[Since this game came out nearly a month ago, this review will have some minor spoilers]
Review Platform: Xbox One
Watch Dogs has been long-believed to be the vanguard of the “next generation.” Since it’s announcement at E3 2012, the game has ridden an ever-growing hype train for nearly two years. Despite a long delay, and it’s release not coinciding with the launch of the Xbox One or the PS4, Watch Dogs has still sold incredibly well and ensures that this will be an ongoing Ubisoft franchise for the foreseeable future. But the question remains: does it deserve the hype? In a word, no; but that doesn’t mean it’s a bad game. Is it the vanguard of the next generation? Again, no. It does some new things, but still finds itself chained to the rules and legacy of past open-world games.
With Watch Dogs, I feel like I’m playing a game that was trying to figure out it’s own identity. Almost like it’s not sure what it wants to be. Is it a Grand Theft Auto clone? Is it a futuristic Assassin’s Creed? Both valid questions, and the answer is partially yes on both counts. The game plays very similarly to another Ubisoft blockbuster, Assassin’s Creed. The platforming/parkour functions the same way (hold the trigger to run, and hold “B” or “O” to parkour). The missions also have a very similar format. There are a variety of missions, ranging from stopping random crimes, halting criminal convoys, and even climbing buildings to open up more of the map. Some of those sound familiar? The map layout and mission structure reeks of Assassin’s Creed, to the point where I felt like I was playing an Assassin’s Creed spin-off, and not an original IP. Outside of the missions, the actual gameplay functions just fine. Gunplay works well, and popping off headshots in the prerequisite slow motion is satisfying. Driving is passable, but it feels very similar to the floaty driving mechanics of GTA IV. I often found myself opting for trucks and SUVs, just to have a vehicle with some stability. This caused frustration frequently, as many of the side missions, and some of the campaign missions, rely on precision driving, which can be very difficult when saddled with a performance car that has almost no handling. I found many of these missions to be pointless, and didn’t fit very well into the overall story.
The story of Watch Dogs is another part of this game that can’t quite figure out what it wants to be. Aiden Pearce, the protagonist, is the vigilante known as ‘The Fox.’ After a tragic event caused by Aiden pissing off the wrong people, Aiden is out for revenge. He is meant to be a good guy, an almost Batman-like character, but I constantly found myself thinking Aiden Pearce is just not a good guy. My confusion came with constant bouts of whiplash. One minute, Pearce is breaking up a sex trafficking ring, and the next he is hacking money out of the phones of single mothers. One minute, he is saving a random NPC from a mugging, and the next he is spying on civilians through their webcams, for no discernible reason. Granted, some of these more “shady” side activities are optional, but if you are a completionist, like me, you do everything. This made me constantly unsure as to whether I should like Aiden Pearce or not. Later in the game, he is proclaimed as a hero to many of Chicago’s citizens, including the police force, even though you are regularly outrunning them and destroying their cars.
I found the main story of Watch Dogs to be very bland. Broken up into five acts, the story doesn’t really get going until the end of act 4, which is very close to the end of the game. There are a couple of moments in there that are memorable, and the cutscenes are fairly well-acted. Most of the characters, including Pearce, are fairly one-dimensional. I never got very invested in any of them, and even when certain character(s) met untimely demises, I found myself unaffected. All in all, the game ends on a decent note. All of the loose ends are tied up, and nicely sets us up for a sequel.
Overall, I was okay with Watch Dogs. It is a solid experience that lasted me roughly 20 hours, which I mostly enjoyed. It doesn’t really do much that’s new, other than the hacking mechanic, which simply boils down to tapping or holding “X/Square” a lot, and the story is nothing to write home about. It is not that “next-gen” experience that every one is hoping for, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth a play through. I’d give it a shot, but keep your expectations a little lower.
Final Score: 3/5