and will never ever do). This is exactly why Oblivion was an extremely rushed title full of bugs, glitches and overall turd performance. I'm finished ranting. Have a Nice Day.
  • lemonadesoda - Sunday, December 10, 2006 - link

    What on earth is the reviewer doing by testing different cards BUT ON a very very high end CPU? I really cannot imagine ANYONE with such a CPU using a low end card.

    The tests are not helpful for the typical user. It would have been much better to do the tests with a typical cpu (e.g. P4 or D at 3.0Ghz) with all these cards. That way the typical user gets an idea how the gamne will perform on their EXISTING system or with a GPU upgrade.

    Alternatively, take a typical GPU, say X800 or X1650 or X1950 and test with different CPUs, e.g. P4 3.0 and CD 2.0, and C2D 3.0 to get an idea how the game will perform on a typical PC or with a CPU upgrade.
  • Josh Venning - Sunday, December 10, 2006 - link

    Thanks for the comment. For this review, our focus was on how Double Agent performs across different graphics cards. A faster CPU gives us more flexibility when testing, because we wouldn't be able to see the real difference in how high end graphics cards can handle the game. For lower end CPUs, a slower CPU won't have as much of an impact because the game will already be GPU limited rather than CPU limited. We may see slightly lower results, but really the only thing a slower CPU would do is obscure the difference between graphics cards. This is how we have approached all of our graphics hardware reviews over the past few years, and how we will continue to test graphics cards in the future. The idea is to eliminate as many other bottlenecks as possible so we can look at the capabilities of the hardware we are trying to study.

    Double Agent CPU performance is definitely something we could look at in a future article, but we will be waiting for Ubisoft to fix some of the problems that make this game difficult to test.

    Obviously, when making a buying descision, all aspects of a system must be taken into account. We can't review every possible system (the combiniations are way too numerous), but we can review a huge number of individual components and know where the bottleneck would be before we build a system.
  • Xcom1Cheetah - Saturday, December 9, 2006 - link

    can the power requirement of the GPU cards be checked along the tests. Just wanted to know how much difference is between 7900GS and X1950 wrt power requirement...

    Btw very well covered article...
  • Rand - Friday, December 8, 2006 - link

    It would have been nice to see some GeForce6 series graphics cards tested, their still in a considerable number of systems and are SM 3.0 capable.

    I'm also rather disappointed only one processor was tested, I think it would be worthwhile to get a gauge of CPU dependency in the game especially as related to the individual graphics cards.
  • JarredWalton - Friday, December 8, 2006 - link

    Typically we either do a look at GPU performance with one CPU, or a look at CPU performance with one GPU (usually after determining the best GPU for a game). Benching a selection of GPUs and CPUs all at the same time is simply impractical. Running four resolutions, two levels, and two/three detail settings with 10 GPUs already means doing about 200 test configurations (give or take). Now if you wanted to test those with 5 CPUs....

    Anyway, maybe Josh can look at a separate CPU scaling article in the near future if there's enough interest in that. If SCDA becomes part of our standard benchmark suite, it will also be covered with CPU launches in the future. More likely is that we will use R6 Las Vegas instead (if we add something new from the Clancy game world).
  • poohbear - Friday, December 8, 2006 - link

    why did anandtech choose this game to benchmark? It doesnt exactly stand out as a graphicly intensive game, especially since the first unreal engine 3 game is coming out in a few days (rainbow six: las vegas. i know roboblitz is the first game, but its hardly demonstrates what UE3 is capable of). I'd much rather see benchies for Rainbow six: las vegas, which will show us firsthand what kind of hardware is needed for the next year. just my 2 cents.
  • Josh Venning - Friday, December 8, 2006 - link

    Actually, we are planning to review Rainbow Six Las Vegas when we can get a hold of it, so good suggestion. :-) Double Agent may not be the most graphically intensive game ever released, but it's still a fairly high-profile release and we wanted to keep our readers informed about its performance.
  • imaheadcase - Friday, December 8, 2006 - link

    Clearly not from the screenshots, graphics don't look like anything.

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