Shadow of The Assassin

Ubisoft Montreal’s Assassin’s Creed got its sequel a few months back and now that the dust has settled, it’s intriguing to compare it to its predecessor. Overall they look much alike and the biggest thing must be the dynamic time-of-day system incorporated in the sequel, which technically speaking works pretty well. However, there’s usually a trade-off going from static to dynamic and Assassin’s Creed 2 is no exception on that matter.

If you look at above screenshot from AC and then the other one below (although it’s been purposefully chosen to demonstrate AC 2‘s weaknesses), overall lighting and look in AC 2 is just less interesting and flat in comparison to AC and that’s the problem which comes with the dynamic time-of-day lighting. Developer just cannot realize aesthetically pleasing visual look to every possible lighting condition and the real-time lighting technologies for that task, like global illumination or radiocity, aren’t simply there yet.

Real-time shadows overall look also better in AC. In AC 2, there is this flickering effect, which is especially apparent in the distant shadows due to their low resolution, but it’s noticeable in near ones too. The shadow system as a whole feels pretty unstable in AC 2 and the problems clearly stem from the dynamic nature of the shadows, since the same problems are absent in AC.

Dynamic time-of-day sounds great on paper and it’s a nice bullet-point in the feature list. I occasionally even longed for it while playing AC but I’m now starting to lean towards fixed or dynamic-but-developer-controlled lighting, like in Crysis. Or at least I’m on the fence about that. It feels funny to say so, since I’m all for simulating the dynamic systems – that’s what video games are all about! Dynamic time-of-day just adds surprisingly little to overall experience, considering all the visual problems it creates.

Nice little touch is the new “shadow-sandals ” like in Grand Theft Auto IV in which the effect is actually  far more sophisticated. Anyway, the effect provides an important connection to the ground, especially in fully shadowed areas. It’s like a poor man’s ambient occlusion, emphasis on poor.