A new generation means a new IP from Ubisoft and I feel a sense of Déjà vu with Watch Dogs. It has great ideas with interesting and new gameplay mechanics but Watch Dogs seems to have suffered from its development hell.
The main campaign is a mix bag of ideas that isn’t well executed. The basic premise of Watch Dogs is that you play as Aiden Pearce; a hacker who does whatever needs doing to get by while suffering from a past event relating to his family. This past, obviously, makes an appearance and Aiden must do what needs to be done to protect his love ones. As unoriginal the basic premise is, this isn’t the main problem. The problem is the story is far from engaging and the overall campaign suffers from this. There were long periods of time where I wasn’t engaged which causes confusion and further disconnect later. What I assume where major plot twists turned into confused moments of “who is that” and “what is going on”/“does that matter”. The build up to these events were poorly done which I put the blame on the character design and overall format of the script. Aiden is a boring and lifeless character who meets, apart from one or two interesting characters, equally lacklustre counterparts.
However, I could not stop playing the missions. Watch Dogs has all the factors to make one dreary and frustrating campaign; it had a repetitive mission structure, its story is disengaging and the characters are uninteresting. But I had a lot of fun and this is down to its, though not so unique, gameplay. The hacking element is very basic but very usable. It boils down to pressing square a lot but it offers a better way to be stealthy. I am not the biggest fan of doing things stealthily, since I will end up doing something completely stupid that will give away my position, but with Watch Dogs making hacking so accessible I often found myself pausing and using the tools available to reassess the options available to me. Hacking cameras, communication devices, electricity boxes…..provided a vast range of things you could do (though this range of options always seemed to appear in a linear format). The shooting mechanic feels robust and is complimented by a good cover mechanic is which feels natural moving in and out of cover. The gameplay is then further developed with an unconvoluted skill tree which can be leveled up as you progress in any way you like.
I am not saying the core gameplay is perfect because it falls short in crucial areas with some poor design choices. As I briefly mentioned above the mission structure is fairly repetitive with a lot of your time spent going to a location, finding a way to hack something while enemies are patrolling the area, a hacking mini game appears then escape. It could have and should have been more varied. The two biggest omissions are the ability to blind fire and fire from vehicles (the latter being the most confusing). The lack of blindfire is odd and it would have been a welcome addition to some of the heavier positions of the game but the inability to fire from a vehicle is unforgivable. This incapability means motorbikes are extremely useless in a chase. The enemies can shoot you but you can't shoot back. The only way to take down the vehicles is to either get out and shoot the occupants or use the traffic hacking gameplay mechanic which can be non-existent if you are in the poor suburban area. These aren’t the only odd design choices as driving is a big problem in the game. The map is fairly large so getting around by vehicle is a must but the driving mechanic feels light and most mid-range to top range cars (also every bike) seems to do 0-60 in a microsecond. Also the cars are able to destroy some impressively strong scenery. After a while you get used to it but that processes to that point is that enjoyable.
Ubisoft has decided to include a reputation mechanic within Watch Dogs which is implemented in the most peculiar way. If you build up enough bad reputation (which you get from running over pedestrians) the general population will start to recognise you and report your whereabouts to the police. The reporting is fine it is just how you build the reputation that makes no sense as there is no way they could see who I am. Some cars have blacked out windows and sometimes I am doing 100mph. There is no way that action could be linked to the protagonists as I am not the only one doing criminal acts (which is actually a way of building up good karma). Also the police are fairly inept at doing a basic job. Firstly there are no police cars driving around (which the game puts down to the CTOS making a digital surveillance blanket over the city) but also they know the protagonist’s real name. The story is then built upon this issue which makes no sense. Aiden Pearce is a hacker not invisible.
Online again isn’t well executed as it tries to be integrated into the offline word but still feels tacked on. There is the standard objective based team deathmatch and races to compete in (which are still fun) but the other modes, which are more about you versus one other person, are pretty uninspiring. They feel very much like the Assassin’s Creed multiplayer but with less people. On the topic of people, the multiplayer modes are lacking in player count. Sure they take place within the Watch Dogs’ world with other civilians but I would have liked to see a high player count. The biggest flaw I found with the game modes is perfectly exemplified by the open world game mode. The frame rate dips to an unacceptable, but steady, level (I am not just talking about the hectic moments). I was hoping the multiplayer to be a bit more robust than this since the usual guff that comes with an open world games (which seriously needs to stop) is only going to entertain for so long.
There are even some downright lazy moments within this game. One of them appears in the prison level. I have been arrested and I am in a cell (which was sprung upon). I decided to see if I could take down one of the guards. The full takedown animation appeared (the one where you pull a batton out of your arse). Also the way Aiden runs feels very much ripped from another Ubisoft franchise. Reflections throw you completely out of the game since you can see the city but no cars, people or yourself. The bushes and some trees aren’t even solid objects. I often found myself behind cover while in a bush and driving through, clearly visible, trees. Also the world, albeit large and detailed, feels lifeless. Apart from the occasional rapping on the side of the road or someone talking on their phone, the civilians of Chicago seem like they have no purpose and wonder around aimlessly (which is a bit odd since the developers put so much time into developing a profiler mechanic which gives some random hilarity to the empty world).
Despite these lazy moments, the developers have definitely spent time making a good looking game. Sure this game is not inFAMOUS: Second Son but it is a pretty game. The vehicle and environment design is commendable (at its best when it is raining) while the character design is mostly pretty good (there was one cut scene where Aiden’s hands were noticeably huge compared to his body size). Aiden walks around with his hands in his pockets, the coat getting being wet when getting out of the water and the steering wheel moving when you turn are small but praiseworthy touches a lot of developers overlook. The soundtrack to this game is also pretty good. There is no talk host radio station (which is a shame) but the music provided is impressive to say the least.
Overall, this game has brief moments of brilliance that are instantly squashed by made design choices and an unengaging plot. It isn’t like I was expecting more from Watch Dogs. Sure, the initial announcement got me excited but that excitement dwindled anyway when Watch Dogs was delayed to the point where I forgot this was being released (I actually bought this game on a whim). It is just a shame to see Watch Dogs fall in crucial parts since was enjoyable in parts.