I feel this is a bit overdue, but I’ll post it anyway: A review of Ubisoft’s Watchdogs.
I do not deny that this game was over-hyped up, which could only lead to one of the two things: you either live up to expectations or die trying. In a sense it’s not a win-lose situation but an ok-lose situation. Watchdogs certainly had a lot to account for.
To be fair, I’ll present that negative side of the argument first, which can be simply summarized into one sentence: Watchdogs did not measure up to its hype.
Graphics were, in short, bad. There’s also a claim that when Watchdogs was first announced, there would be surreal graphics and realistic physics plus AI. As more footages of the game were shown throughout the years since the announcement, the quality dropped. It didn’t help that the actual game was buggy as well.
To the naked eye, the gameplay was repetitive. You were effectively doing the same thing every mission and the side quests were even duller. Driving was also a horrible nightmare as the cars were excruciatingly difficult to control. The shooting scenes were generally all right, but were mostly a rip off from GTA.
Another point is that the gameplay was arguably too simple. In GTA you need to engage in high speed chases to outrun the cops. In Watchdogs, all it needs is a simple press of a button to ‘hack’ the traffic infrastructure to take out the cops (from changing the traffic lights to erecting barriers). My personal favourite method was to hack a train to stop it. I’ll then board the train and speed off into the night, since cops would rather not chase public transportation despite knowing the next bound location.
Voice-Acting and Character Development
I do not usually include this portion since I’m no expert, but the protagonist Aiden Pierce’s voice was terribly monotonous. There was no expression of anger or hatred, despite the fact that his family was brutally murdered (mostly Aiden’s fault though) and when his extended family is in any sort of trouble. While he claims that he was angry and wanted vengeance for his daughter, his voice, however, sounded indifferent instead.
Even Aiden himself had some weird motivations. While he started off as a thief, he became a vigilante after that incident. However, unlike Batman, Aiden felt that killing was necessary at times to gain what he needed. However, it gets boring when Aiden ended up fixated on nothing but vengeance. Compare him to say, Ezio from Assassin’s Creed 2. Ezio then was fixated on vengeance but that didn’t stop us from seeing what an awesome and quirky individual Ezio was.
All in all, Aiden could have received much more character development and voice acting.
With all those negative comments, it may seem that Watchdogs has almost nothing left to offer. Don’t be mistaken though.
A new reality of video gaming lore
Instead of hampering itself in the usual trappings of shooting and violence, Watchdogs added a new twist into the game: Hacking and technology. This new addition made the whole experience different from other open-world shooting games. In Watchdogs, you can hack almost anything with a computer chip: Traffic lights, lifts, security cameras, etc. It creates a whole new dimension of gameplay, where instead of just being a regular street thug and rushing in guns ablaze, there is some intrinsic motivation and reward for setting up traps and hacking certain infrastructure before the shooting starts.
As a person who generally avoid shooting unless necessary, I welcome the increased use of stealth in the recent games such as Batman Arkham Series, Assassin’s Creed, etc. Watchdogs implements stealth in its game by allowing you to hack certain objects, therefore creating traps that can take out enemies without you being there. In fact, all these can be done while you’re outside the perimeter of the area. It uses ‘Camera Riding’ where you can hack into a camera and look around from the camera’s point of view, hack into another from there, and again. You can effectively travel around the entire area without leaving your car. It makes a stealth enthusiast like me excited even when I’m doing a normal side mission.
Sure, there’s plenty that can be improved on. But with a new genre of game and a new style of gameplay, that is sure to be expected. Assassin’s Creed didn’t start off as the blockbuster it is today, and I am fairly sure that I would support any sequel from Watchdogs. Once Ubisoft fixes the bugs and some hiccups along the way, Watchdogs 2 is bound to be the new blockbuster of the year.
Even though the action and the story is weak, this shows that the old stuff still works. Throw a little change and keep the gameplay fresh, and people will still like it. Watchdogs is still generally rough around the edges, but all you need is some good tweaks and enhancements, and Watchdogs 2 is bound to be a hit.