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Review: Watch_Dogs

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2 years ago, Ubisoft gave the world it’s first glimpses of Watch_Dogs. A game touted by many as “the next big franchise”, though plagued by delays. Gary took the time out to review the game and find out whether it lives up to claims.


Hype. Its a word that get bandied about a lot these days. As soon as something cool bursts on the scene, the hype train starts rolling down the tracks. Said train doesn’t stop until the day of release when people finally get their hands on this thing / commodity that they have yearned for and been hyped for for so long. Watch_Dogs, a game by Ubisoft, a company who’s track record has been pretty darn good the past 2 years, with Assassin’s Creed IV, Far Cry 3, Child Of Light, Sleek trailers for The Division (more on that a little later on..) is probably the biggest victim of the hype machine in recent memory.

Back at E3 in 2012, Ubisoft were going through the motions on stage (that is to say, they were doing a pretty good job amongst a sea of mediocrity) when they debuted a trailer for a brand new IP, one that they said would revolutionize the open world genre, and gaming in general. That game was Watch_Dogs. Let’s take a minute to remember that initial trailer shall we?

Looks pretty amazing right? Looks like a game that was unlike anything we had ever seen before. This was released in June 2012. This was before the PS4 was announced, before the Xbox One was announced, but people knew this was not running on the PS3, or the Xbox 360, hell it may not have been possible to run this comfortably on PC hardware at the time. We were all blown away initially, but when the dust settled, many people decided to call bullshot.

Ubisoft stood their ground and said this is what they were “aiming for”. Well, I’m aiming to make a million euros this year, but I don’t see it happening, we can all dream can’t we? Graphics aside, the game looked impressive, and at its core, that is what’s important in the grand scheme of things. Not much happened with Watch_Dogs between E3 2012 and E3 2013. In between those 2 events though, we had the reveal of the next generation of consoles, the PS4 and the Xbox One. So going into E3, we knew their would have to be some new information from Ubisoft about this elusive title.

And lo and behold their was a brand new trailer, that while still impressive, had seen some suspect downgrading from the previous year:

It still looked good, and the mission that was shown looked exciting (having played said mission I can tell you it is mostly intact from this trailer). It was announced that Watch_Dogs would be a launch title for the PS4 and Xbox One in November but would also be coming to current generation consoles (Xbox 360, PS3 and WiiU). This makes sense from a business standpoint but certain among us knew that this would mean the inevitable sacrifices in the graphics department would come sooner or later.

Then came the sad news that Watch_Dogs would no longer be a launch game for the next generation consoles due to time needed to polish the game to a satisfactory level. I may have been in the minority, but while I was slightly disappointed that I would not be playing this on launch day (thereby thinning the herd of games available to me on my PS4), I am also a big believer in only shipping a product when it is absolutely ready. So if Ubisoft felt that the game was not in a shippable state, then I applaud them for making the unpopular decision to move the date in favour of making it shippable.

I think I’ve waffled on enough about the history of Watch_Dogs, we’re here to talk about the present and future. As of May 27th 2014, Watch_Dogs is now readily available to all who wish to have it. I myself picked up the super cool DedSec edition:

The figure in particular is really well done but both myself and my wife are suckers for good collectors editions, especially ones that come with figures. One only has to look at our living room to see that:

But the important part is the game. And I’m happy to tell you, it doesn’t suck. Does it look anywhere near as good as it did in 2012, or even 2013? No, it really doesn’t. But for those of us who value game play over drop dead gorgeous visuals (I myself land somewhere in the middle), then you will derive some enjoyment from this game, I guarantee it.

First some back story. Watch_Dogs tells the tale of Aiden Pearce, hacker extraordinaire and all round quiet, Batman-like individual who has a serious case of wrong place wrong time syndrome. He, and his friend Damien are hacking into The Merlaut hotel when they stumble on something they really shouldn’t have leading to the death of Aiden’s niece Lena. The story picks up 11 months later with Aiden having tracked down the guy who pulled the trigger that led to her death. It sets in motion a chain of events that deliver an exciting (for the most part) adventure that kept me entertained apart from a sluggish 3rd act that left me wanting to find something else to play.

Watch_Dogs, at its best is a better-than-average open world game that nearly gives GTA a run for its money. And the hacking mechanics add just enough to make it feel fresh. Saints Row has its over the top comedy and physics to set it apart, games like Prototype and Spiderman have their super powered abilities to help you traverse the open world in ways other than cars, planes et al. And while it is better than the Saints Row’s and Prototype’s of the world, it doesn’t quite reach the bar set by Grand Theft Auto V last year. It is however, a close second.

The skill tree is a great way to keep things interesting as the game progresses as it unlocks new ways to escape from police, engage the enemy and just have a lot of fun in Chicago. And speaking of Chicago, I’ve never been there, but after visiting the digital equivalent in Watch_Dogs, it is now on my list of places to see. It’s a vibrant city with an impressive (at least on PS4 anyway) number of NPC’s littering the streets. The lights, the people, the traffic, and the sounds all make the city seem lived in and really help to immerse you in the experience. Something that GTAV did pull off on a last generation console sure, but GTA will always be a case of “been there done that”, while Watch_Dogs is fresh and new, and suitably grittier than its sun drenched counterpart:

Something that the game does suffer from in places, is a serious inconsistency in it’s pacing. It goes from all out action, to complete crawl almost instantaneously and really breaks the flow of the game, at least for me. I’ll be moving through a building full of armed thugs to hack a server containing sensitive information, and then within two minutes, i’ll be tailing a rival hacker through a country town at a leisurely pace. Some of these inconsistencies can’t even be justified by the story. It seems to switch between random things at different times so I feel like this may have been laziness on the part of the developers / managers.

While we’re on the subject of story, it isn’t as good as the premise would have you believe. There are some great characters like Clara, T-Bone (the best of the bunch), Lucky Quinn, Damien, but they don’t all get the attention they deserve. Lucky only appears brielfy before making a bow in the final parts of the game, and Damien is relegated to bellowing his unrequited love for Aiden over the phone. And the whole finale of the game is a bit like the 3rd Lord of the Rings movie. Just when you think it’s over, there seems to be more. In most games this wouldn’t be a complaint, as more content for your money is always a good thing, but in the case of Watch_Dogs, it just feels padded and unnecessary and by the time the credits rolled, my eyes had rolled much much more.

Another minor-ish gripe I have is the music. I understand that a game like this has to pander to the millennial’s in some fashion, but the playlist (that’s right, playlist, not radio stations!) consists of older rap that isn’t very good, and modern indie fare that just doesn’t gel with me at all. Some will like it, I definitely did not. The only saving grace is Curtis Mayfield’s “Move On Up” is littered in there. I could listen to that song on repeat (and I did). The only reason I won’t be marking the Audio down more is because the rest of the sounds in Watch_Dogs create a great and immersive experience and since you will spend a lot of your non-story time out of a car, the music will become a non-factor after a while.

Conclusion

Overall, Watch_Dogs is not the game changer that it was once touted as. It’s fresh ideas, great hacking mechanics and mostly likeable characters put it up there with some of the better games in the open world genre. At best, it’s a new franchise that can go up against GTA and give it a good run for its money. There will be sequels (this IS Ubisoft after all!) and the success of those sequels, and as a consequence, the longevity of the franchise, will depend on what new ideas and concepts they can incorporate along with fresh characters and a well written story that can captivate players from beginning to end.

For a first try, this isn’t bad, in fact, it’s actually pretty darn good. But like everything else, there’s always room for improvement, and with the resources and time at Ubisoft’s disposal they can certainly achieve that.

Unless they make it an annual franchise, but they aren’t really known for doing that……*cough*

Rating

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Uber-Nerd, Loves a good chat on anything video game, TV, or comic book related. Affectionately known as Garpoo to those closest to me and I have no idea why! Works in software to bring home the bacon, which can mean money, but also sometimes literal bacon..

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