Every now and then, probably averaging once a year, I review a computer game. For later explained several reasons the current favorite is Ghost Recon Breakpoint. Typically I refer to the story line and the thrill and whatever makes gaming enjoyable. And although I tend to play (not only but often) shooters, this review is not all about the gameplay.
Primarily in this review I want to emphasize which steps in game live computer graphics engines have taken and what incredible level of immersion could be achieved in an usual PC, not entirely built for gaming. That said, I nevertheless wrap up shortly “attention spoiler” the story and the gameplay, since anyway this is a game review.
Basically the Story, again a Tom Clancy inspired Script, is a journey to a hypothetic south pacific archipelago named Aurora which was chosen by an idealistic tech company to create a better world utopia. This by itself is a first wonderful play, since the real world Aurora turned out to be removed from the maps after the 1870ies, making them phantom islands. Attracted by the advanced technology bad guys show up, isolate the island and blackmail the nerds into the development of super high-tech weapons, to conquer the world and start an secret war of attrition.
When Aurora fell black, that of course didn’t happen unnoticed and you and your team are sent, although beaten up devastatingly during the landing operation, to find up what’s going on and clean up the mess. So to speak, the player is stranded alone and outnumbered and outgunned and has to safe the world on his own in first place. Some comrades made it, but you have to find them and patch them up, not without some surprises.
Good ones and bad ones, with meeting Sam Fisher in Episode two being more favorable than others. A less favorable meeting, happening right in the first three steps introduces Cole D. Walker, played and spoken by Jon Bernthal, probably most famous for being The Punisher in the according Netflix series, which somehow matches the pattern.
First, gameplay is rock solid and in the default setup, leveling up yourself and your gear is a great and long term balanced experience. The world is explored open and you have a large variety of vehicles to move around more or less fast and unencumbered. Critics say the balance is not so balanced, that the player actually does not enjoy the game, and Ubisoft got some bad reputation for that. The reference to “pay to win” I consider quite not adequate, since with not too much time in game, you have a fair setup and are able to play perfectly adequate.
Sure there are areas you want to avoid first, particular where Walker Wolfs, highly trained special units trained by your opponent, walk through the landscape. Their AI keeps them first on a pretty straight routine, but as soon as they get a solid lock on the player, they really behave rather effective – so there is the first part of being technically impressed – even when they do things, the player can not do, for whatever reason.
The real game started from my perspective, with the introduction of Ghost Mode and the update that made Episode Two. Ghost Mode skips the leveling of all gear and weapons behave right to the capabilities of what they are defined to do.
All enemies are dangerous. The player still may develop new abilities and skills, due to exercise, which is fine for me and the crafting still works fine providing consumables of any kind like food, hydration or explosives. Primarily the weapon system behaves from my perspective, which is the one of a slightly experienced sports- shooter, really real. There are many options to set up your rig, based on the accessories you have retrieved from all over the island. The change in characteristics is rather close to reality and so are ballistics and punch.
And contrary to many other games, the weapons at hand are rather real ones, although not necessarily the super- famous flavors. I was rather impressed e.g. by the Czech BREN 805 or the Desert Tech SRS A1 which resemble rare but effective weapons, that really give some special handling experiences. Or given the fact, that I am German, the H&K setup with G28 and G36 combination seems very appalling. Only the Desert Eagle assuming the .338 caliber over the .50 AE seemed a little bit wired to me. But I am not a big DE fan anyway.
Given that, the gaming experience shifts from a built up style right into the real thing. You behave stupid, you are dead. It’s that easy. You recon, know your enemies strength and positions and knock them off one by one, you have a fair chance. This seems a bit harsh for “console kids” but I really appreciate the mixture of shooter and simulation.
On the contrary simulation of vehicles is not all that accurate, and more intended to give a means of easy and reasonable fast transportation. That a tank or a chopper is provided on any bivouacs seems a little bit odd. On the other hand, the island is not that big, so you may walk and swim even larger stretches, needing only a little bit less than a super sportsman.
This brings me to the actual intention of the post: The graphics engine implementation.
The picture above reminds me of the saying “There are no beautiful sunsets, without clouds!” which is a rather real observation. Haze, clouds, indirect lighting and appropriate shades of color create a real atmospheric impression.
Atmospheric calculation, does not even stop in the air but the caustic patterns of optical refraction of sunlight through waves on water, paint these on the floor of pools and ponds. Throughout the landscape the reflections on wet surfaces play with the radiation of all kinds of light sources, not limited to the sun or moon but including lightning, explosions and fire, artificial lamps and beams.
Particular the more fiery things add to natural haze and fog the alpha- blended particles of different kinds of smoke.
Combine these effects with the motion- blur, a feature I find most anoying during longer periods of muscle movement, it makes all of a sudden sense, if combined with certain vehicle movements.
Combination of even more of these features makes the immersion of a real open world environment all the more realistic. Reflection, blur, atmospheric haze, indirect lighting are all characteristics of a natural impression.
This does even include the different behavior of the named (and un- named) light- sources, as given in the bridge- car- example. Along comes the movement of objects. Clouds move, water moves, plants move. One of the most impressive examples is the blowing away grass, during the landing of a chopper.
Over all this is an really comprehensive example of what computer graphics may look like these days, live and real time calculated models of an immersive environment. During high flights, with long lanes of view level of detail perception becomes visual, but that refers to the enormous size of the game world – even with large amounts of memory (64GB), NVME installation disk and 8GB of graphics memory these effects are not compensated, probably due to assumptions about meaningful configuration options and probably IO limits.
Nevertheless the system resource consumption is fair up to high. CPU is above game average and another indicator that not only single thread performance counts, but particular AI and IO increasingly take advantage of more cores – and not necessarily hyperthreading. On the other hand GPU consumption is already high and considering a RTX 2080 Super as platform, significantly contributing to the game experience.
So far, Kyp. F.
p.s. A technical review of The Division 2 will follow with screenshots and a run within my new setup, although the gameplay was commented a while ago.