Is Watch_Dogs Still Worth Getting Excited About?
When there is more to say about a game’s development than the game itself, you should probably be worried. However, this is Watch_Dogs, the poster child for next-gen consoles. Or at least it was until it slipped a few rungs down. It’s still got a long way to go before we’re ready to dismiss it by any means though so throw on your best trenchcoat and let’s investigate.
Genre: Action Adventure
Platforms: PS4, PS3, Xbox One, Xbox 360, PC
Developers: Ubisoft Montreal
Release Date: 27 May
Price: R695 (PS3, Xbox 360), R759 (PS4, Xbox One), R525 (PC)
There was this glorious period of innocence for Watch_Dogs back in 2012, before any controversy, before next-gen was a real thing, before resolutiongate and before Ubisoft tainted the name with a mountain of hype too insurmountable for any game to fully scale.
The game had just been revealed at E3 and the world was clamouring to see more. Here was this exciting and promising new game from one of the most talented developers in the world. This was a game which uses hacking as a core gameplay mechanic in a near-future Chicago where everything and everyone is interconnected. How awesome is that as far as the premise for a game goes?
Gamers were clamouring to see more and so Ubisoft delivered. Things would get a lot darker for Watch_Dogs later on but we’ll get there soon enough.
You play as Aiden Pearce, a highly-skilled hacker and expert at putting his hands into his pockets. In the game’s universe, the 2003 Northeast blackout in the US is found to caused by a hacker which prompts the creation of CtOS – Central Operating System. A system which controls the entire city. Aiden will attempt to take control of CtOS or at least bend it to his will in his vigilante efforts.
Beyond that we know precious little else about the game. We can only hope that it’s a sign of Ubisoft playing their cards close to the chest rather than simply not having much of a narrative to tease us with.
Aiden was designed to exist in that grey area between good and bad, the entire game will exist in that grey area given how sketchy the practice of hacking is regardless of the ends achieved. He was modeled after the like of Walter White from Breaking Bad and Dexter from well… you know. As a character he’s meant to grow as the game progresses but we’ll have to wait and see just how much that growth amounts to.
With regards to gameplay, Watch_Dogs has a little bit of everything going for it. There’s driving, parkour, melee, stealth, shooting and of course hacking. Given that you have all of Chicago to explore, variety is expected and welcomed but is there enough variety and depth to the variety?
Aiden will be able to climb a few buildings and do some light parkour but an Assassin he is not. Should you need to get your hands dirty, he carries a nightstick and a mean fighting style that’s not too dissimilar to that of a street thug. For the most part missions can be approached either with guns blazing or silent and deadly. It’s up to the player although some missions will force you to holster your guns or empty the clip.
It’s unclear what role hacking will take in all of this. By what we’ve seen, hacking is mostly a defensive, stealthy mechanic. we have yet to see any real offensive applications for it. Let’s talk about the cars before we discuss more on that hacking.
There are allegedly over 700 different vehicles in Watch_Dogs, all of them just waiting for you to hijack them. There’s no word on how they’ll handle but that number is pretty hefty for an Action Adventure title. Some of those are perhaps aquatic vehicles but the official word appear to be that they are all land vehicles. Cars will be your primary means of getting around in the game so get used not running around on foot.
Much like Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag on PS4, Watch_Dogs features a day/night cycle and all the weather effects needed to make it rain. The weather may be purely for looks but the day/night cycle is far more relevant to the player’s experience. Elements of society such as gangs will be more active at night and you’ll likely see a prostitute or two on street corners. There will probably be a higher number of violent crimes and muggings at night.
Assassin’s Creed games have set side activities, as do most games. In Watch_Dogs every NPC, every inhabitant within the city has a backstory, a history. Each one represents a side activity that could be as simple as hacking into their bank account or as hands-on as saving a citizen from being the victim of a crime. Alternatively you could stop a citizen from perpetrating a crime.
Essentially you’re a vigilante but more tech savvy than Batman and less brooding. Actually, that’s not true Aiden Pearce is kind of exactly like Batman sans the Batmobile.
There’s supposedly plenty of content to keep you invested in Watch_Dogs. The main narrative will keep you going for 35-40 hours while exploring Chicago and getting involved in the lives of its citizens will run that figure up to 100 hours. That’s excluding the game’s idea of multiplayer.
Don’t worry, it’s not the bolt-on variety that so many games would be better off without. Instead it’s a little more elegant and akin to what Dark Souls does. Other players can drop into your game at will and you theirs. The idea then is to hack the phone of the player whose world you’ve invaded while avoiding detection. As the player whose world has been invaded you must search for the hacker who will look like an ordinary citizen. It’s not something that really appeals to me but that’s not a problem because players can turn the feature off at will.
I think we’ve discussed the game enough to get down to the nitty gritty and everything that is wrong with Watch_Dogs and it’s development. There’s quite a bit to mottle Watch_Dogs’ image.
First off was Ubisoft’s announcement that this is a franchise already. Before the game has even been released, Ubisoft has decided it will be successful enough to warrant a franchise. In fact, they’ve deemed it such a huge hit that it’s already getting its own movie. The publisher has so much built around this game already without even first allowing the game to release. Putting plans in place are fine but these things are all confirmed regardless of Watch_Dogs’ success or lack thereof. It casts more doubt on Watch_Dogs as an intellectual property and less doubt on it as a cash cow to be milked.
That is a worry because we immediately wonder whether that has affected the game’s development or how many ideas were held back for the sequel.
We’ve seen much the same gameplay over and over, especially with regards to the hacking and it suggests that either there isn’t that much variety or that there is variety but a lot has been kept from us so there are a few surprises when we actually play the game. The only problem is that if the latter is the case then it’s being done in conjunction with rampant Ubisoft marketing.
Then there’s the fact that Ubisoft pushed its Montreal studio to have something to show for the reveal of Watch_Dogs back in 2012 even though the game was so early on in its development. 17 months later, weeks before its release, Watch_Dogs was delayed to some indeterminate date. The game surfaced with a May release date, it’s a quiet period so it doesn’t have much to contend with. The catch is that the PS4 and Xbox One versions have taken a graphical downgrade.
What was the delay for anyway?
For years we’ve wanted an Assassin’s Creed title set in the modern day and as far as Ubisoft is concerned, Watch_Dogs is as close as we’re ever going to get to that. We can only hope that Watch_Dogs follows the first two AC titles rather than skipping past Start, not collecting $200 and going straight to the jail that is the later Assassin’s Creed titles.
If Ubisoft want this franchise to be a success then they need to scale back the hype, minimise the insanely high expectations and drop the hubris that comes with declaring something a franchise with a movie before it has even hit shelves in retail.
Ubisoft Montreal puts out good games even when they’re not firing on all cylinders and there is no doubt that Watch_Dogs will be a good game but it could so easily be nothing more. Especially with the hype and expectations poured onto it. It’s what we call The Dishonored Effect.
Suspected Selling Points
- Unique setting and rich open-world environment
- Ubisoft Montreal rarely puts out a bad game
- Hacking makes for an intriguing and different core gameplay mechanic
- The promise of being like a modern day Assassin’s Creed
- Delays in development and Ubisoft’s over-investment in the game casts doubt on the quality of the final product
- Gameplay seems to lack variety, especially with regards to hacking
- The high hype surrounding the game will inevitably lead to disappointment
- PS4 and Xbox One versions have taken a graphical knock, making them not all too different from the PS3 and Xbox 360 versions
Is Watch_Dogs going to be a good game? At the very least that’s a safe assumption to make. However, Ubisoft has thrown so many modifiers into the equation with its overambitious handling of this new IP and the delays that it does cast doubt on whether the final product will be up to scratch. If you’re a huge fan of open-world games then this will likely deliver, it’s not like there’s much else to keep you busy during the month of May but don’t go into this game expecting anything close to what Ubisoft has talked it up to be.