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Every time I play GTA IV I'm terribly impressed with small things that affect the gameplay. From Euphoria's procedural animation engine implemented into Rockstar's own RAGE – a feature that makes it where just about every physical interaction affects the character's motion and movement – to the introduction of mass-based soft-body deformation. Whatever criticisms levied at Rockstar for GTA IV, they pale in comparison to what the company achieved on a technical level with the Rockstar Advanced Game Engine.
I'm not the only one who still sits in wonder about the amazing technical achievement that Rockstar made with GTA IV from back in 2008. In fact, DSO Gaming spotted a YouTube from Russian gamer Eduard Mackarchew, where he compares the technical engine systems between Ubisoft's Disrupt tech for Watch Dogs on PC and home consoles, to the old, vanilla version of Grand Theft Auto IV on PC.
The fascinating thing about it is that while some people might see this as petty or nitpicking or an infinitesimal change in detail, the reality is that all of these features – barring the water waves, which in my opinion looks better in Watch Dogs – actually affect the gameplay in ways that change the way you interact with the world.
For instance, the procedural animations meant that if you pushed or were pushed by someone on the steps you would trip and fall, which could hinder you greatly during a chase sequence. Likewise, you could throw something at someone and trip them up during a chase scene, using a brick or something. It's a dynamic and completely incalculably unique feature.
How does soft-body deformation affect gameplay? Well, it changes how you drive cars. In Watch Dogs you could slam into anything at any time and just keep driving, although this limitation is probably set in place to accommodate the old and crusty seventh gen consoles.
On PC, GTA IV could have soft-body deformation damage turned up to the point of near realism, where a single, devastating crash could completely destroy the drivetrain and the front or rear axles. This means that the car becomes undrivable thereafter. This changes your mindset on how you approach chase scenes as well as how you use the car and take damage to the car.
The same thing applies to the physical objects within the environment – you could literally ram into a dumpster in an alley and crush an enemy with it, or push it into the street and cause an accident. It adds a measure of unpredictability and randomness to the outcome of a situation.
Now I know some of you are thinking “What about the fire hydrant thing? That's useless!” Not really. In fact, you could knock over the hydrant and sometimes the blast from the water could tip a car over. If the cops were on your tail you sometimes knock it over and have the water throw the cop car off balance. I remember being so impressed with that feature years ago when I first encountered it because it seemed so unnecessary at the time, but it still helped a lot with the variable dynamics of the game world.
I know it seems like there's a ton of praise being dumped on GTA IV and Watch Dogs is being ragged on, but the reality is that there are a few things that Watch Dogs does slightly better, and a lot of it has to do with the AI reactions, interactions and dynamism. GTA IV definitely has some pretty good AI, but Watch Dogs actually does take it to the next level, as mentioned in other articles.
The real question is: will any of these missing or downgraded features in Watch Dogs keep you from picking up a copy of the game?