[Update: You can also check out the Xbox One vs PS4 graphics comparison here]
Well this took me by complete surprise. I was actually expecting this to turn a lot different than what the results actually are. While we await for Digital Foundry's graphics analysis of Ubisoft's open-world hacktion title that goes on sale next week on May 27th, we can still have a little fun with what information we do have available... such as high-res images of the PC build versus the E3 2012 build.
Just recently someone leaked PC footage of Watch Dogs running on the 'Ultra' settings... the highest graphics settings possible for the game.
So it only makes sense to compare the high quality PC footage against the E3 2012 gameplay demo. As mentioned at the top of the article, the results surprised me greatly, because the PC version looks just about on par to the E3 version, minus a few effects here or there.
First of all, check out the explosion effects below. Obviously, the one at the top is from an exploding gas station in the E3 2012 build – similar to what WCCF Tech tried to emulate in their videos – while the bottom set is from an exploding car in the PC version running on 'Ultra'.
While there will be obvious complaints about one being a gas station and one being a car, you can still measure the difference in the way the effects are handled. For instance, you can easily make out more of the multi-layered smoke sprites and alpha blending in the PC screenshots at the bottom. The E3 2012 build looks closer to Hollywood CGI effects and is displaying far more particles and detailed fire animations that mask the techniques used to make the effect.
To the untrained eye you might actually assume the top set of effects were a procedural fire effect using volumetric particles, similar to what you might have seen in Nvidia's graphical test videos for their CUDA core capabilities.
This next shot basically compares Aiden Pearce, the game's protagonist, under different lighting conditions, as well as the density of the surrounding environment's graphics.
Technically, the PC version – which is at the bottom – looks about on par to the E3 2012 build. The biggest difference is the sort of foggy dither in the E3 build that adds a denser sense of clutter to the urban environment than the PC version. The E3 build could also use some lotion to its color palette... just saying.
E3 build is at the top and the PC build is at the bottom. They're mostly the same in terms of visual fidelity.
Otherwise, there's some minor differences in the way both builds handle physics effects. Obviously, the E3 build has more spark, crackles and pops, but the PC version isn't necessarily a slouch. The damage models are a lot more dynamic in the E3 build, obviously, but you still get to see some impressive reactions from collisions in the PC rendition.
My biggest gripe from the E3 build to the one launching for gamers next week is that the environment is still fairly static when it comes to explosions affecting surrounding objects. Windows don't shatter and the earth doesn't quite quake. Still, you have to admit that the PC version on 'Ultra' actually holds up pretty well in comparison to the original E3 2012 build. Check it out in this video below, courtesy of WCCF Tech
Yes, there are some obvious tweaks in the way the game renders some of the graphical effects, but for the most part it didn't get castrated in the visual department quite as bad as Aliens: Colonial Marines.