Watch Dogs finally out in the shops and so for users who have access to both the Playstation 4 and Xbox One versions of the title you’ll likely have questions of which machine will provide you the better gameplay experience? Our frame rate and console vs PC analysis will be coming over the next few days, but – spoiler alert, the PS4 and X1 appear to be fairly similar in frame rate (more info soon). This article instead focuses upon the graphics and which is the ‘prettier’ experience.
First things first – the resolution and frame rate. Both next generation consoles are capped to 30fps, and generally maintain the frame rate unless Watch Dogs puts the PS4 / X1 under a lot of load (lots of explosions, or high traffic areas for example). Despite the output of your chosen console likely being 1080P, neither of the two systems can achieve this natively and both will require upscaling. The Playstation 4 manages to do slightly better than the Xbox One – 900P vs 792P. This is quite a bit of difference in terms of raw pixel count, 1,440,000 pixels vs 1,115,136 pixels and you’ll notice Sony’s machine looks a little sharper as a result. Despite the roughly 30 percent of extra pixels the PS4 as an advantage, the two consoles managed to be fairly close to each other.
Watch Dogs PS4 & X1 Anti-Aliasing
Ubisoft have confirmed both the Playstation 4 and Xbox One versions of Watch Dogs rely on the same Anti-Aliasing technique SMAA, or to give it it’s full name, Subpixel Morphological Anti-Aliasing. SMAA is a shader based anti-aliasing technique, and despite the occasional drawback (particularly creating the odd soft / blurry edge) it does well here, even with the Xbox One’s lower resolution. Certainly the ‘better’ solution would be MSAA or SSAA, but these techniques are extremely expensive, and both consoles had to turn down their resolutions already. It’s generally a better technique than FXAA as it reduces the associated screen blurring, but is still ‘cheap’ to run in terms of performance compared to SSAA or MSAA. For more info on SMAA click on the above link.
That’s not to say that the difference between Watch Dogs on the consoles is purely resolution. The PC version is currently having performance related issues (despite both AMD and Nvidia releasing new graphic drivers to try and help out), but does offer much higher resolution shadows (and other effects). If you’ve a beast of a PC to run the game, or can wait for the patch from Ubisoft the PC version certainly is the nicer looking – but we’ll discuss that in a soon to be released article. Focusing our attentions on both consoles, if you see both versions running side-by-side you’ll likely notice the difference in the quality of Shadows and Lighting.
Watch Dogs Shadows and Ambient Occlusion Comparison
Shadows in the console iterations of Watch Dogs (which I’m sure you’ll agree are a pretty big part of the game) are rendered in a lower resolution than the PC, and due to the lower resolution of the Xbox One’s internal resolution the Shadows do take a bit of a hit. The PS4 shadows feel ‘fuller’ and smoother, but once again are still quite far behind Watch Dogs on the PC, albeit you’ll need the ‘ultra’ setting to really notice the difference. If you look over the shadows carefully of both versions of the title, there are subtle differences. The important thing is that it doesn’t alter the mood of the scene, and you’ll not find shadows cast in radically different ways.
Ambient Occlusion is up next, and while the PC version of Watch Dogs received substantial upgrades in this department, according to both Nvidia and Ubisoft, the shadow quality for both consoles is MHBAO, which is basically a ‘half resolution and console quality’ version of fully HBAO or HBAO+ on PC. I did notice that lighting felt overall worse on the Xbox One version of the game, and does combine somewhat with the difference in shadow quality to conspire against the Xbox One, especially if you’re in close up sections areas with strong contrasts in shadow / lighting. It would appear that Watch Dogs on the X1 uses MHBAO a little more carefully than the PS4, which is a shame. Despite the downgraded quality of Ambient Occlusion thanks to MHBAO, it’s far far better than the PC version if you’ve not got the rig to run it enabled (however most modern GPU’s should have the grunt to do so).
Strangely enough, the PS4 version while shooting did exhibit slightly different effects to the X1. This is noticeable in a few areas – for example, while you’re shooting at the ground you’ll notice a small ‘explosion’ on the Xbox One version of the title which isn’t present on the PS4 – at least we couldn’t find it while shooting on the same surface materials. Both versions have a slight ‘lag’ however between firing. The bullet of Aiden’s weapon hitting the ground at times before the weapon is fired or his trigger is ‘pulled’.
Watch Dogs Playstation 4 Vs XBox One Loading Times
Loading times for the consoles is certainly a little slower than the PC, but there is certainly a variation of times between the two consoles as well. The tests were conducted with the standard hard drives found in the launch model PS4 and X1s (the 500GB models) – not with an SSD or ‘other’ drive installed. The PS4 version came in first with loading times, but certainly didn’t exactly feel snappy. From the titles initial loading to the main menu, we timed the time it took to load into the game itself from when we pressed the ‘go’ button on resume. The PS4 version came out with 52.24 seconds, while the Xbox One version came out behind at 1 minute and 15 seconds.
If you’re an Xbox One owner you’ll likely want to get good at Watch Dogs quickly too, as time between deaths / continues was also substantially higher than the Playstation 4. The times (measured from the moment the screen went black until you could play again) was 18 seconds 58 on the PS4, while the Xbox One was about 7 seconds behind, managing a time of 25.74 seconds. Once again, hardly a world of difference but die ten times a day and you’re going to be spending an extra minute or so on loading screens. Obviously there was a slight variance in different area loading times too – but we just used those because they’re very easy to replicate results.
Watch Dogs | Tech Tribunal Judgement
Tech Tribunal judgement time is in, and just like many titles released on both the Xbox One and PS4, Sony’s machine has a slight edge over Microsoft’s. It’s important to remember that many of these difference will only be felt or noticed if you’re playing the two games side by side, and if you’ve only access to Microsoft’s machine you shouldn’t feel ‘bad’ about it. It’s still a very nice version. Although we’ll be covering performance in another article, as a preview I can tell you that both suffer from similar slow down. The Xbox version does suffer from a little extra screen tearing at times, but it’s not the biggest deal in the world. One draw Sony’s machine may have is the exclusive content for the PS4 which is bundled in free as a DLC code. As much as I dislike the practice, to some this small extra bit of single player content (about an hours worth) is enough to tip the balance. Worth noting, as far as I can tell it’s already on the disk – since the download is very small.
The Playstation 4 version of Watch Dogs just appears a little more polished, which is a benefit afforded the developers by both the extra GPU grunt and memory bandwidth Sony’s machine offers over the Xbox One. You’ll not be disappointed with either version – but of course for those who’re looking for the best graphics, the PC and Ultra settings are the way you’d like to go.