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‘Watch_Dogs’ | Game Review Squandered Potential in an Empty Open World

Watch_Dogs Review
2.5

Summary

Watch_Dogs is a fun but empty game void of life and colour. The hacking mechanics are good and the missions themselves are enjoyable, but the lack of variety makes the game very repetitive at times.

With bold promises of being the next Grand Theft Auto and a massive over-hyping promotional campaign, Watch_Dogs not only fails to meet the minimum requirement needed to pull off this momentous task, it also fails to deliver good on many of the promises it made before release. Although the game is enjoyable thanks to the intuitive and fun hacking mechanic, Watch_Dogs feels like an empty shell of a game, plagued by some poor graphical choices and large empty areas of its open world giving it an unpolished and unfinished feel for large periods of the game time.

The story takes place in a near-future world where Chicago’s technology is fully controlled through a system called CTOS. Thankfully, your character, criminal-turned-hacker Aiden Pearce, has the ability to hack into this system and manipulate any of the technology CTOS controls through a trusty smartphone at his disposal. The story playing out in the background of this intriguing gameplay mechanic is one of redemption as Aiden tracks down the men responsible for a family death. Fuelled by revenge, Aiden launches a campaign against the gangs leaving a trail of destruction in his wake. Armed with his smartphone and hacking knowledge, the plot takes a backseat to showcase the gameplay mechanics that turn Watch_Dogs from a moody crime thriller into a hacking playground. There’s a whole host of different objects that can be manipulated from cameras to televisions right through to ATM machines and traffic lights, and the helpful UI highlights the areas able to be hacked. Holding down triangle for a couple of seconds allows the item to be hacked and the results are instantaneously fed back to Aiden’s phone with the results played out before your eyes. This simplistic design helps to give Aiden more control in the world and more importantly, make the game fun.

Unfortunately, Aiden himself is uncharismatic and emotionless at best, making it difficult to really root for him as he goes on his depressive rampage through Chicago. His lack of emotion really detracts from some of the cut scenes that should be emotionally charged but instead end up awkward and devoid of life. Ultimately, this feeling encapsulates much of the game, and although there’s definite promise here, Watch_Dogs feels unfinished and in desperate need of some polish. There are glimmers of brilliance in the story and some of the missions are genuinely fun to play, especially given the impressive hacking tools used to manipulate the world, but large pockets of Chicago are devoid of life and places to explore. The world never quite feels alive, and whether that is a result of the unimpressive graphics, dull colour palette, or disappointing number of pedestrians on-screen is open to interpretation.

In true Ubisoft fashion outside the story missions there’s an exhaustive list of things to do. With a large world map littered with side missions, online quests and hundreds of collectables, there’s no question that there’s a solid 60+ hours’ worth of content here. Unfortunately a lot of it quickly becomes repetitive in missions that don’t deviate from the generic fetch or kill quests you might expect from this sort of game. There are some interesting stealth pieces, hacking mini-games, and hundreds of audio and text collectables that do help to flesh the world (and game time) out a bit, but there’s a real lack of care in the haphazard way these are placed in the world, making the grind to collect everything more tiresome than it should be.

Going into this game expecting something to match the lofty heights achieved from the GTA franchise is sure to leave you disappointed, but going into Watch_Dogs with this knowledge and expecting a world size and ambition closer to that of Infamous does help steady expectations. Still, Watch_Dogs’ open world is fun to hack; causing a huge traffic pile-up thanks to a cheeky traffic light change is marvellous and these little touches make Watch_Dogs an incredibly fun game to play. Of course, once the excitement and appeal of the hacking wears off, there’s not much else here that hasn’t been done better elsewhere. The items able to be hacked are certainly varied but a lot of the main gameplay revolves around hacking cameras and security feeds and manipulating guards. With a bit more variety and some ingenuity the hacking could be a real game changer, but Watch_Dogs feels under-developed, crying out for a bit more time to really deliver the authentic experience this open world game deserves. Watch_Dogs does break up the gameplay slightly with the standard host of guns and cars you’d expect, and whilst the guns themselves are good, the driving is a little disappointing, with every car handling near enough the same.

Watch_Dogs is a fun but empty game void of life and colour. The hacking mechanics are good and the missions themselves are enjoyable, but the lack of variety makes the game very repetitive at times. With over 60+ hours’ worth of content and a world map littered with collectables and simplistic side missions, there’s an awful lot to do, but it also feels like padding rather than enhancing the gameplay. With a bit more polish and a likeable protagonist, Watch_Dogs could certainly be a solid game, but there’re just too many issues here to ignore. The emptiness of the game world transpires across to the feeling you get playing in the open world of Chicago for vast periods of time. There’s certainly potential here, but it’s squandered in a lacklustre and disappointing open world game.

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