Watch Dogs is not an original game.
It is an amalgamation of all that has come before. It is an iteration on Grand Theft Auto, Assassin’s Creed and Far Cry. It is not new. It is not special. And it isn’t very good.
OFF THE SHELF AND ARTIFICIAL: THIS IS THE SAME GAME YOU’VE SEEN BEFORE
For all intents and purposes, if you’ve played any of Ubisoft’s other open world games, you’ve played Watch Dogs. A large world full of side missions to do. Towers to climb that reveal the map. Missions that blend action gameplay with stealth. It’s exactly what you’ve come to expect from the company, and in a way that’s disappointing: it’s starting to feel like they’ve become lazy, pushing out the same game with slightly different window dressing. What’s even more disappointing is that Watch Dogs is worse than the AC or Far Cry games. Its main character, hacker Aidan Pearce, is extremely unlikeable. The atmosphere is drab and depressing, and unlike Far Cry 3’s colourful Rook Islands or the lush Carribean of Black Flag, Watch Dog’s Chicago is devoid of any personality. It feels like an off-the-shelf, artificial open world environment: completely stock, with little excitement or colour to engage you. In short, this isn’t a world that you want to spend time in.
THE NARRATIVE IS A NONSENSICAL QUEST FOR REVENGE IN A DULL, LIFELESS CHICAGO
This isn’t helped by the fact that the narrative is very hard to become invested in. What starts out as a search for answers soon devolves into a nonsensical quest for revenge, all catalysed by the murder of Aidan’s niece. Yet his motives never line up with what you’d reasonably expect – although I suspect that Ubisoft were trying to make a multifaceted, complex character, what they ended up doing was making someone that it is impossible to identify with. The poor acting certainly doesn’t help. Both your companions and the “bad guys” are fleshed out equally poorly, and the way that the game jumps from one to another leaves it lacking in focus for great portions of the story. This is all augmented by increasing layers of complexity. I was often wondering why, exactly, I was taking out these bad guys, only to later be reminded that I had to as a favour for one guy, so that he could help the girl decrypt the thing so that I could give the thing to the bad guy who could then use it against the really bad guys? Maybe? It’s all very convoluted, tiresome and uninteresting. There are hints of deeper, more compelling themes, but these are never developed: as much as I wanted privacy concerns, the online hacker movement and vigilantism to be explored, the game fails to deliver satisfactorily.
Fortunately, the gameplay fares better. The unique feature of the game is the hacking capabilities: all of Chicago is controlled by the ctOS system, and as you’ve managed to hack the software you can control the world around you. This ranges from exploding electrical boxes to changing traffic lights, blowing up steam pipes to using cameras as a vantage point. Although it initially seems to be a gimmick, it adds a welcome complexity to the gameplay, livening up what would otherwise be pretty standard fare. Stealth is very enjoyable thanks to a competent cover system and the ability to take people out using hacking whilst never even entering the room, and using your capabilities in car chases makes for a thrilling affair.
After a while, though, it all becomes rather repetitive. Missions task you with either shooting a bunch of people loudly, shooting a bunch of people quietly or escaping some enemies. It gets tiring – there isn’t enough there to sustain the length of the campaign. The constant repetition quickly leads you to find how to break the game, just so that you can move on as soon as possible – jumping into boats always lets you escape instantly, for example, as does going over a bridge. Mechanics that are enjoyable for the first few hours lose some of their appeal by the end of the game, and this isn’t helped by the decreasing quality of missions.
REPETITION HAMPERS COMPETENT GAMEPLAY
One thing that Watch Dogs does get right is its innovative asymmetric multiplayer. You’re always connected whilst playing, so your game can seamlessly be invaded by another player, who you must then discover and take out. It’s nothing game changing, but it’s quite enjoyable. Ultimately, it’s another way in which Ubisoft have tried to increase the variety of your gameplay experience. Races, competitive team multiplayer and mobile integration augment this further.
When you eventually do finish the campaign, you’ll still have plenty to do. Ubisoft have jammed the game full of side missions: preventing crimes from taking place, stopping criminal convoys, investigating a sex slave trafficking ring…your time in Chicago will never end, if you don’t want it to. That said, it almost feels like there’s too much to do. You’re constantly tempted with distractions and oddities, and it’s overbearing – you want to just explore the world, and you’re almost penalised for wanting to do so.
Graphically, the game is competent, but not great. On last gen platforms, it’s acceptable, but not the best we’ve seen: Grand Theft Auto V is much better, for example, and even other Ubisoft games like Black Flag and Far Cry 3 appear prettier. On current gen it’s better, but still not perfect. It falls quite shy from the splendour we were promised a few years ago.
FINE….BUT NOT GREAT
These graphical issues, then, capture the reality of Watch Dogs better than anything. Watch Dogs is an OK game, but there is nothing special about it. It’s a lesser version of the other Ubisoft open world games, with one or two gimmicks that make it a little unique. It’s perfectly fine, but that’s about it. In that respect, it’s much like the first Assassin’s Creed: good, but not great. There’s every hope that this has laid down the foundations for a superb sequel. But for now, at least, Watch Dogs is something utterly derivative, uninspired and, worst of all, disappointing.
SLIGHTLY ABOVE AVERAGE
Watch Dogs is out now on PS3, Xbox 360 (reviewed), PS4, Xbox One and PC.
Review code kindly provided by Ubisoft.