Watch Dogs was one of those games that instantly drew in a ton of eyes when it was announced at E3 back in 2012. The brand new IP from Ubisoft, being developed by the geniuses at Ubisoft Montreal, the team that brought us the original Assassin’s Creed, as well as plenty of other gems for gamers to add to their collections. It shouldn’t be too far a stretch of the imagination that their newest game is just as fantastic as the rest of the studio’s catalog. If only it were so.
Watch Dogs suffers from problems right from the very start. This is an open world game, from a studio that is known for allowing players to play games their own way and more or less make their own path in the story, so long as the objective is ultimately carried out. Here, the story forces you into a decision. Not only do you not have a choice about this decision unless you just want to sit in the first level for about 40 hours and be done with the game, but once you accept that decision, all of the power from that decision is taken away from you. None of it mattered. Honestly, that’s how the vast majority of the story in Watch Dogs is. None of it matters. Ubisoft Montreal has done something utterly incredible with this game in that they’ve created a world where I feel more connected to almost everyone else in ctOs Chicago than I do to the main character of the game, Aiden Pierce. This is a dude that I spent about sixty hours looking at, and I felt no connection to him. On top of that, at one point during the game I had my heart ripped out for one of Aiden’s enemies. This game gave me an emotional connection to someone I was supposed to hate, and within an instant, I hated Aiden instead. So we’ve got story problems, but how’s the gameplay?
In all honesty, the gameplay is about all that Watch Dogs has going for it. While the driving could use a bit of improvement, you do get used to it fairly quickly and can become quite efficient at it with use of the handbrake. The gunplay is actually really well done although there are times where moving from cover to cover or getting off of cover entirely to engage different enemies can be really clunky and awkward. As for the hacking, you know, the thing the game was built around? Watch Dogs employs their idea quite well within the world. However, the hacking in this game feels more like a proof of concept, rather than something the developers built the game around. In truth, this game feels incredibly like a modern day Assassin’s Creed, and I can almost guarantee that this game was born from that idea the way Assassin’s Creed was originally supposed to be a Prince of Persia game. In fact there are assets in the game that I promise came from various Assassin’s Creed games including the flow of Aiden’s coat as he runs, small parts of his free running, and even his leaps over certain obstacles. Ubisoft also included a multiplayer element to Watch Dogs. The premise behind it is fairly simple and sounds like fun, enter another player’s world and follow them around or try to hack them. In actuality it is the most annoying thing I’ve ever experienced. And I’ve been running into Zubats since Pokemon Yellow. All the multiplayer ultimately does is interrupt a player as they’re about to do something in their own world, or ask another player to sit in someone else’s world for about five to ten minutes and try not to get spotted. In these modes matchups are also random, so if you were looking to try hacking one of your friends, good luck. There is also a multiplayer free roam where you can run around and shoot your friends and have various shenanigans with them, but this mode is unavailable to those playing on either the 360 or the PS3.
If it weren’t for Aiden’s smartphone that can short-circuit an entire city, Watch Dogs would be nothing more than a GTA clone. But as already stated, this feature seems more like a proof of concept than an integral part of the game. Don’t get me wrong, there are parts of the game where you need to use your hacking abilities in order to complete your mission, but for the vast majority of the game the only required hacking is going up to an object and scanning it. There are also few things more satisfying in ctOs Chicago than running from the cops and watching them get completely destroyed by those street lights that you just changed to all green at a busy four-way intersection; even then you can eventually escape them without any hacking anything, and escaping is actually quite easy when you realize the entire Chicago police force doesn’t own a single boat. There are also plenty of times where hacking cameras makes the game so much easier than trying to run into a base all stealthy. Take a magical ride between a few cameras and you’ve reached a special ctOs box in about thirty seconds rather than fighting a bunch of hired guns for five minutes.
Lastly, we come to all of the side stuff. And let’s not beat around the bush here, the minigames in Watch Dogs are a complete waste of time. Whether it’s a virtual trip or the nearly impossible drinking games, they shouldn’t have been in the game. Watch Dogs could have been a much better game and maybe even come out on time if the developers spent less time coming up with ways for you to fly around and bounce on flowers, and more time making the story more emotional for Aiden’s plot. However, in complete contrast, the side missions of the game are really the shining light in Watch Dogs. The investigations give a bigger sense of accomplishment and a more fulfilling story than the main missions, and for most of them you just have to find something to scan with your phone off in the woods. But the dialogue in these side missions are so well done that it made the game worth playing as I struggled to care about the main plot.
Ultimately, Watch Dogs is a fun game to play, as long as you stay away from the story. If you want to just roam around and hack the city, you’re probably going to have a great time. But Watch Dogs is not worth $60. This is a game that if you’re going to play it, you should wait until it’s dropped to something around a $40 price point. I have no doubt in my mind that when Watch Dogs 2 comes out in a few years, the story will be better, and so will everything else I’ve had qualms with. This, however, is not the game that we were all expecting and getting all giddy about when we were watching the announcement two years ago.