The release of the new story trailer of Watch_Dogs has caused a lot of controversy within the gaming community, due to the fact that many simply feel that it doesn’t look that good. Some (me included) initially thought it showcased the last generation version of the game, but from what we can gather, it definitely seems to be the PS4 version, even if Ubisoft seems to be covering the tracks.
The official PlayStation Denmark twitter account answered a question from a fan yesterday, stating that the trailer showcased PS4 gameplay. Unfortunately the tweet has been canceled since, probably under the pressure of the backlash. That said, it didn’t come from Ubisoft, so that cannot be considered conclusive evidence.
Yesterday, while I was checking the new trailers for my usual night reporting, I noticed something interesting. Ubisoft Japan published two versions of the trailer. The first was titled “ウォッチドッグス ストーリートレーラー” (Watch Dogs Story Trailer), while the second was named ウォッチドッグス ストーリートレーラーPS4版 (Watch Dogs Story Trailer PS4 Version). You can imagine my excitement as I immediately opened the “PS4 version” to see the difference, only to discover that there was none besides the splash screen at the end. Even more interestingly, it was immediately unlisted and hidden from sight. Luckily i still had the URL so I was able to find it again. Here it is:
You can see a screencap of the video at the bottom of the article just in case it gets removed completely.
So far everything seems to point to the fact that the trailer belongs to the PS4 version of the game. Ubisoft is being extremely hush about it. We have reached out for a possible confirmation or denial, but we didn’t receive an answer yet.
That said, regardless of the platform, one of the reasons behind the backlash is probably found in the fact that YouTube really butchers trailers with ominous compression. One of the best features of Watch_Dogs seems to be very high resolution textures with absolutely lovely normal maps, and high compression completely ruins that.
That’s why we picked up a 1080p version of the trailer with very high bitrate (15 Mbps) and snapped a few lossless PNG screenshots for you, in order to show you exactly how the game looks when it’s not ruined by an unflattering compression. You can see those screenshots in the gallery below (make sure to click on each to see the full screen version in 1080p). There’s still a small bit of compression going on, but it’s radically less than on YouTube or on other video sites.
There are quite a few elements that you may have overlooked while watching the trailer, especially if you watched it on Youtube. First of all, the beautiful textures. They’re extremely detailed and the high resolution normal maps make the grain stand out even more. It’s especially visible with clothes (just look at Aiden’s coat and sweater) and skin. The detail of tattoos is also another great indication.
The second element is the many fine details that are modeled in the game, and that are easy to miss. Facial hair is one of those. Even nasal hair is actually modeled strand by strand. A similar level of detail is visible in the grass of the tomb scene.
There’s simply a whole lot going on the screen, with elements that are often modeled in much lesser detail in open world games, but since they’re small elements they’re harder to notice. The elevated railway is a good example, with its extremely complex structure. There’s a whole lot of polygons that the engine has to move there.
Another element is the draw distance. It’s extremely high compared to most open world games. There’s no distant fog to keep the polygon count low, and it definitely makes a big difference in creating the sensation that we’re walking in a real city and not into a series of blocks where you can clearly see only a few hundreds of metres away. The whole city is visible, and there are thousands of objects between buildings, vegetation and vehicles. And Watch_Dog doesn’t seem to use many of the usual tricks that keep things lighter on the machine, but degrade visibility radically at a distance.
This isn’t to say that some elements of the visuals haven’t been possibly toned down since the latest showings of the game, but looking at the footage without the hindrance of compression makes it a lot easier to notice elements that are often sacrificed in other open world games for the sake of performance.
It’s inevitable: open world games will look worse than linear games on the same hardware when you compare single elements directly. That’s because the engine has to render a lot more objects around our character, and often a lot more characters, vehicles and so forth. No matter how many resources you are, they’re always finite, and the more elements you need to render, the less detail you can dedicate to each.
Ultimately, the power to judge is in your hands. Check the gallery below, observe every small detail, and then you’ll be able to make an informed decision on whether the game looks good or not so much.