At the time of writing this, Watch Dogs has become the biggest selling new IP in Ubisoft’s stable in the history of… well… forever.
The last time one of their new IPs generated this kind of buzz was Assassins Creed. Which is kind of ironic as the game borrows so heavily from that franchise it is hard to separate the two.
In the game you are Aiden Pearce; hacker extraordinaire and owner of the most over the top gravelly voice since Christian Bale dressed as a bat. On the trail of the people responsible for his niece’s death, he uses his skills throughout the city in an attempt to bring them to justice.
To assist him, he makes use of his ability to hack into the city wide Operating System that controls cameras, traffic lights and more throughout the city. In some section you need to stealthily moving through an area by jumping between cameras and it is a neat idea but the hacking aspects fall by the wayside once the shooting starts. And that happens a lot but thankfully is works well and Pearce becomes a killing machine faster than you might think.
Traveling through the city has options, many of which become easier when your hacking skills increase. But the simplest is of course done by stealing cars. Traveling the way is the easiest though steering feels a bit heavy like in GTA IV when corners were your worst enemy. So don’t expect a scratch free car. Bikes are better though and worth grabbing simply because there’s little penalty for clipping cars on a bike. That’s an odd thing about the physics; regular driving isn’t special but during one of the triggered crashes it all gets interesting in ways that may be more scripted than calculated.
The world itself, being a future Chicago, is well realised but doesn’t bring much else to the table or despite an intentioned collectible, make you want to stop and check out everything. It just need a little bit more life that GTA V did well with the addition of random events such as bag snatches or carjackings.
And that’s the main problem with Watch Dogs; it has this initial shine of being something different but as you delve further and the shine wears off you see this is not that much a different game to those that have before it.
If anything, it owes a lot of its design to Assassins Creed. No, your guy might be as agile as dead antelope but the mechanics of the game have been lifted wholesale for that series. The most obvious example to me has been the side tasks of hacking ctOS towers which are little traversal puzzle that reward the player with new locations to access on their map. To say it is complete copy of the “eagles nest” towers in AC is putting it lightly, as are missions involving trailing suspects.
That’s not to say that those aspects of the game are unnecessary. It just becomes more clear over time that Watch Dogs had a much more familiar franchise involved in the beginning of its development that what may have been revealed. The storyline hints at something more interesting yet it is hidden behind a vigilante tale whose sidekicks are better characters than the protagonist.
All in all, Watch Dogs is a game that shows potential but delivers less than what was hinted at during its original unveiling. It’s a triumph of marketing over execution that has allowed Ubisoft to buy themselves a new franchise for the next generation.
With luck the inevitable sequel will give us the real game we’ve been waiting for.