Graphics and Design Decisions

AC has some very impressive graphics, but there are also some design decisions that have us scratching our heads (we'll get to those in a moment). The engine supports the latest buzzword features: high dynamic range lighting, motion blur, environmental bump mapping, depth of field effects.... If you want a game that will make good use of your DirectX 10 graphics card, AC certainly qualifies. That's not to say the graphics are better than Crysis, but they do a good job of portraying a 12th-century environment. (Worth mention is that DX9 cards are also supported, and in testing on DX10 hardware we didn't immediately notice any major differences. If you're still holding on to Windows XP, you can enjoy Assassin's Creed without any serious loss of quality.)

The maps that you visit during the course of the game are the true star of the show, giving the player huge areas to explore with nary a loading screen in sight. There are loading screens in between the main areas, but once you enter a city -- i.e. Jerusalem -- you are free to explore the whole town with no further delays. That's not to say that you can explore all of each map from the start; you will need to unlock additional "memories" before you can enter the three parts of each main city (Damascus, Jerusalem, and Acre). However, late in the game it was nice to be able to navigate an entire city. We just wish some later missions would have involved more than one city area.

If there's one area of AC that truly impresses us, it is without doubt the character animations. Watching Altaïr move around through the city -- disregarding the slight swing in his hips -- looks natural, but that's nothing special. It's when you start running, jumping, dodging through crowds, and climbing various structures that the work of the artists begins to shine. If you ever watched some of the online videos of Parkour or Free Running, you will have some idea of what it's like to move through the cities in AC. We wouldn't go so far as to call the animation "perfect", but for the amount of environmental interaction that takes place it comes darn close. The fluid animation extends to the fight sequences, where Altaïr has a huge variety of finishing moves. Which move he uses is essentially random, but they all look great.

One other aspect of the game that certainly warrants discussion is the control system. Most PC gamers have now experienced ports that suffer from a severe case of "consolitis" -- the feeling that a game was ported from a platform where a gamepad was standard, and no one ever took the time to properly modify things so that mouse and keyboard users will feel at home. While there are a few areas where colsolitis shows up -- without using the Alt+F4 shortcut, it can take well over a minute to exit the game as you navigate through the various menus and areas -- mouse and keyboard support is very well done. In fact, mouse and keyboard support is so well done I almost wonder how people could play this game using a gamepad. I tried it with my Xbox 360 controller, and it only took a few minutes before I was back to using the mouse and keyboard. Others might feel differently, but this is one console port where a gamepad is definitely not required.

Now let's get to our complaints with the graphics and game design. One complaint is that areas tend to look very similar. Building and architectural styles might vary a bit between Damascus, Jerusalem, and Acre -- not to mention the Kingdom map -- but the Middle East setting does necessitate a certain look and feel with little to differentiate one town from another. Initial impressions are very favorable, but the longer you play the game the more repetitive the environments begin to feel.

Perhaps a bigger concern is Ubisoft's choice of presentation. We've complained in the past about games that lack proper widescreen support -- for example, the Battlefield series does not offer proper aspect ratio control, with early titles stretching the image to fill your screen and the last two versions cropping the top and bottom edges. The approach in AC is different, but in some ways it's almost worse. Regardless of what resolution you choose to run at, AC will render as a 16:9 aspect ratio. If you have a 16:10 computer monitor, you will get black bars on the top and bottom. If you have a 4:3 or 5:4 display, you'll get even larger black bars on the top and bottom! Only 16:9 resolutions (i.e. 1280x720 or 1920x1080) avoid the black bars, but unless you're playing on an HDTV you'll end up with a stretched image or black bars regardless. We understand that there's a certain amount of artistic presentation in a game, but it still shocks us that the designers felt it was better to force users to see a widescreen image than to let them decide for themselves how the game looks best.

Then we come to the major can of worms: DirectX 10.1. What exactly does DirectX 10.1 allow you to do that can't be done in DirectX 10? In terms of actual graphic effects, it adds nothing. What DirectX 10.1 does allow is the ability to do certain effects in a single pass rather than two separate passes. So if one graphics chip requires five passes to render a scene and a competing chip can render the same scene in four passes, all other things being equal you would expect the four-pass chip to be ~25% faster. As far as we can tell, Ubisoft uses (used) DirectX 10.1 in order to render anti-aliasing without incurring a substantial performance hit. Depending on your computer system, if you have one of ATI's HD 3000 series cards, you may be able to enable anti-aliasing with little to no performance loss. That's the only difference we noticed during testing, though the 1.02 patch removes DX10.1 support. We'll look at this in a moment, but we need to talk about another complaint with the game design first.

"Free" anti-aliasing sounds great -- if it works. The problem is, at present the only way to get anti-aliasing is via the in-game menus; trying to force anti-aliasing through the ATI or NVIDIA drivers does not work right now. This wouldn't be a concern at all, except Ubisoft decided to limit anti-aliasing support to certain resolutions. Specifically, the maximum resolution that allows users to enable anti-aliasing is 1680x1050. That was a very shortsighted decision, considering newer and faster graphics cards and other hardware are continuously appearing. While top-end hardware of today might struggle at 2560x1600 with 4xAA, there's little doubt that future hardware will be able to run such settings on AC without difficulty.

There are basically three areas that we would like to see addressed with a future patch. First, we would like to see the aspect ratio support "fixed". Users should be given the option to choose whether they would like an letterbox format with black bars on the top and bottom or an image that fills their entire screen. Second, we would like to see anti-aliasing allowed across all resolutions; we understand that not all computer hardware is going to be able to handle high resolutions with 4xAA, but at least give us the chance to try it out. Computer gamers are generally savvy when it comes to tweaking graphics settings; if it's too slow, we are fully capable of disabling anti-aliasing or lowering the resolution. Finally, Ubisoft really needs to bring back DirectX 10.1 support. It's one thing to not add a feature that a lot of gamers can't use; it's a completely different story to remove a feature that was already present. We can't help but feel there were some conversations between Ubisoft and NVIDIA personnel that resulted in the removal of DX10.1 support.

And with that said, let's take a look at actual graphics performance on a couple of systems.

More Gameplay Test Setup


View All Comments

  • Zak - Tuesday, June 3, 2008 - link

    I'm usually against AnandTech straying away from their core hardware reviews they've become famous for in the first place, but this is the best, most thorough, in-depth game review I have ever read! Very well done, most enjoyable reading. Thanks:)

  • mustardman - Tuesday, June 3, 2008 - link

    I'm curious why Anandtech recommended Vista without comparing the performance of Windows XP. They didn't even have a test box running XP or did I miss it.

    From my experience and experience from friends, Vista is still behind XP in gaming performance. In some cases, far behind.

    Am I missing something?
  • JarredWalton - Tuesday, June 3, 2008 - link

    With modern DX10 GPUs, Vista is required to even get DX10 support. Having looked at DX9 Assassin's Creed, I can't say the difference is all that striking, but the DX10 mode did seem to run faster. (I could test if there's desire, but it will have to wait as I'm traveling this week and don't have access to the test systems used in this article.)

    Personally, while Vista had some issues out of the gate, drivers and performance are now much better. XP may still be faster in some situations, but if you're running a DX10 GPU I can't see any reason to stick with XP. In fact, there are plenty of aspects of Vista that I actually prefer in general use.

    Since this was primarily a game review, and I already spent 3x as much time benchmarking as I actually did beating the game, I just wanted to get it wrapped up. Adding in DX9 Vista vs. DX9 XP would have required another 20-30 hours of benchmarking, and I didn't think the "payoff" was worthwhile.
  • Justin Case - Monday, June 2, 2008 - link

    [quote]Unlike Oblivion, however, all of the activity you see is merely a façade. The reality is that all the people are in scripted loops, endlessly repeating their activities.[/quote]

    ...which is exactly what Oblivion NPCs do (compounded by the fact that they all have the same handful of voices, that all voices use exactly the same sentences, and that some characters change voice completely depending on which scripted line they're repeating).

    If anything, Oblivion's world feels even more artificial than Morrowind. One thing is the AI we were promised for Oblivion while the game was in development, another is what actually shipped. Most of the behaviors shown in the "preview videos" simply aren't in the game at all.

    Even with the (many, and very good) 3rd party mods out there, Oblivion NPCs feel like robots.
  • JarredWalton - Tuesday, June 3, 2008 - link

    Oblivion NPCs can actually leave town, they sleep at night, they wander around a much larger area.... Yes, they feel scripted, but compared to the AC NPCs they are geniuses. The people in AC walk in tight loops - like imagine someone walking a path of about 500-1000 feet endlessly, with no interruptions for food, bed, etc. I'm not saying Oblivion is the best game ever, but it comes a lot closer to making you feel like it's a "real" world than Assassin's Creed.

    But I still enjoyed the game overall.
  • erwendigo - Monday, June 2, 2008 - link

    This is a very old new, the DX10.1 suppor of this game eliminate one render pass BUT with a cost, a inferior quality image.
    The render image isn´t equal to DX10 version, Ubisoft then dropped suport for DX10.1 in 1.02 patch.

    A story very simple, nothing about conspiracy theory, or phantoms.

    Anandtech guys, if you believe in these phantoms, then make a review with 1.01 patch (this is yet on this world, men, download and test the f***ing patch), otherwise, your credibility will disminish thanks to this conspiracy theory.
  • JarredWalton - Tuesday, June 3, 2008 - link

    I tested with version 1.00 and 1.02 on NVIDIA and ATI hardware. I provided images of 1.00 and 1.02 on both sets of hardware. The differences in image quality that I see are at best extremely trivial, and yet 1.02 in 4xAA runs about 25% slower on ATI hardware than 1.00.

    What is version 1.01 supposed to show me exactly? They released 1.01, pulled it, and then released 1.02. Seems like they felt there were some problems with 1.01, so testing with it makes no sense.
  • erwendigo - Tuesday, June 3, 2008 - link

    Well, you writed several pages about the suspicious reasons of the dropped support of DX10.1.

    If you sow the seeds of doubt, then you´ld have done a test for it.

    The story of this dropped suport has a official version (graphical bugs), and in many forums users reported this with 1.01 patch (and DX10.1). Another version is the conspiracy theory, but this version hasn´t proof.

    ¿This is the truth? I don´t know, I can´t test this with my computer, but if you publish the conspiracy theory and test the performance and quality of 1.0 and 1.02 version, why don´t you do the same with 1.01 patch?

    This is not about performance, this is to endorse your version of the story. With this, your words earn respect, without the test, your words are transformed into bad rumors.
  • JarredWalton - Tuesday, June 3, 2008 - link

    I still don't get what you're after. Version 1.00 has DirectX 10.1 support; version 1.02 does not. Exactly what is version 1.01 supposed to add to that mix? Faulty DX10.1? Removed DX10.1 with graphical errors? I don't even know where to find it (if it exists), so please provide a link.

    The only official word from Ubisoft is that DX10.1 "removed a rendering pass, which is costly." That statement doesn't even make sense, however, as what they really should have said is DX10.1 allowed them to remove a rendering pass, which was beneficial. Now, if it was beneficial, why would they then get rid of this support!?

    As an example of what you're saying, Vista SP1 brings together a bunch of updates in one package and offers better performance in several areas relative to the initial release of the OS. So imagine we test networking performance with the launch version of Vista, and then we test it with SP1 installed, and we conclude that indeed somewhere along the way network performance improved. Then you waltz in and suggest that our findings are meaningless because we didn't test Vista without SP1 but with all the other standard updates applied. What exactly would that show? That SP1 was a conglomerate of previous updates? We already know that.

    So again, what exactly is version 1.01 supposed to show? Version 1.02 appears to correct the errors that were seen with version 1.00. Unless version 1.01 removed DX10.1 and offered equivalent performance to 1.00 or kept DX10.1 and offered equivalent performance to 1.02, there's no reason to test it.

    Maybe the issue is the version numbers we're talking about. I'm calling version of the game - what the DVD shipped with - version 1.00. The patched version of the game is, so I call that 1.02. Here's what the 1.02 patch officially corrects:

    * Fixed a rare crash while riding the horse in Kingdom
    * Fixed a corruption of Altair’s robe on certain graphics hardware
    * Cursor is now centered when accessing the Map
    * Fixed a few problems with Alt-Tab
    * Fixed a graphical bug in the final fight
    * Fixed a few graphical problems with dead bodies
    * Fixed pixellation with post-FX enabled on certain graphics hardware
    * Fixed a small bug in the DNA Menu that would cause the image to disappear if the arrow was clicked rapidly
    * Fixed some graphical corruption in Present Room with low Level Of Detail
    * Character input is now canceled if the controller is unplugged while moving
    * Added support for x64 versions of Windows
    * Fixed broken post-effects on DirectX 10.1 enabled cards
    I've heard more about rendering errors on NVIDIA hardware with v1.00 than I have of ATI hardware having problems. I showed a (rare) rendering error in the images that happens with ATI and 4xAA, but all you have to do is lock onto a target or enter Eagle Vision to get rid of the error (and I never saw it come back until I restarted the game).

    Bottom line is I have PROOF that v1.00 and v1.02 differ in performance, specifically in the area of anti-aliasing on ATI 3000 hardware. If a version 1.01 patch ever existed, it doesn't matter in this comparison. The conspiracy "theory" part is why Ubisoft removed DX10.1 support. If you're naive enough to think NVIDIA had nothing to do with that, I wish you best of luck in your life. That NVIDIA and Ubisoft didn't even respond to our email on the subject speaks volumes - if you can't say anything that won't make you look even worse, you just ignore the problem and go on your merry way.
  • erwendigo - Tuesday, June 3, 2008 - link

    Well, you talk me about some links, then here have some of them:

    The first and foremost:">

    In this one Rage3D (a proATI website) analyzes the reason of the dropped support of DX10.1, with a comparation of images of the different rendering modes.

    In this article Rage3D people found several graphical bugs of the dx10.1, they described them as minor bugs, BUT I don´t think that the lack of some effects in the DX10.1 are minor bugs.
    The DX10.1 with activated AA lacks of dust effect, and the HDR rendering is different from the DX10 version.

    In Rage3D thinks that this show a DX10 bug in HDR rendering, because they said that Ubisoft declared that HDR rendering in DX9 and DX10 paths are identical, and they tested that DX10 and DX9 HDR rendering are different. This point could be true, but it´s something strange that the DX10 HDR rendering path was buggy in the release version of the game, and in the 1.01 patch too.

    It´s more logic that the DX10 HDR was correct and the difference with DX10.1 HDR reflects different and buggy render path (Do you remember the lack of one render pass?).

    The speedup of performance of 1.01 patch (in 3DRage test) in the game looks like your test results. Then, the lack of DX10.1 support in 1.02 patch doesn´t affect the performance. Yes, in DX10.1 looks like that the AA is better than in other paths, but with this version you have lack of dust effect and different (buggy or not?) HDR rendering. Good reasons for the dropped support, I think.

    Consequences of your rumors about sinister dropped support:">

    Some people believe this version because you defend it in your review, but you didn´t test the veracity of this. The truth is that DX10.1 render path had bugs, and when you made the review, you didn´t know if the dropped support reason was the conspiracy theory or other reason, but YOU chose one by personal election.

    That Ubisoft and Nvidia didn´t respond to your email post proved nothing. At most, they were bad-mannered guys with you.

Log in

Don't have an account? Sign up now