Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood (PC) Review

Author: Sean Ridgeley, Evan Adams
Editor: Howard Ha
Publish Date: Wednesday, March 30th, 2011
Originally Published on Neoseeker (http://www.neoseeker.com)
Article Link: http://www.neoseeker.com/Articles/Games/Reviews/assassins_creed_brotherhood_pc/
Copyright Neo Era Media, Inc. - please do not redistribute or use for commercial purposes.

Ubisoft released their third entry in the Assassin's Creed universe late last year on consoles, to universal praise from the press and fans alike. Since then they've been working on a proper PC version with all the bells and whistles the audience expects -- rewards for the patient, one might say.

The game is here now at last, so I've taken a look at the technical aspects to see how it fares against its console counterparts. If you're looking for a verdict on gameplay, story, and so on, check out our Xbox 360 review from series expert and assistant editor Lydia Sung right here.

DRM & Uplay

First thing's first: like many, I was strongly turned off by the heavy digital rights management (DRM) present in Assassin's Creed II (which required a constant Internet connection for play), and as such, neglected to pick it up. While Ubisoft was very pleased at the effectiveness of the piracy deterrent, it seems to have done more harm than good, as many suspected it might. This is the logical message to take, anyway, as it's since been lightened to an online check at startup only, and happily, Brotherhood is actually DRM-free -- there's not even a disk check for the retail version.

If you are connected, however, there is online and exclusive functionality packed in here through Ubi's Uplay system which adds value: extra content, a friends and messaging system, achievements ("Actions"), auto-patching (one patch has released already), and an exclusive "investment" feature (an in-game stock market, essentially, with rewards of game currency and items to be had -- very cool). All of this is optional, of course, and if you like you can neglect to sign up and just play the superb Story Mode offline.

In any case, Ubisoft seems to have seen the light (at least somewhat) and realized you can't hurt piracy by being a hardass (not without hurting your customers a great deal, too, at least), but you can by offering more value for money -- naturally, pirates will miss out on a lot of the goodies, as they're tied to legit accounts, while paying customers will feel taken care of.

Fine tuning

As you'd expect, the level of refinement here is much more in line with Assassin's Creed II than its predecessor, which was far from a great port (the uproarious 11-button quit system has been replaced by an efficient quit to main menu or desktop system, here).

Menus all feel tuned properly to higher resolutions and the keyboard/mouse setup, including the radial weapon menu which is responsive and easy to access. The only exception I've noticed is the Animus Desktop screens which neglect to support the scroll wheel (would be handy for reading all that background information) -- a minor quibble, however.

If you're the type to Alt-Tab between your game and various other programs at any given point, Brotherhood has been coded properly for it, with very smooth transitions and no issues.

Lastly, on a formidable hard drive (Western Digital Caviar Black 7200RPM, here), load times are practically non-existent.

Options, options, options

Seeing as you're reading this, there's a good chance a long list of graphics options in your PC games excites you maybe more than it should. Brotherhood has a reasonable amount, and also seems to scale pretty well, too. In the comparison below, note the significant differences in texture, shadow and anti-aliasing quality, to name a few items.

System requirements are moderate (see the game profile in the top left); if you call yourself an enthusiast, you should have no trouble maxing this, even with normally taxing options like shadows and anti-aliasing, as I didn't with a 1GB 5770, 1055T X6 CPU and 8GB RAM.

High, medium, low settings; click to enlarge. High resolution versions can be found here.

Apart from graphics, mouse and keyboard controls are highly customizable, and you can also pick from presets designed for keyboards/mice with two or five buttons or just keyboards (two setups for the latter).

Tweaking options appear to be non-existent, unfortunately (or at least thoroughly hidden), though introductory movies can be easily skipped by moving the files to a new folder.

Notably, a 5.1 sound card is recommended, though there is no option to enable 5.1 sound. The audio itself is more than sufficient; using the Corsair 5.1/7.1 USB headset (which has its own driver built in), I hear no significant difference, but have no real complaints, either.

Graphics

Brotherhood certainly won't stress most systems, but for what it does, it does very well. Some low resolution textures can be found here and there but for the most part it's all high quality and quite detailed. There are some nice post-processing effects going on -- combined with the rest, it's nothing jaw-dropping, but certainly enough to make you appreciate improvements over the console versions. Overall, an enjoyable visual experience.

It's minor but worth noting: flashback videos are littered throughout the game to bring you up to speed, and are of very low resolution. They are skippable though, as are all cutscenes excepting the in-game selections.

One major complaint, however, is yet again, the lack of support for the 16:10 aspect ratio. If you're smart enough to have opted for the extra vertical space, Brotherhood won't take advantage of it, and you're punished with letterboxing (black bars) going across the top and bottom of the viewing area, which tends to hurt immersion some. It's not the worst flaw or terribly distracting, but is certainly frustrating to still see three games later. Sadly, unlike with Assassin's Creed, no hacks to mend it appear to be available.

The other letdown is subpar performance. It doesn't seem to be quite as rough as with the first game (particularly when it was in DirectX 10 mode), but it's definitely not where it should be -- typically 40-60fps (and occasionally much higher), regardless of settings or mode. The bigger, related issue is stuttering which is fairly common.

3D & Multi-GPU

Though Brotherhood has been said to be 3D Vision optimized, the result is less than stellar.

First off, you may want to set the 3D effect down to the lower end of the spectrum. There are alignment issues (people or objects off to the edges of the screen sometimes look less aligned than objects in focus), so the higher the setting you try, the worse it gets.  During cutscenes, sometimes this is bad enough to the point of producing a near full-blown doubling effect which is very uncomfortable on the eyes. Even with the setting down this low, you'll notice issues, though most are relatively minor. The sky is somewhat distorted as well, so you'll want to avoid looking at it when outside unless necessary.

While in a dark environment with a light source coming off Desmond, I noticed faint glowing orbs off to the side of him.  These were somewhat distracting to see, though they didn't hinder the gameplay.  It seems that while in 3D Vision mode, the game doesn't render the lighting effects in dark conditions very well.  There are also minor issues when shadows caused by multiple light sources cause some flickering around the base of the character where the shadows are being rendered. Shadows can be disabled entirely as a workaround to this issue, however.

Don't take this to mean the game is no good in 3D -- it's still a nice feature and works well enough here.  Occasionally it proves exceptional, and you'll want to stop and admire it.  Yes, it has issues, but when it works, it's quite impressive.

Running the game in 3D on 2 GTX 570's gives a fairly solid framerate between the mid 40's and 60, so, perfectly playable, excepting one cutscene where it drops drastically to the low 30s. Running the game in 3D mode with SLI disabled results in a significant drop in framerate (20-30); reducing the the AA from 8x to 0x results in a small boost in performance, with a few extra frames on average. Suffice it to say, if you're a single GPU user, you will likely have to lower your graphics settings in order to play this game in 3D, unless you have a very high end GPU such as the GTX 580 or 590.

Using SLI without 3D sees higher framerates of course -- usually 60-80 and sometimes as high as 130 with 8xAA; with 0xAA, a 10-15fps boost can be seen.

Multiplayer

They've really gone all out here, offering up a wide variety and long list of interesting match types, along with a heap of unlockables and customizations to keep you going. Sadly, waiting for just five players to join up typically took ages, no matter the time of day, and even then connection issues hit. This appears to be due to various network issues currently being worked on for a soon to come patch. A lot has been invested, here, so hopefully it's all cleared up shortly.

Note voice chat is present but dedicated servers are not. Many matchmaking filters are on offer, however.

Final thoughts

The overall experience with Assassin's Creed on PC was for me personally not worth it, but Brotherhood mostly succeeds where it failed. Were it not for somewhat significant framerate and stuttering issues and the lack of 16:10 support, it'd get the full seal of approval. As it stands, it misses the mark by a bit, but is still highly recommendable.

»Neoseeker.com

Copyright Neo Era Media, Inc., 1999-2014.
All Rights Reserved.

Please do not redistribute or use this article in whole, or in part, for commercial purposes.