Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag PC Preview – a Pirates’ Life for me
Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag released yesterday for PC. As part of Nvidia’s 3-game Holiday Bundle including Assassin’s Creed IV–Black Flag, Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell: Blacklist, and Batman: Arkham Origins, ABT received a preview copy of the game on Friday night. Unfortunately, we did not actually get to play the game until yesterday and the full review of the game will be coming out later this week with two ABT reviewers giving our commentary on the game, as well as a full performance and IQ evaluation.
Once we started playing Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, we were drawn immediately into the game and played far longer sessions than we normally do which is the reason that this preview is nearly a day late. However, we do want to preview the game now and let you know that we like it a lot, so far. Playing satisfactorily as a pirate hasn’t really been possible in any video game since Sid Meier’s Pirates!
Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag allows the player to become Edward Kenway, a pirate captain trained by the Assassins. This editor is no fan of the Assassin’s Creed series, the story’s convoluted ancestral memories coupled with the war between the Templars and the Assassins, nor the clunky combat and sneaking. However, in this game, Edward can effortlessly switch between the Hidden Blade of the Assassin’s Order and all new weaponry including four flintlock pistols and dual cutlass swords. In other words, he kicks ass and it is a lot of fun to take on a well-armed mob.
Unlike with previous Assassin’s Creed games, button-mashing works well until the player discovers the depth of the combinations that he can use. And this time, the tutorial is not only mercifully short compared to Assassin’s Creed III – but interesting, immediately exciting, and fun to play. Who doesn’t want to start a game by piloting a ship with a full compliment of cannons in the middle of a large battle?
The Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag world is big. From Kingston to Nassau, there are more than 75 unique locations where you can loot underwater shipwrecks, assassinate Templars in 17th Century Caribbean cities, fish, hunt whales, as well as hunt for now rare animals in the tropical jungles while searching for treasure. You get to live the life of a pirate with legendary names such as Blackbeard, Calico Jack and Benjamin Hornigold, as you establish a lawless Republic in the Caribbean to explore the events that defined the Age of Piracy. There are a lot of surprise moments and plot twists that need to be experienced without spoilers.
As Edward, you command the pirate ship, the Jackdaw. You can upgrade the Jackdaw with ammunition and equipment needed to fight off enemy ships. The ship’s improvements are critical to your progression through the game. You can attack and board massive galleons, plunder treasure, recruit sailors and manage your crew.
Mario will cover the multiplayer. There is a brand new set of pirate characters and additional exotic and colorful locations. You craft your own game experience with the new Game Lab feature by choosing abilities, rules and bonuses to play and share with your on-line friends.
The game is a lot of fun, and it gets one’s heart pounding when the entire mini-map lights up in red showing nearby enemies closing in on your position and you must fight your way out of a desperate situation to run for your life with the goal of “becoming Anonymous”. You can even pay prostitutes to distract the enemies as you walk right past them instead of sneaking or fighting. The excellent graphics support the game and immerse the player right into the story and the action – and there is a lot of action!
Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag 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 new HBAO+, God Rays, and Percentage-Closer Soft Shadows (PCSS) to enhance the game’s graphics. An upcoming patch will implement APEX Turbulence effects, self-shadowed particles, and soft particle shadows, and it will also make the God Rays and PCSS effects become more pronounced.
We played Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag at 2560×1600 at maximum details with a stock GTX 780 Ti, Core i7-3770K at 4.5GHz, EVGA Z77 FTW motherboard, and 16GB of Kingston HyperX RAM. All of the settings were maxed completely out with 4 variables – 4xMSAA (38fps), 2xTXAA which takes less of a hit (42fps), SMAA (47fps) and FXAA (49fps). Of course, this is from preliminary benching. We shall also compare the IQ of these four settings in our full ABT review of Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag this weekend. Let’s look at some of the settings.
TXAA is a cinematic-style anti-aliasing technique designed specifically to reduce temporal aliasing (crawling and flickering in motion). TXAA is a mix of hardware AA, custom CG film style AA resolve, and a temporal filter. To filter any given pixel on the screen, TXAA uses a contribution of samples both inside and outside of the pixel in conjunction with samples from prior frames. The trade-off is blur, which for some is intolerable and for others, cinematic. This editor much prefers the mild blur of TXAA to the texture crawling and flickering while in motion without.
TXAA has improved spatial filtering over standard 2x MSAA and 4x MSAA, particularly on fences or foliage. TXAA is also capable of intelligently managing per-pixel effects without introducing lighting artifacts on object edges. The filtering used by TXAA results in a softer image compared to traditional MSAA – the blur.
TXAA uses hardware MSAA in conjunction with a temporal filter. The performance hit of TXAA will vary from game to game and is directly correlated to the performance hit of MSAA. In this game, 2xTXAA takes less of a performance hit than 4xMSAA. Screen shots look better with MSAA, but video capture can show the advantages of TXAA.
To advance Screen-Space Ambient Occlusion (SSAO) tech, Nvidia’s HBAO+ looks better than the original HBAO algorithm, especially on scenes with thin objects such as grass and leaves. It now fast enough to be used by top GPUs.
Percentage-Closer Soft Shadows (PCCS) and PhysX (APEX Turbulence)
An upcoming patch will make PCCS more pronounced and also add APEX Turbulence to the game. Percentage-Closer Soft Shadows (PCSS) is a technique designed to simulate the natural softening of shadows that occurs over increasing distance from the occluding object. PCSS provides three notable improvements over hard shadow projections: shadow edges become progressively softer the further they are from the shadow caster, high-quality filtering reduces the prominence of aliasing, and the use of a shadow buffer allows PCSS to handle overlapping character shadows without creating “double-darkened” portions.
APEX Turbulence is a GPU-accelerated PhysX simulation system that allows for smoke sprite particles to dynamically and realistically behave in the world, being influenced by gravity, winds, character movements, and explosions. Additionally, these sprite particles have the ability to cast shadows on each other and soft shadows onto the environment using particle shadow mapping (PSM). When shadows are cast onto other particles it gives the particles a heavier and denser appearance than without
In addition, Assassin’s Creed IV Black Flag is the first game to offer 4K textures – something probably best experienced by SLI’d GTX 780s or higher, especially 4K textures over 3-panel Surround.
The full review of Assassin’s Creed IV Black Flag
Stay tuned for the full review of Assassin’s Creed IV Black Flag. In a first for ABT, this editor and Mario Vasquez, will jointly review this game as well as present a full performance and IQ evaluation. In the meantime, join the discussion at ABT forum.
. . . yo ho! (a Pirates’ Life for me)
ABT Senior Editor