(This evaluation was originally published on AlienBabelTech by this same author in mid-November and was subsequently lost from their database in December when their host’s drives crashed.  It has been restored fully here.)

ABT received a copy of Assassin’s Creed Unity last week, the day it released. This editor spent the good part of a week playing the main story, and here are our impressions of it, including a mini-performance and IQ evaluation using five Nvidia top video cards.  We are only testing with Nvidia cards, and focusing particularly on MFAA – Multi Frame Samples Anti-aliasing – which has been enabled for Maxwell’s GTX 980 and GTX 970 with new WHQL drivers today.

1Unlike playing Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, we were not drawn immediately into Unity.  The very best part of Black Flag centers on playing as a pirate in a manner that hasn’t really been possible in any video game since Sid Meier’s Pirates! whereas Unity is set in Paris about the time of their Revolution.  Although you get some new abilities, and cool weapons like the phantom blade, the main story is weaker than Black Flag’s and the main character is perhaps even less likable.

The one thing that is immediately outstanding is the incredible detail and huge scope of the game’s setting.  Literally hundreds of NPCs move about Paris in a normal manner.  Two years was spent modeling just one cathedral, Notre Dame, and it shows.  And the overall effect does not strive for accuracy or for photorealism, but rather for art – at times the detail is so real, the player just has to pause to admire it; at others, the background and effect is surreal, almost that of a French impressionist watercolor painting.  The times of day can be set to your mood – you may choose morning, afternoon, dusk and dark.

ACU-2014-11-15-15-22-50-97There are no screenshots nor videos that really do this game justice.  You have to experience Unity for yourself as a player to appreciate its art, its grandeur, and its scope, much as you do a movie or a play, not from viewing clips on a tablet nor from watching Youtube gameplay videos.  This mini-evaluation is not going to focus on the story, however, as we did not finish the game.

Unity, like the rest of the series, is a sandbox game with third-person open world exploration. The devs have introduced a slightly modified combat, parkour, and stealth system which is immediately recognizable by anyone who has played an earlier game.  Assassin’s Creed Unity expands on cooperative multiplayer, allowing up to four players engage in missions and exploration of the entire map.  When the parkour system works flawlessly, it is a joy.  Unfortunately, a player may tend to get “stuck” in very bad situations, and hopefully the controls and game will still be further polished.

Bugs

Unfortunately, there are bugs.  Ubisoft is released a series of patches, including one a few days ago that weighed in at 792MB, that have addressed some issues.  Performance issues still need to be addressed.  Unity requires a higher frame rate than the “usual 30fps” to feel fluid, and AA is the first setting that is usually turned down.  This game uses many of Nvidia’s GameWorks features for PC, and it is a true next-generation console game which means it is very demanding.  Using a GTX 980 we could manage Ultra settings on everything – but only at 1920×1080!  It took GTX 980 SLI to have a good experience at 2560×1600, and even then we were mostly limited to FXAA.

Because of this, all of our testing is at 1920×1080, and since we are focusing on MFAA and it doesn’t yet work with SLI, we will look at single-GPU results.  Although AMD released a driver yesterday, Radeon owners are still reporting acknowledged issues with the performance and with rendering.  Since we are focusing on image quality (IQ) and performance, we will compare AMD cards in a follow-up review.

Otherwise, the game is remarkably stable with no crashes to desktop experienced in well over 10 hours of play using multiple GTXes.  We did have issues originally that were addressed by the latest patch, and we have occasionally experienced the game’s refusal to start with SLI configurations.  We are confident that Ubisoft will address these issues as it is their biggest franchise, but it may take some time because of the huge open world nature of the game.

Checkpoint Saves and difficulty

This gamer hates the checkpoint system.  There may be a lot of time wasted with the checkpoints as they are set rather arbitrarily far apart for some sequences.  Although there is some improvement over Black Flag, the checkpoint system of saving makes the game unnecessarily difficult and tedious to just keep on repeating the same sequence over-and-over.  Particularly irritating were repeating the stealth missions because you were noticed, although now often you don’t have to start from the checkpoint’s beginning cutscene any longer.

The Graphics

ACU 2014-11-15 19-54-12-50The excellent graphics support the game and immerse the player right into it.  Assassin’s Creed Unity is powered by a wide range of technologies that allow it to deliver excellent graphics and an immersive gaming experience. In addition to using technologies like FXAA and TXAA to improve image quality, it also uses newer technologies like Nvidia’s GameWorks library which includes HBAO+, and Percentage-Closer Soft Shadows (PCSS) to enhance the game’s graphics.

Tessellation is expected to be added in a patch later on.

Today is also the first day that MFAA is available and we will look at its performance hit versus IQ using our GTX 980.  It is only available for Maxwell GTX 980/970 cards right now, and only in the Nvidia control panel as a global setting for a few newer games.  Eventually, it may be expanded to older architecture cards and it will become part of the GeForce Experience

Performance

We played Assassin’s Creed Unity at 1920×1080 at maximum details with a stock GTX 980, Core i7-4770K at 4.0GHz, ECS Z87 Golden motherboard, and 16GB of Kingston HyperX RAM at 2133MHz.  We used 4 other video cards, the GTX 780 Ti, the GTX 780, the TITAN, and the GTX 770.  All of the in-game settings were maxed completely out with these variables – 2x and 4xMSAA, FXAA, TXAA, 4x-and 8xMFAA, and 0xAA (no AA).  On the next page, we will introduce image quality and AA used and later we will give performance results as well as IQ screen shot comparisons for each setting.