I have to say it: Watch Dogs doesn't look drop-dead gorgeous even when maxed out on a high-end PC. It definitely doesn't look nearly as pretty as, say, the original Watch Dogs unveil at E3 2012, when we just knew it had to be a next-gen title--the graphics were too damn good to come out on an Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3.
It's not that the game looks bad per se--Watch Dogs just failed to usher in a new era of graphics the way it was expected to, and the PC game's buggy and poorly optimized to boot. In many ways, it slid backwards after that E3 reveal, with cookie cutter explosions and less impressive lighting. Or did it?
Want to fix Watch Dogs? You can, kind of. Want to improve both the performance and pump the graphics to the level of that initial trailer? You can--or you can get close, at least.
Shockingly, the files to do so are already inside the PC version, according to a modder than unlocked them. In other words, Ubisoft made the game with better graphics at one point, and then killed some of those features. Why? It likely boils down to either time, stability issues, or to make the game run on last-gen consoles, but if true, it's a slap to the face to the PC community regardless, which has already endured a shoddy port and forty days in the desert dubbed Uplay.
The latent files were discovered by modder The Worse on Guru3D. Taken from a post on Neogaf:
"The Worse, creator of the mod on Guru3d...has made massive discoveries/improvements. He has discovered that almost all of the shaders and improvements seen in 2012 and 2013 are still in the game files, such as the E3 2012 explosions. For now he has managed to implement dynamic shadows from headlights, the increased rain density, increased NPC density, as well as 2012 e3 bloom and lens flare."
Never underestimate the power of the PC gaming community to find files you never want found. The mod's creator claims you'll see both performance and stuttering improvements after installation, plus changes to rain, reflections, fog, bloom, and much more. Kotaku confirmed that the improvements promised by the mod are indeed present after installation, and says "the results are remarkable."
Of course, this is a mod. Unpredictable results may occur, you might experience crashes, some effects might break on your particular implementation, yada yada yada. Also, I have no way of knowing whether Uplay checks for modded copies of Watch Dogs, and the always-online nature of the game makes that a bit worrisome if you're planning on tapping into the game's intriguing multiplayer gameplay. (The irony of having to worry about potential surveillance in a game about the dangers of surveillance is not lost on me.)
We've reached out to Ubisoft for comment and will update the article when the company gets back to us.