Watch_Dogs released on the 17th May to almost Call Of Duty-esque levels of people losing their shit and divided opinions. Some people wanted it, some people didn’t, and those who had no intention of buying and playing it at all wasted no time in telling everyone on social media that it was rubbish and anyone picking it up was a fool.
Watch_Dogs is a big game and it’s far too easy to be caught up, either positively or negatively, in the hype and furore that surrounds a title of this magnitude. We felt that, as with Titanfall, it’s a potentially divisive title that needs more than one opinion.
We’ve taken our time with this review and by the time you read this there’s a good chance that you’ve already played the game and formed your own opinion, so let us know in the comments what you thought of Watch_Dogs.
Did the Watch_Dogs campaign suck you in or leave you feeling cold?
Terry: I didn’t mind the story, although I will say that I wasn’t totally blown away by it, but while it lasted it was fun. One of the main issues with the story that I had was that Aiden didn’t feel like a well developed character. The story shows some morally conflicting moments, but force you to follow the story that it’s trying to tell. This feels contradictory to the games morality system, allowing you to choose whether you become a vigilante or a villain. The game should maybe have taken some cues from inFamous Second Son, having your choices impact parts of the story.
Craig: A mixture of the two, but mostly weighted in favour of the latter. There are interesting characters you meet (sleazy and brash thug Jordi; nervous and naively ambitious low level gang member Bedbug) but the revenge tale of Aiden himself, a hugely underwhelming amorphous blob of a character, is tepid at best. There is zero emotional intrigue or narrative interest to drive you on, just a gameplay drive to get to and advance the next big yellow question mark on your map.
Si: I just didn’t like the campaign. The storyline is tired and has been done many times over. This is action film basics. There was literally nothing that made me go “woah” and I was getting to the point of accurately guessing what was going to happen before it actually happened. I really couldn’t care less for any of the characters. Aiden Pearce is just simply boring. The guy would not be out of place working a 9-5 job whilst living in suburbia. I’m sure somewhere he is someone’s idea of a bad ass, I also wish to bet that person is also currently trying to understand girls and puberty. Simply put, wearing a trenchcoat, baseball cap and hiding your face with your scarf whilst telling the bad dudes how it is going to go down does not a good character make.
Matt: I personally found the story to be a series of peaks and troughs. I would spend several missions riding on a crest of adrenaline, only to be swiftly brought down to earth and plod through the next few. It should be noted though that I found the latter part of the game generally superb, and was particularly pleased with how well the hacking mechanics were integrated into the stealth aspects of the game. In terms of characters, Jordi was a particular highlight, a dark mixture of comedian and psychopath, but Aiden was a general disappointment, with his lines delivered with a complete lack of emotion. I also found the dynamic between him and his sister, Nicole, to be occasionally bizarre, especially during the the middle of the game during a major plot thread.
Dave: I’m really enjoying the campaign, I am about halfway through. All the missions have been good fun and I am quite enjoying the story too. Ever since there E3 debut I knew I would enjoy it and there is little to disappoint me so far. I have spent far too much time doing all the side missions, it must just be Ubisoft games that appeal to my OCD, I’m the same with Assassins Creed, I’ll be surprised if I don’t 100% this game at some point. I can’t decide on my thoughts about Aiden, sometimes I think he is a complete fool other times I can empathise with him. I’m mostly having fun though!
Damien: I am sucked in to this crazy world of Hackers and privacy invasion. I’ve finally finished the campaign (with an overall completion of 72%) and for a new IP it’s a cracking game packed with things to do. All designed to feed a sense of progression. If there is a flaw, perhaps it’s Aiden Pearce himself. With any open world game, there has to be lots of stuff to do. And this often the opposite of what character might do in real life. Because it’s fun to nick money out of people bank accounts and raise cop cars up on those raising barriers. Aiden is a mercenary first, hacker second.
How do you feel about the blurred line between single player and multiplayer?
Terry: I’m probably the exception to the rule and actually turned off the online component of the game to try and focus more on the single player experience. I felt that the introduction of the online component came way too soon into the game, before introducing more of the world of Chicago and the full suite of skills that are at your fingertips.
Craig: It totally depends on how you are playing the game. They can be an annoyance when trying to progress the campaign, though thankfully, it doesn’t happen once you have actually triggered a campaign mission and only during free roaming and getting to missions. The invasions themselves are fun, and are an inventive extension of Assassin’s Creed’s competitive multiplayer. It can often be tense, often absurd, but is usually an entertaining distraction from the sterile world you find yourself in.
Si: I love this idea, the concept of “hacking” other peoples games is brilliant and this is one of the bits I looked forward to the most whist I was waiting for release date to come around but seriously. Do I really need to be invaded EVERY FUCKING TIME I TRY AND DO SOMETHING?. Start a mission, nope you are being invaded, steal a car, nope you are being invaded, start a race. Nope you being fecking invaded. about to hack a tower after spending 10 minutes unlocking gates to be able to hack it, nope you are being invaded yet a-fucking-gain, stop with the god damn invasions. Before any mentions yes I know you can turn them off but that’s not experiencing the full concept.
Matt: I loved this aspect and spent much time going into other games too. Unlike others, I didn’t have a big problem with invasions hindering my progress, in fact I can only remember 3 occasions when they came at a bad moment. It’s definitely a concept that I can see Ubisoft reusing, and will say that needs refining slightly. I thought it was unfair that turning off invasions removed all your online skill points because many people would have just wanted to crack on with the campaign before touching the online aspects, and there were far too many ‘tells’ that someone was in your game.
Dave: This is probably one of my favourite things about the game, I love the fact that you can be hacked at anytime, of course it’s annoying, but so is accidentally getting your Twitter hacked too! The match ups are short and sweet and it’s great trying to hunt people down. I’m better at hacking than being hacked but I still enjoy both sides of the fence. Apart from the races I enjoy all the other modes, I haven’t tried the free roam mode with friends but I bet that is quite good fun trying to hack each other.
Damien: I have had a go at all of the events, but time is precious and this is a pretty long game. It’s not a bad idea at all, but the game is already stuffed to the gills with things to do. I’ve done the 10 online races- and that’s enough of that thanks. I think it’s an unnecessary addition that makes sense within the games world. I think it’s more of what a potential sequel will be like. A minor annoyance. But now that I’ve finished the campaign, I am going back to pick up some achievements. So I’ll tackle them then.
The internet got ever so grumpy about the resolution in Watch Dogs, and many felt angered by the perceived downgrades between the initial trailers we saw and the final product. How do you feel it looks on your chosen platform?
Terry: I played Watch Dogs on the PlayStation 4 and I thought that it looked pretty good. Some minor things did annoy me however, such as all reflective surfaces show the same lonely downtown Chicago street with no real reflection of people, cars or even Aiden. Given that this is a cross gen title it may have been capable had it been developed purely for the newer hardware, but maybe had to be scaled back? After the resolution revelation on the PC, it’s clear to see how much of the beauty of the game has been toned down, though I still think it looks pretty nice. Chicago is a great setting, although having been there myself numerous times, isn’t entirely accurate to it’s real life counterpart, so was somewhat jarring to see that big chunks of the downtown area taken out.
Craig: It often looks great. I’m no graphics connoisseur, and care little for pixel hunting, but overall I’m happy with how it looks. The lighting in particular, a common improvement on this new generation of consoles, is often beautiful.
Si: Seriously, we are still debating the whole Peas thing? When I started playing games on the commodore 64 games looked shit, in fact the best graphics were saved for the loading screens but the difference was that they had gameplay to hook you and it didn’t matter what it looked like. Yes I can’t wait for the truly next gen “woah that’s so and so” moments but I also know this isn’t going to happen during the early life of next gen whilst we are straddling both generations. How does it look? Acceptable.
Matt: Pretty good, in my opinion. It wasn’t the mind blowing graphical eye orgy that the E3 trailer promised, but overall pretty good and with a nice, stable frame rate too. The main character’s faces are generally excellent, however less key personnel are clearly rougher. It’s the same story with textures too, the ones around eye level are decent enough, but look further afield and they take a noticeable downturn It’s been said before with other games, but I think the main problem Ubisoft has here is the developing across generations. I would expect any sequel to be current gen and PC only, and in turn to look better.
Dave: I honestly couldn’t even tell you what the frame rate or resolution is of the game as Inliterally don’t care, I’m playing on the Xbox One and the game looks good to me, loading times are a bit painful but apart from that it all works nicely. It’s a shame that the news outlets are focusing on this so much, whether you are on the XB1 or the PS4 you should just enjoy the games rather than worrying about the technical details, in a couple of years time developers will know the systems better and both will be running at the same standard.
Damien: I’ve played it on Xbox One. It looks great. Does it look ‘proper’ new gen? No. What we initially saw 2 years ago has now been proven to be what they thought the new hardware would be capable of. And I think a few Xkd’s down the line it will be. I’ve had the odd amusing glitch happen and occasional frame rate drops when there’s a lot of stuff happening on screen, but the first most part, no complaints.
With every open world game the inevitable comparison is made to the GTA series. How do you feel Watch Dogs compares to last year’s GTA V? Is there anything that Rockstar could learn from Watch_Dogs? (Time to hold my hands up, I made a mistake! What I actually meant to ask was “What could Watch_Dogs learn from Rockstar”, but the responses were good enough, and in Si’s case threatening enough, to make me keep it as is.)
Terry: Watch_Dogs did a brilliant job of making their take on Chicago come to life. The world around you feels very lived in, with one of Watch Dogs strengths being that every character have their own unique identity when you’re scanning people. This subtle touch makes these NPCs feel more realistic as opposed to the world of GTA and open world games as a whole that make the world around you feel blank and uninteresting.
Craig: There is nothing that Rockstar could learn from Watchdogs because this is clearly a case of Ubisoft aping the urban crime setting and giving it a coat of paint of their own design. Rockstar’s effort is in a different league to Watchdogs.
Si: Jones, hang your head in shame that you even dare compare these two games and even go so far as suggest that Rockstar can learn from this game!! You have now earmarked yourself for reviewing Zumba titles for the next six months. Personally it should be the other way round, what can Ubisoft learn from Rockstar? The mini games in Watchdogs were just tedious anyway but when you compare them to the minigames in Red Dead Redemption they just look and feel worse. I know you are a hacker and all but why the hell can you not shoot while driving? Baffling. I think a better comparison should be made with Ubisoft’s own Assassin’s Creed series for the actual gameplay. However one thing that Ubisoft got totally right was the CTOS game/app you can download for your phone. I would like the next GTA to incorporate something like that especially for the major illegal activities.
Matt: I did feel that Chicago felt more alive than Los Santos, and wouldn’t argue with more of that being seen in Rockstar’s game, although I’m sure that the next GTA release will be leaps and bounds beyond what we’ve seen before.
Dave: I loved GTA, it’s bold, brash and doesn’t take itself too seriously where as Watch_Dogs is darker and feels a bit more real, I’m not really sure what Rockstar could learn from Watch_Dogs apart from possibly adding some puzzle elements to the missions rather than tasks based ones, I think they can both live side by side quite easily. Both could do with sorting the driving out!
Damien: Well I think the shooting and cover mechanics work much better in Watch_Dogs than they do in GTAV, on the other hand, the constant feeding to you of things to do in and go after in Watch_Dogs is in stark contrast to GTAV that actually has you discover these things for yourself. Open world games now all have to have their own twist. This game has hacking, Infamous and the most recent Saints Row give you super powers. Arkham City lets you be frikkin’ Batman! The question is whether the hacking adds enough of a unique twist. I think it does- though without any real need to go on a rampage other than for the sake of it, bridge raising, steam pipes and the rest are rarely used outside of missions.
Bar Titanfall, Watch Dogs has been by far the most hyped game of this new generation. Has it lived up to the hype?
Terry: I think that the hype and the marketing for Watch Dogs may have caused more hindrance than a help to Ubisoft in promoting the game. With videos being released fairly regularly, showing game play and trying to keep the game at the forefront of peoples minds, it feels like it gave a lot of the game away. From the initial game play demo at E3 2012 people were extremely excited, but with the hype train building up the game, it felt like it had fallen short of peoples expectations.
Craig: Unfortunately it hasn’t. It is game design by committee and focus grouping of the most restrictive kind, resulting in a game that feels desperate to please as many people as possible, resulting in boring most. When it has the courage of it’s convictions – and my mind turns to one particular campaign mission on an abandoned industrial island, hacking camera and boxes, moving from rooftop to rooftop, using Aiden’s skills as a hacker to solve a long puzzle whilst the low-hanging sun cast long shadows and the sounds of the city are far away and nearly silent – it feels like something different, something daring, something new. These moments are too rare.
Si: Simply put, no. Watchdogs is yet another game to have amassed so much hype it was always going to struggle to deliver. Because of the two year hype train we have all taken a ride on, even low expectations for this game will be higher than any other title in recent memory. It is simply impossible to not have been caught up in the hype at some point. The game doesn’t grab you by the balls and lead you on a merry dance with any single element and that both sucks and blows in equal measure. At the end of the day I was hoping for something a little different, a little less conventional and a little less clichéd, I can live with less Peas and strange game mechanics (If I stand up straight in the middle of a room full of enemies one more bloody time when trying to leave cover) but Open World Gaming 101 is not what I expected.
Matt: No, of course not. Since that first E3 reveal it’s been one of the most talked about games in recent memory, and many seemed that they were pinning their hopes and dreams for the PS4 and Xbox One on this title. If you take a second to remember that this is a computer game and not the second coming of Christ, I think Watch_Dogs actually did pretty well in delivering against its own promises.
Dave: The game had me hyped, I knew I wanted to play it and I had a good idea that I would enjoy and it hasn’t disappointed me, but it doesn’t have the wow factor for me. There is plenty coming out later on in the year that I am hoping does though.
Damien: Well it measured up to my hype. It was pretty much what I expected, though the amount of stuff to do surprised me. I’m definitely picking up the season pass.
There’s inevitably going to be a sequel, so what should Ubisoft do to improve on this game?
Terry: I think if they do release a sequel then they need to smooth out the rough edges. They need to make sure that their next game actually looks like the game that they originally show off. If they keep the morality system then it needs have greater impact on the story as a whole. Trying to carve out your own version of Aiden by doing good actions seems completely contradictory to some of the actions portrayed in the storyline.
Craig: Don’t be afraid to embrace the best parts of the game, the puzzling, hacking, and to a lesser extend the traversal, and not to be over-reliant on the usual driving, shooting, tailing gameplay tropes that really drags this first effort down and gave me a sense of nausea.
Si: Really? A sequel? I’ll pass, thanks.
Matt: Firstly, put the old folks to rest and forget the Xbox 360 and the PS3. yes, they treated us well for years and we will not forget the sacrifices they made for us, but they cannot go on fighting like they once did. Focus on the current generation and PC. I’d move it out of Chicago, we’ve seen Ubisoft’s vision of the Windy City, so let’s see somewhere else. Finally, let’s move the story on and have a different main character from Aiden. We’ve had his story, lets learn someone elses. Finally, the pacing needs to be much better. I know of several people who, upon starting the game, were somewhat overwhelmed by the huge amount of missions one can undertake. The convoys, gang hideouts and, to a lesser extent, street crimes should have been gradually introduced as ‘random’ events, rather than being on the maps. I’ve seen people get burnt out on the game early on because they’ve hammered through a load of the side quests without touching the main story.
Dave: I mentioned this already but the driving could do with a bit of work, it’s isn’t terrible but it’s not great either a new city would be god too. Money seems a bit pointless in the game since it’s so easy to get hold of but it might be good to have control of a network of hackers, a bit like in Assassin’s Creed with the guilds.
Damien: There are perhaps hints within the final moments of the game itself. Some obvious predictions: multiple cities across the world. You would play as yourself, in your own country but would be able to travel abroad. We’ll see. Maybe a sneak at E3 2015.
Finally, give me a score out of 10.
Terry: If I were to give it a score i’d most likely give it a 7/10.
Si: 5/10 – average score for an average game