Splinter Cell: Blacklist Low End Performance Guide

Based on heavily modified Unreal Engine 2.5 with Havok Physics, Ubisoft with cooperation of NVidia, Splinter Cell: Blacklist now supports DX11 features like Tessellation, HBAO+, and NVidia’s TXAA (Temporal Anti-Aliasing). The game also offers 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 SystemMinimum Requirements
ProcessorIntel Celeron G550 2.6 GHz Dual-coreIntel Core 2 Duo E6400 @ 2.13 Ghz, AMD Athlon64 X2 5600+ @ 2.8 Ghz
Memory4GB DDR3 1600MHz2GB
Video CardAMD Radeon HD 7750 1GB DDR5, nVidia GeForce 9600GT 512MB DDR3NVIDIA GeForce 8800GT, AMD Radeon HD3870 (512MB Video Memory)
Driver / Patch versionAMD Catalyst 13.5 Beta 2, 13.8 Beta 2, 13.10 Beta, nVidia Forceware 326.8 BetaUpdate 1.01
Operating System / DirectXWindows 8 64-bit, Windows 7 SP1 64-bitWindows 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 5 year old video cards, 880GT for example.

METHODOLOGY

We selected the beginning of 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.

drivers

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

Texture Quality

Recommended setting – Medium

Texture Quality - Low
Texture Quality - Medium
Texture Quality - High
Texture Quality - Ultra

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 to high and ultra the minimum fps is very much affected reducing to 24 from 30 fps.

Shadow Quality

Recommended setting – Medium

Shadow Quality - Low
Shadow Quality - Medium
Shadow Quality - High
Shadow Quality - Ultra
Shadow Quality - Low
Shadow Quality - Medium
Shadow Quality - High
Shadow Quality - Ultra

Shadow quality is also visible across each setting, improving the edge of the shadows. Ultra setting adds a blurring effect on the edges. On medium settings, there is almost no performance hit while on high and ultra the performance hit is moderate.

Parallax

Recommended setting – On

Parallax - On
Parallax - Off
Parallax - On
Parallax - Off

Parallax setting gives more detail on bricks and ground texture and the performance hit is very minimal.

Tessellation

Recommended setting – Off

Tessellation - Off
Tessellation - On
Tessellation - Off
Tessellation - On
Tessellation - Off
Tessellation - On

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 no tessellation on objects expected to be tessellated, like bricks and stones. The performance hit is moderate.

Texture Filtering

Recommended setting – 8x

Texture Filtering - Off
Texture Filtering - 2x
Texture Filtering - 4x
Texture Filtering - 8x
Texture Filtering - 16x

Texture filtering makes the ground texture sharper and more visible compared when turned off, the texture s 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 is consistently decreasing as the value increases.

Dynamic Ambient Occlusion

Recommended setting – Field AO

Ambient Occlusion - Off
Ambient Occlusion - Field AO
Ambient Occlusion - SSAO
Ambient Occlusion - SSAO+
Ambient Occlusion - HBAO
Ambient Occlusion - HBAO+

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.

Anti-Aliasing

Recommended setting – FXAA

Anti-Aliasing - Off
Anti-Aliasing - FXAA
Anti-Aliasing - MSAA 2x
Anti-Aliasing - MSAA 4x
Anti-Aliasing - SSAA 2x2 Grid
Anti-Aliasing - SSAA 2x2 Rotated Grid

Both of the SSAA makes the wires, bars, and corners smoother but also the most demanding. MSAA doesn’t reduce the jaggedness as SSAA does but still take a moderate performance hit. FXAA looks like SSAA but with some blurring effect with minimal performance hit.

DirectX

Recommended setting – DirectX 9

DX 9
DX 11

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.

Preset

 LowMediumHighUltraCustom
TextureLowMediumHighUltraMedium
ShadowLowMediumHighUltraMedium
ParallaxOffOnOnOnOn
TessellationOffOffOffOnOff
Texture FilteringOff2x4x16x8x
Dynamic Ambient OcclusionField AOField AO & SSAOField AO & SSAO+Field AO & HBAO+Field AO
Anti-AliasingOffFXAAMSAA 4xFXAAFXAA
Preset - Low
Preset - Medium
Preset - High
Preset - Ultra
Preset - Custom

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.

VIDEO CARD PERFORMANCE

HD 7750 - 1280x720 Low
HD 7750 - 1280x720 Medium
HD 7750 - 1280x720 High
HD 7750 - 1280x720 Ultra
HD 7750 - 1920x1080 Low
9600 GT - 1920x1080 Low

The minimum requirement of 512MB of video card proved to be true and sufficient even on ultra preset at 1080p, except on high preset as it uses more than 700MB of video memory.

Since 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.

CPU PERFORMANCE

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.

MEMORY PERFORMANCE

Memory Private Bytes
Memory Total Usage

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.

OPERATING SYSTEM PERFORMANCE

This game is better played on Windows 7 than on Windows 8 – faster loading time and better frame per second performance.

TROUBLESHOOTING

1. 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.

2. Game loads but hangs

Edit the ”VideoSettings.ini” file and change the value of “ValidationRequired” to 0.

3. 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.

SUMMARY

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 improving the texture quality and implementing the tessellation on wider range of objects and environment 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.

We will be happy to hear your thoughts

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