Assassin's Creed Unity has had a rocky time since its launch in late October. Despite a substantial day one patch on release and additional updates, the game continued to be plagued by performance issues, glitches and bugs. Our recent testing of the third patch - which promised frame-rate improvements - showed some very mild changes in the game's overall fluidity, but the results were largely inconclusive.
Last week, Ubisoft released a fourth patch designed specifically to tackle performance issues on consoles. Weighing in at a massive 6.5GB, the update includes what the developer refers to as a refurbishment of Paris, in addition to further bug fixes and frame-rate improvements. The good news is that performance is indeed a little better on both consoles, with PS4 particularly benefiting from the update. In particular, crowded scenes featuring hundreds of NPCs run a little more smoothly than before. While drops down to 20fps and the high teens still occur when the engine is heavily taxed, outside of these situations we see between a 2-5fps increase in performance in some scenes.
Overall, the results now more closely resemble the Xbox One game when the engine isn't fully taxed, and as such the controls feel more responsive, with less judder in the overall experiences. Running through the side streets of Paris, performance treads more closely to the target 30fps, though drops in frame-rate still appear on a regular basis. On the flipside, traversal across the beautifully rendered rooftops sees less pronounced increases in frame-rate, with performance remaining very similar to the game running with the last patch enabled. Ultimately, the latest update doesn't give us anything like the near-solid 30fps update that one would expect from a current-generation game, but definitely presents us with a welcome improvement - even though this is delivered rather inconsistently from scene to scene.
The new patch also improves performance on the Xbox One game, although the difference isn't as noticeable as it is on PS4. The main boost in frame-rate occurs in crowded or high-detail areas where NPCs are found, but also extends to other areas, albeit to a lesser extent. We also find that sometimes frame-rates remain similar to the game running with the day one patch enabled, while occasionally they are a little worse. These anomalies suggest that some of the differences we are seeing are more likely caused by variances in the two gameplay runs, rather than specific issues with the patch itself. While optimisation has certainly taken place, and the improvement is there, it's still no game-changer.
Overall, it's clear that the update has a noticeable effect on improving the frame-rate, but at what cost? Ubisoft's use of the word 'refurbished' when describing alterations to Paris is a curious one. There's the implication that suggests that a downgrade may have taken place - and assets changed - to combat the performance problems that have overshadowed the game.
However, after replaying several sections of the game and matching up footage with our previous captures, it's not exactly clear what has been adjusted. The level of detail across the NPCs and the environments appears to be the same, while level of detail (LOD) streaming doesn't seem any different. Some users have reported poorer NPC streaming with the new patch installed, but we couldn't replicate the issue.
On the whole, Assassin's Creed Unity does indeed run more smoothly after the latest update is installed, although the improvement is very much context-sensitive and we're still a long way off the locked 30fps seen in Black Flag. Compared to the pre-patched game, drops in frame-rate aren't quite so heavy, and the PS4 version now more closely matches the Xbox One release during gameplay. However, performance is still variable, failing to hit 30fps in crowded areas or in detailed locations.
Elsewhere, the good news is that a number of key bugs are also addressed: we didn't encounter characters falling through scenery and we didn't get stuck outside the world after dying or leaping to our death. In that respect, it's good to see progress being made in improving the unpolished nature of the original launch game, but the fact that it has taken four updates to get to this point is still difficult to swallow.
And even now, there are reports that Ubisoft is creating new problems as it tinkers with the Assassin's Creed Unity codebase - in some cases, the latest patch is apparently downloading the entire 40GB game from scratch on Xbox One, rather than just the actual patch itself. Another update is in the works to sort this problem, but there remains the sense that while palpable improvements are now being made, quality control still isn't quite where it should be.