When Watch Dogs was first revealed in 2012, I was ecstatic. Ubisoft was creating something truly unique and spectacular; something that would encompass new gameplay mechanics and a dark story riddled with social commentary. Instead we got a generic open-world title, a muddled and boring story, and gameplay that focuses on old ideas. Watch Dogs is still pretty fun regardless, but it definitely makes this one of the most disappointing game releases in recent memory.
“Hey it’s the Vigilante!…”
The story of Watch Dogs is a mess. Over the course of the game, you’ll wonder whether you are playing a noir, a thriller, or an action movie. The pacing and ideas fluctuate so often that it’s hard to get a grasp on what exactly is going on. The characters are also incredibly generic. Aiden is not a likable character in any fashion, and it’s unclear how he justifies his actions as a person. Instead of giving us a reason why Aiden is a hacker and a con-artist, Ubisoft provides us with a blank slate of a person to project our own values onto. The problem is he is impossible to relate to at all, and his only motivation seems to be revenge. This focus on revenge means that the most fascinating parts of the plot, the dark social commentary that could have been, are thrown by the wayside in favor of an incredibly generic story we’ve heard a thousand times before.
Aiden is not the only character guilty of being overly generic. The main female character, Clara, is incredibly troubling to see. I’m not usually someone who cries sexism in media, but Clara is so unbelievable as a character and generic that it stands out like a sore thumb. Clara’s appearance would suggest that she is a strong, tattoo clad, militant hacktivist who speaks her mind and isn’t pushed around by anyone. Instead, she’s presented as the helpless little girl who can be pushed around, sometimes literally, by the main character. Even when Ubisoft tries to make her interesting near the end of the plot, they fail miserably. Like Aiden, she’s ultimately a blank slate and turns out to just be eye candy for the player. Clara is by far one of the worst female characters I’ve ever encountered in a video game. The only character I found interesting was Jordi, but he doesn’t appear enough in the plot to flesh out his character, and he ultimately becomes comic relief at bizarre moments.
When the story finally comes to a close, I can’t help but wonder what happened to the game we saw back in 2012. From what I first inferred, we were in for a dark noir plot, involving conspiracy, human trafficking, and the realization that the world of Watch Dogs is not much different then our own. The possibilities for hard hitting social commentary and questions about our hyper connected world are buried in the plot of a mediocre summer action movie.
“You are being invaded…”
The most surprising feature in Watch Dogs is the multiplayer. The main multiplayer mode that you’ll experience while playing the single player campaign is “One on One hacking”. This mode involves other players being warped into your single player game and attempting to hack your cell phone. If your game is invaded by another player, you are tasked with locating them among the NPCs and killing them before the virus is installed on your phone. Initially I thought I would turn this mode off from the get go, but it turned out to be a lot of fun. It reminded me of the Assassin’s Creed multiplayer mode, which also involves blending in with NPCs in order to take down your opponents.
The mode I enjoyed the most is called “Online Decryption”. This mode involves 2 – 8 players, who team up with others to capture and decrypt a file before the other team. This mode, by far, isn’t just the best part multiplayer mode, it’s the most fun you’ll have playing Watch Dogs. The other modes like “Online Racing”, “ctOS Mobile Challenge”, and “Online Tailing” are not as fun, and for the most part you’ll play them only long enough to unlock the progression rewards.
“I’m Uploading the Virus…”
The gameplay in Watch Dogs might seem unique, but it ultimately comes down to a gimmick. Holding down a specific button on your controller lets you interact with specific things in your environment. For the most part, hacks change your environment or help you better manage enemies. However, most of the hacks don’t seem to adhere to reality. Jumping between cameras that are within sight of one another makes no sense if all the cameras are on the same network, I wouldn’t need to be able to see it to go to it. Things like this feel like they are added in to make each environment a puzzle to navigate, but even then that design aspect is hardly used, leaving the feature feeling silly to more computer literate players. The driving is also troubling; it almost feels like the cars are top heavy. It’s almost like you are only controlling the front of the car, and not the entire thing, making it feel strange. The only driving that feels satisfying or manageable are the motorcycles.
Watch Dogs is a very disappointing title, from a mess of a story to the overly generic and last-gen gameplay mechanics. For a title that originally promised something different and dark, it sure felt like a generic summer blockbuster. It’s almost as if Ubisoft executive stepped in to make it more suitable for a more mainstream audience, but instead they ruined something that could have been incredibly unique. If you were at all excited about Watch Dogs I would still recommend you try it out, but don’t expect see the game we were shown back in 2012.