Splinter Cell Blacklist Wii U Version's Performance Put Under the Spotlight
Posted by Thomas Whitehead
Digital Foundry compares it to the 360, PS3 and PC versions
Splinter Cell Blacklist is Ubisoft's latest Sam Fisher-led title, seeking to provide a solid blend of the action-focused Conviction with the stealth gameplay so popular in its predecessors. It's also one of a good number of Ubisoft multi-platform titles that's also on the Wii U, and the question often asked is how the Nintendo system's version stacks up against other platforms.
Our partners over at Eurogamer's Digital Foundry often tackle those very questions, drilling down into technical detail to determine how well optimised these titles are for each platform. For the Wii U it's been a mixed bag, with standouts such as Trine 2: Director's Cut and Need For Speed: Most Wanted U performing as well or better than on rival platforms, and others such as Assassin's Creed III and Batman: Arkham City Armoured Edition falling short in some areas. Splinter Cell Blacklist's assessment brings up a mix of good and bad, which is perhaps as expected.
The greatest positives for the Wii U are that, of the consoles, it has the highest image resolution (1280x720) which delivers a crisp image compared to some perceived fuzziness on the PS3, particularly, while usage of the GamePad touch screen is praised as an intuitive means of swapping out gear, perhaps more so than the "wheel" on other systems. There are downsides, however, which can be linked in part to the absence of any HD texture map or mandatory hard drive installs that are present on other systems; pop-in textures are an issue and load times in some scenarios surpass a minute, as opposed to around 20 seconds on PS3 and Xbox 360. There are positives and negatives with the crisp Wii U visuals, too, as despite avoiding excessive frame chopping with v-sync permanently on, the framerate apparently suffers more than elsewhere when there's a lot of action on screen.
Interestingly, these framerate struggles are cited as a possible explanation for the absence of local co-op; Producer Liu Jun told us that the feature was missed to hit the target release date, and Digital Foundry suggests that optimisating this local co-op may have been a challenge. Even with the GamePad screen being potentially used in place of split-screen, the game would still have to produce two distinct viewpoints, which leads to a framerate drop on the other platforms.
Overall, the final verdict on the Wii U version wasn't particularly favourable, pending a potential update to improve performance.
Almost every quad-format Face-Off to date has unearthed compromises in the Wii U release which eclipses its advantages, and Splinter Cell: Blacklist doesn't buck this trend. Taken from an image resolution standpoint, the Wii U version is no doubt the reigning king of its domain, where unlike the Sony and Microsoft platform releases, it achieves a full 720p with v-sync always engaged. As a result, it's Nintendo's hardware that gives us the clearest and most integral image of the three, while the 360 and PS3 versions trail behind with sub-HD presentations, with the PlayStation 3 coming off as particularly blurry.
But there are gripes to consider before jumping in bed with the Wii U version. Most significant is the degradation in texture quality, the muddiness of which matches the 360 release without its HD texture pack install. Surfaces can look flat compared to the game running on PS3 and 360 with full installs, and the lack of any similar optional install on Nintendo's platform means pop-in flares up while in wide outdoors areas. Curiously, in terms of sheer playability, Sony's hardware achieves the most consistent frame-rates during combat, with 360 taking middle ground here, and the Wii U suffering from more regular dips to the low 20s, perhaps explaining the omission of split-screen gameplay.
...However, the Wii U's lower frame-rates, patience-testing loading screens and occasional freezing issues can't be ignored either, meaning we'd advise caution before buying this version. It feels rushed to market in these respects, and until a worthy patch arrives, the contest must be narrowed down to PS3 and 360 - a stalemate that itself can only be broken via your preference for either visual fidelity or performance.
We're currently working through our own detailed review, but what do you make of this assessment? If you have the game on Wii U, let us know how noticeable, or not, these issues are when playing.