Lost Review 106: ‘Watch Dogs’ – Halt & Catch Fire

Developer: Ubisoft Montreal

Publisher: Ubisoft

Creative Director: Jonathan Morin

Release Date: May 27th, 2014

Available Now: on PS3/4/5, Xbox 360/ One/ Series, Wii-U, PC, (Reviewed on X360)

E3 2012 was a boring affair and a predictable time filled with sequels and aged hardware. All the promise was gone and people were just wading around for new console announcements. In comes Watch Dogs to steal the show. Playing the game is without question a disappointment. A game that made the industry stop and turn its head, reach a fever pitch of hype, feels almost too familiar to game players, is safe for stakeholders, and is a bit boring.

It was the Cyberpunk 2077 of its time. Although it arrived with a bit more polish out the gate, it still should have been a next-gen-only game [PS4, XBO, PC], nonetheless, it arrived at a perfect moment in time. iPhones were at their creative peak between 5 & 6, and 4G LTE was catching on. With share apps like Uber and Airbnb now possible it felt like anything was possible with your little phone. Watch Dogs leveraged that concept brilliantly. If only it lived up to its potential.

Subsequent entries like 2 and Legion showed ambition, but no demo was more notorious than that game that kicked off the “Ubisoft downgrade” reputation. Still much has already been said that so let’s get to the gameplay mechanics. Watch Dogs launched with a fever pitch of hype, including built-in apps. I remember downloading the DedSec hacking app, a brilliant bit of viral marketing that ultimately delivered nothing relative to the overall game despite the promise of an insane persistent multiplayer mode where the world could be populated with live characters. Those ideas are still being played with today cross-platform but are nowhere near as ambitious. Once you get to the actual game, it’s a series of button presses, quick-time and scripted events, and wonky driving.

The game’s strength beyond its tone and conceit was that the trenchcoat-wearing outsider vigilante Aiden Pearce appealed to a gaming audience as a man against the system. The guilt over the death of his nephew to explain his brooding nature was weak. However, the opening at a ballpark and the lighthouse set finale showed that there were several key creative decisions still going on at Ubisoft. The Chicago setting was unique and for the first time in forever, Ubisoft showed gamers something new, an IP they hadn’t played before and didn’t know how to play. It went okay.

Watch Dogs is a pretty standard third-person action shooter and is dated by today’s standards because it contains so many trends the industry is still holding onto today. It also doesn’t perfect those trends or mechanics in any way. Watch Dogs 2 is a superior sequel and remains the series’ high point although “Watch Dogs 3” subtitled: Legion was ambitious and featured the return of Far Cry 2 director Clint Hocking in his first directed game since. The whole series came together in a final piece of DLC when an older Aiden Pearce met Wrench, a fan-favourite character from 2. It was a nice conclusion to this chapter of the series and goes to show that as long as you make a strong first impression, you can linger in the minds of gamers at least for almost a decade.

Game rating: 7/10 | The cost of building a new franchise: PRICELESS (not really but you get the sentiment).


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