PC Gaming Master Class: Tips for Running Assassin’s Creed Unity

Gaming concept.
The release of “Assassin’s Creed Unity” (ACU) on the PC platform has been met with a frustrated user base that finds the performance of the game to be unacceptable. This is very common when a game is released which marks the transition to the next generation in 3D gaming. Having over 20 years experience with PC gaming, hardware, and tweaks & hacks, I’ll offer my advice.

The fundamental problem is that ACU isn’t developed based on 5-10 year old 3D game engine technology, and therefore people who try to run it on hardware that is technology 5 years old find it doesn’t run very well, and in order to run the game with the highest graphics settings today you need high-end hardware.

First and foremost, set realistic expectations. This game is visually stunning and the level of detail and number of objects on the screen are incredibly high. Every one of those objects — from the NPC’s, inanimate objects, to the leaves on the trees are made up of hundreds of thousands of polygons, which your graphics card has to compute based on the viewpoint, and render with the textures, and then apply lighting & showing etc. Your CPU has to feed your GPU the necessary data in order for the GPU to do it’s job — like calculate the movement of the NPC’s, (non-player characters), the leaves blowing in the wind, your character movement, etc. And all this takes RAM as well — both in your graphics card and on your motherboard.

Each scene in ACU has 50-100 NPC’s on screen at any given time, and each of those takes CPU and GPU cycles. Contrast that with, say Grand Theft Auto IV, which has 5-10 NPC’s in view at any given time.

GTA4 is a good example to make a few points. When GTA4 was released circa 2008, it met with similar performance issues upon release, because people with the best systems of that era found for the first time they couldn’t play at max graphics settings. It took a few patches to ring out the issues and many years for the technology of the average PC user increased to the point that the game was no longer such a GPU/CPU hog. The cost of CPU/GPU/Memory required to run GTA4 well in 2008 would have cost $8,000, and over the course of a few years that same compute power is found in $799 department store PCs.

So as frustrated as we are that we can’t set everything to max quality, we have to set the graphics quality to run on what we have today. If it is any consolation, the people that don’t abandon this game now out of frustration can look forward to this game being relevant for the next 10 years. That is about how long it till take before new games start making ACU look like yesterdays 3D gaming technology.

All that being said, let me make some suggestions….

1) Stability & Heat/Power – Make sure your PC is stable to begin with. The fact that you haven’t had issues doesn’t mean much, because you haven’t pushed your CPU/GPU/MB this hard — ever. You may have heat dissipation issues or an underpowered power supply, which has never materialized into issues because nothing has pushed it hard enough.

Download FurMark 3D burin-in/benchmark test, and OpenHardware Monitor. Use Furmark to push your GPU & CPU to max for as long as you typically play (hours) and use OpenHardware Monitor to make sure that your CPU/MB/GPU temps remain stable, and the various voltages remain stable. If you see temps just keep rising, then you have a heat dissipation problem. You will need to look at a better heat sink & fan for the CPU, better ventaled case with plenty of additional fans. If you see voltages are unstable, then you have a power supply issue. Either of these issues are going to make your PC unstable.

2) Video Drivers — It is fairly obvious that NVidia is in a partnership with Ubisoft (and everyone else) and you can bet the development and testing was targeted at NVidia first, and everyone else second. If you have an NVidia card, you are probably going to be better off with this game (and many others). The game is develop0ed against DirectX 10 (IIRC) and should work with any vendor’s card that also conforms to that spec. But in reality, we often find that vendors interpret standards differently, etc.

That being said, even if you are running and NVidia card, you might have some issues. First, you need to be on the latest driver (344.75 IIRC). I am surprised at the number of people on Ubisoft’s forums were running old versions, then upon suggestion to update the driver, they said it helped a lot. Updating your drivers should be something you consider doing anytime a new driver is out — and especially when you are running a new release and having issues.

That being said…. I have found some issues with NVidia’s stack related to stability. I was working on a system that had lockups in 3D games, and found that removing the drivers and re-installing but not installing NVidia Game Experience resolved the issues. When I was troubleshooting this, I found hits on the net that indicated a certain process was known to have memory leaks, and I looked at that process and it was growing in memory consumption. I don’t recall what the process was named specifically, but I think it has to do with NVidia streaming and is part of the Gaming Experience software, so I don’t run that. Yes, I know if I had an NVidia Shield I’d be in a pickle. Run the driver only and see if stability improves, and if you need functionality that Game Experience provides then contact NVidia and put the onus on them to resolve why stability decreased when you install Gaming Experience.

Also, in late October and into early November NVidia released driver updates like every few days. I would venture a guess that was related to this game and issues identified in testing that required driver fixes. So I doubt anything less than 344.75 can be expected to work.

NOTE – It looks like Nvidia released 347.09 on 12/23 which I was not aware of and will test next.

Some people will find that other older games may not work well with anything newer than a legacy version. There isn’t much you can do about that, and the avenue for resolving that issue is with the maker of the other game which doesn’t work on new drivers.

I am sure that those running other video card makes will also benefit from using the latest drivers, and probably also should install the driver only and not the additional crap the vendor includes.

3) Video Card Hardware – I run ACU on a GTX760 based system, and a GTX750 based system. It is doubtful that a good gaming experience can happen with a GTX6xx series video card — even though I am sure the system requirements say that will work.

4) Memory — you need a lot of it and it needs to be top notch. Good experienced system builders know that stability is often impacted by memory chips that should work fine in the motherboard but just don’t. Mixing and matching brands/types should be avoided. If your system came with 8GB of generic memory, and you want to upgrade it to 16MB, for best results you should avoid keeping the existing 8GB and adding another 8GB of another brand, type, or frequency. For best results, run memory that is specifically listed by your system or motherboard maker as being compatible. This memory will typically cost more, but that is the price you pay for the best stability and performance. You can try running other memory or combinations, and you might find success or not.

5) BIOS Firmware – If your system has a newer BIOS firmware than what you are running, you should upgrade. Firmware releases typically address stability issues discovered with certain memory brands/types. If you are running memory not listed as specifically compatible, this might just make your memory work.

6) CPU — Using an Intel CPU typically will result in the best compatibility. AMD makes a fine CPU, but it is not unheard of that issues are related to the CPU. You can count on the majority of development & testing is on Intel CPU, so while using AMD might save a few bucks you pay for possibly being impacted by issues.

That being said, you need a powerful CPU. Yes, the graphics card bears the brunt of the abuse in a 3D game, but the CPU needs to track & manage all the objects and such.

7) System Overclocking – It should go without saying that overclocking is done at one’s own risk. If you are overclocking, and even if you have never had any issues before, go back to default settings and make sure overclocking isn’t your culprit.

8) Graphics Settings — Set them to low and see if your gaming experience and stability improves. Yes, we all want to run on high, but be realistic. You can use FRAPS to see what your frame rate is. Use advanced graphics settings to change one thing at a time, and examine how that improves the visuals and what it does to the frame rate. Pick the combination that gives the best look but keeps FPS at 30. I am currently running with everything set fairly high, but anti-aliasing is set low. For me, this is what kills frame rate — and not just in this game.

Best of luck, happy gaming, and patience!

Tom C