Welcome to a special edition of PC Version Impressions, which may also serve as a fond farewell to the viability of my machine as a long-term gaming platform. You see, at this point my low-end Sandy Bridge i3 and 2GB VRAM GPU are kind of like that cop who’s one day away from retirement. They’re the veteran thief pulling one last job. Hardware attempting to get through just one more modern Assassin’s Creed.
I’m not planning an upgrade purely on account of Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate’s PC port, of course. That would be mental. But it’s been clear from a few of this year’s releases (Dying Light, The Witcher 3 and so on) that while this i3-2100/8GB/2GB 7870 set-up can still run the more demanding games of 2015, it struggles to do so terribly well.
Such is the situation with Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate, which manages to perform a whole lot better than Unity did at launch, but still demands a fair few compromises on behalf of my under-spec system.
For the benefit of those out there with PCs just as old as mine who are considering the latest Ubisoft hood-and-stab-em-up outing, here’s how it performs. Anybody wanting to know about Nvidia’s latest FPS-draining effects will have to look at one of the many, many other places dealing with that end of the hardware spectrum.
Driver note: I’m using the latest AMD one, 15.11.1.
The above images show what you get to fiddle about with in Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate in terms of graphical and display options. In an exciting new development for the series on PC, it now attempts to do a ‘best guess’ for your hardware at start-up.
For me, it opted to switch everything to Low and stuck the resolution at 720p. Thanks a lot Assassin’s Creed, why not just push me into the street wearing a sign that says “I have a pretty shit PC” on it?
In fairness, I think it was trying to get me as close to 60fps as possible, which … look, I appreciate the effort, Syndicate, but that ain’t happening. Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate can indeed run at 60fps (though no higher, I don’t think), but the only time that occurred on my PC was when I was climbing a chimney and staring directly at textured brickwork. Or possibly when looking directly up at the sky.
With the settings altered to those shown on the graphics screens higher up the page, I was getting a wildly fluctuating 25-50 frame-rate at 1080p. That’s in London proper, rather than the pair of self-contained prologue missions (where frame-rates were, for obvious reasons, much better overall).
Pushing the textures and ‘environments’ (level of detail and draw distance stuff) up to ‘Medium’ didn’t seem to make too much difference to performance. This also had the helpful side effect of making the textures look less like utter trash. They’re still not great on Medium, but they’re mostly adequate. I initially left the shadows setting on “horrible, low-res jagged nightmare” (as you may be able to tell from some of the screenshots here), but after a bit of experimentation bumping back up to Medium didn’t seem to have any serious impact. SSAO, sadly, did prove too costly, and had to stay off.
You might notice that Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate employs one of those increasingly popular bar graphics, showing you how much of your GPU’s VRAM is being eaten up by various settings. Like many of those (such as in GTA V) it doesn’t seem to matter too much if you go over the limit by a small amount. It does seem geared towards 3GB (or preferably 4GB) VRAM cards for anything in the High-and-above range, though.
Since the frame-rate was all over the place (and mostly much closer to the 30 end of things), I used my old friend RivaTuner Statistics Server (RTSS) to cap it at 30fps. If you do that, I’d suggest switching the in-game Vsync off to improve frame delivery and reduce input lag. You still get some screen tearing, but it seemed tolerable.
If you’ve got similar hardware to me and are thinking “hey, a solid 30fps, that’s not so bad”, well, it’s not entirely solid. The game struggles for a short while after loading in for the first time (presumably because it’s still processing stuff), and definitely has some mini-hiccups when it’s having to load in a busy marketplace or similarly crowded area. Riding the carriages at speed accentuates this problem, as Syndicate is suddenly having to cope with loading bits up even more swiftly.
During those periods, I was seeing the frame-rate chug down to the mid-20s or (rarely) even a little below. Said interruptions are only a matter of seconds long, but for some this will be intolerable. Though if you’re still running hardware like mine, you’re clearly someone who can deal with inconsistent performance. Cut-scenes, too, are often victims of some frame-drops to the 20s.
I find it playable. Certainly playable enough to follow through with a full review (which will be coming along once I’ve actually finished it); but then again I’m someone who first played through the original Deus Ex in ‘software mode’ because whatever graphics card I had at the time couldn’t handle it. God only knows what the frame-rate was there. Possibly single digits at times.
In a broader technical sense, Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate seems more robust than Unity. Everybody I’ve met so far has possessed 100% of their own face, so that’s an improvement. There’s a little bit more care all round, demonstrated by things like the VRAM bar and more in-depth descriptions of what each graphics setting actually does.
It’s not without its trademark glitches though. A few hours in, I’ve already seen a grubby urchin talking to himself while the broom he was presumably supposed to be using magically stood upright under its own power. There has been a fair bit of mysterious crowd de-spawning too, though that may just be the game itself trying to cater to my lowered settings.
Though its not affected me directly, I’ve also read about a strange cloth physics bug where cloaks and whatnot still move at 30fps, even when the rest of the game is at 60.
I obviously can’t speak for how Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate is performing on higher end systems, but this version seems to scale somewhat reasonably at the lower end. You could perhaps argue that the ‘minimum’ PC demands are still too high for a game that runs on Xbox One/PS4 hardware (look at Mad Max, for example, which even my old box could run at mostly-60fps with mid-to-high settings in 1080p, while the console versions were stuck at 30), but accepted at face value they appear to give a fair indication of what’s required.
After Unity, I wasn’t expecting miracles. The PC version of Syndicate doesn’t function with the kind of optimisation sorcery behind the recent Metal Gear Solid V or aforementioned Mad Max releases, but the fact that my under-spec, shuffling-towards-retirement machine can get a decent 30fps out of it at Medium/1080p definitely counts for something. If you have a PC close to mine, you should be able to get similar performance; but only if you’re prepared to make the necessary compromises on image quality and frame-rate.