ByPeter Matthews, writer at
Writer, Reader, Film watcher
Peter Matthews

When Watch Dogs was first unveiled at E3 almost two years ago, many were predicting a something that would revolutionize open-world gaming almost as much as the many incarnations of GTA have done. If there has been some disappointment since its release, that has mainly been because it promised so much.

What it promised, mainly, was a way of interacting with a virtual city - Chicago (somewhere that has been a bit overlooked when it comes to gaming) - that wasn't just about driving around and shooting people, but instead made use of an incredibly fresh idea: armed only with a mobile phone you are able to hack into the city's digital network and manipulate your environment like never before.

And in the time of WikiLeaks, Edward Snowdon and the NSA Scandal, the story of Aiden Pearce seemed like it might be relevant to our time.

This gameplay trailer highlights some of what is possible. Three moments in particular stand out: evading the police by opening a gate and parking your car, raising the security road blockers and creating a short term localized blackout (one of the game's plot points involves the Northeast Blackout of 2003).

So where did [Watch Dogs](movie:1000357) go wrong?

One of the first things that gamers would have noticed is that in fact in this game you DO have to do a lot of driving and shooting - and while the shooting mechanics are arguably better than in GTA 5, the driving is exceptionally poor. They are sometimes so bad that it is often faster to take a slower, more dependable car than to attempt to race through the streets in a fast but hard to control vehicle.

The Watch Dogs Driving mechanic has been criticized
The Watch Dogs Driving mechanic has been criticized

And more than that, the world of Watch Dogs is not as open as it seemed. The hacking relies too often on obvious, formulaic solutions, and not enough is left to the gamers imagination.

Undoubtedly, there are cool details. Pull out a gun in a public place, for example, and the NPC around you will run away and call the police. In GTA 5 you can order a burger while shouldering a rocket-launcher.

And the evasion of police is more varied, too. It is extremely satisfying to be able to park your car, turn off the engine and slump down in your seat as you watch the cop cars rush past.

But unlike with GTA V, the balance Watch Dogs strikes between what the game wants you to do and what you feel like doing is often tipped too heavily towards following the path the developers have laid out.

One much discussed moment, which came in the game's demo, involved "shooting" Maurice. You have no choice but to do so. The gun turns out to be empty, but what if I didn't feel like doing that in the first place? Many thought they had been led to believe there would be more freedom available.

The Start of a Watch Dogs Franchise?

Watch Dogs sold incredibly well, so well that it is almost inevitable it will spawn more games, which may fix a lot of these niggling problems. But they do mount up.

There has been much discussion of the so-called "downgrade", where the E3 2012 graphics seemed to have a level of detail, depth and variety which was flattened out on the actual release. To see this in detail, check out the trailer below:

Another complaint is that, although Ubisoft claim to have created all of Watch Dogs mechanic from the ground up, many of the missions feel like they have been taken from Assassin's Creed.

Again here there is some comparison to Rockstar and GTA 5, who also develop Max Payne and Red Dead Redemption, but whose flagship game, Grand Theft Auto, takes elements from these games without seeming to imitate them. Watch Dogs feels like an interesting addition to Ubisoft's roster without being a step into a new generation of gaming.

Assassin's Creed 3, much better than the original?
Assassin's Creed 3, much better than the original?

With this said, Ubisoft have a good record of developing their franchise. The first Assassin's Creed could have been a good if slightly repetitive game with an interesting running mechanic along the lines of Prince of Persia, but as since been developed into an near open-world franchise that is going from strength to strength.

We can only hope for the same level of improvement from Watch Dogs.

But what do you think? Is this too harsh an assessment of a new game that is trying something different? Were you disappointed by Watch Dogs, or did it live up to your expectations? Let us know your thoughts below the line!


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