Splinter Cell: Blacklist Low End Performance Guide
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Based on heavily modified Unreal Engine 2.5 with Havok Physics, Ubisoft with the cooperation of NVidia, Splinter Cell: Blacklist now supports DX11 features like Tessellation, HBAO+, and NVidia’s TXAA (Temporal Anti-Aliasing). The game also offers a supplementary graphics menu – more modes for anti-aliasing (FXAA, MSAA, SSAA) and ambient occlusion (Field AO, SSAO, SSAO+, HBAO), texture quality and filtering, and parallax mapping. With these features, you can create a modern, nice looking game. Can these features hide the true face of an aging engine?
Test System and Requirements
|Test System||Minimum Requirements|
|Processor||Intel Celeron G550 2.6 GHz Dual-core||Intel Core 2 Duo E6400 @ 2.13 Ghz, AMD Athlon64 X2 5600+ @ 2.8 Ghz|
|Memory||4GB DDR3 1600MHz||2GB|
|Graphics Card||AMD Radeon HD 7750 1GB DDR5, nVidia GeForce 9600GT 512MB DDR3||NVIDIA GeForce 8800GT, AMD Radeon HD3870 (512MB Video Memory)|
|Driver / Patch version||AMD Catalyst 13.5 Beta 2, 13.8 Beta 2, 13.10 Beta, nVidia Forceware 326.8 Beta||Update 1.01|
|Operating System / DirectX||Windows 8 64-bit, Windows 7 SP1 64-bit||Windows XP SP3, Windows Vista SP2,Windows 7 SP1, Windows 8 (32bit/64bit)|
Our system processor is a little faster than the required 2.13GHz and we have plenty of RAM but we also tested with 2GB. Our GeForce 9600GT video card is right on the minimum which is also the direct competitor of Radeon 3870 during their time. This also means that you can play the game with affordable video cards, 880GT for example.
We selected the beginning of the Safehouse mission which is set to Benghazi, Libya. The level has lots of people and objects to render enough to stress our system. We used 60 second Fraps 3.5.9 benchmark three times to record the average and minimum frames per second.
AMD Catalyst Performance
We tested different AMD Catalyst versions to see if drivers will give improvements.
Updating from Catalyst 13.5 Beta 2 to 13.8 Beta 2 gives overall improvements, improving both average and minimum from 6 to 8 fps. But updating further to 13.10 Beta did not give any improvements.
Image Comparison and Performance
Recommended setting – Medium
The change in texture quality is very visible across each setting. It improved the wall and wood texture, the cloth design, and the writings. The performance hit is minimal on medium. Setting too high and ultra the minimum fps is very much affected reducing to 24 from 30 fps.
Recommended setting – Medium
Shadow quality is also visible across each setting, improving the edge of the shadows. Ultra setting adds a blurring effect on the edges. At medium settings, there is almost no performance hit while on high and ultra the performance hit is moderate.
Recommended setting – On
Parallax setting gives more detail on bricks and ground texture and the performance hit is very minimal.
Recommended setting – Off
Tessellation adds more detail and bulging effect on tree trunks and makes the ear and jars more rounded and smoother. Other than those objects, there is no tessellation on objects expected to be tessellated, like bricks and stones. The performance hit is moderate.
Recommended setting – 8x
Texture filtering makes the ground texture sharper and more visible. When turned off, the textures are washed out. The higher the value, the farther textures will be filtered. In terms of performance, it barely affects the average fps but the minimum fps are consistently decreasing as the value increases.
Dynamic Ambient Occlusion
Recommended setting – Field AO
Ambient Occlusion produces self-shadow around objects, most visible on corners. There is no visible change between SSAO and SSAO+ while HBAO+ produces more shadows than HBAO. Overall, HBAO+ looks best but also the most demanding. Turning it off will definitely gain additional frames per second.
Recommended setting – FXAA
Both of the SSAA modes make the wires, bars, and corners smoother but are also the most demanding. MSAA doesn’t reduce the jaggedness as much as SSAA does but still induces a moderate performance hit. FXAA looks like SSAA but with some blurring effect and with a minimal performance hit.
Recommended setting – DirectX 9
DirectX 11 has better shadows due to HBAO+ and Ultra shadows. DX 9 has no HBAO, MSAA, tessellation, and ultra shadows. On the performance side, DX 9 performs better and recommended for lower-end systems.
|Dynamic Ambient Occlusion||Field AO||Field AO & SSAO||Field AO & SSAO+||Field AO & HBAO+||Field AO|
Our custom preset is comparable to medium preset but with much better performance. Ultra looks better and performs better than high preset, probably due to SSAO+ and MSAA 4x being implemented on high preset while HBAO+ and only FXAA on ultra. We tested on DirectX 11 and V-Sync was turned off on all presets during our testing.
Graphics Card Performance
The minimum requirement of 512MB of VRAM proved to be true and sufficient even on ultra preset at 1080p, except on high preset where it uses more than 700MB of video memory.
Since the GeForce 9600GT is a non-DX 11 card, it will be automatically set to DX 9. Our custom preset proved to be useful on lower-end systems as it produces playable performance without losing much visual quality. Other than low and custom preset, the game is too slow on higher preset especially on high and ultra. Turning off ambient occlusion will give you additional frames per second. With low preset at 1080p resolution, the performance is greatly diminished to almost half compared to low preset at 720p.
Compared to GeForce 9600GT, the Radeon HD 7750 is barely affected by the performance hit when switching to 1080p from 720p.
The game stresses out the processor as it can utilize up to 97% of the dual-core processor. We tested the game with a simulated single-core processor at 2.6 GHz and it performed better than dual-core at 1.6 GHz. Having higher clock speed is a good option when choosing a processor for this game.
The game uses 1.14 GB of RAM and up to 2.3 GB on total usage. Though having more RAM doesn’t help improved the loading time – reducing only a single second of time from 2GB to 6GB, the average frames per second has improved from 45 to 52 fps.
Game doesn’t load
Got to “C:\Users\your user name\My Documents\Ubisoft\Blacklist\” then right-click the ”VideoSettings.ini” file and select “edit”. Change the value of ”WindowStyleFinal” to 2 (0 = Windowed, 1 = Fullscreen, 2 = Windowed Fullscreen). Save and launch the game. You can change your video settings in-game if you wish.
Game loads but hangs
Edit the ”VideoSettings.ini” file and change the value of “ValidationRequired” to 0.
Game stuttering / very poor performance
Turn off v-sync, make sure to hit Apply. Switching to window mode (ALT+Tab), entering a mission briefing or quit to title screen sometimes solves the problem, sometimes not.
Most of the problems and crashes can be fixed by updating the game and video drivers. After updating the video driver, visual artifacts have never occurred.
Overall, the game looks good with the icings added by NVidia, but without it, you would be probably looking at a 2004 released game. But even with these icings, this game cannot be compared to games like Crysis 3, Metro: Last Light, or even to a 2010 released game like Battlefield 3. They could have put additional efforts in improving the texture quality and implementing the tessellation on a wider range of objects and environments if they really wanted this game to be an AAA title in terms of visuals.
But on the lighter side of using an older engine, older cards can produce playable frame rates even at 1080p resolution with the right settings. You also don’t need a super-high-clocked processor for this game to be playable and the 2GB minimum requirement on RAM is enough but adding additional memory will certainly improve the performance.