Watch Dogs is a game with some interesting ideas that can create some unique gameplay experiences but ultimately it is a game that is frustrating, bland and at times even boring.
So after the two year hype train that has been Watch Dogs the game has arrived, when it was first seen at E3 2012 is was heralded as the next gen experience, the game to watch etc. Well sadly after all the trailers and developer diaries and pre-order bonuses it’s a shame to say that the game just isn’t that good. Now there are some redeeming qualities to the game but they just aren’t enough to make it a worthwhile purchase, so let’s jump into what some of those issues are.
The most glaring issue that most people will notice straight away is the fact that the game doesn’t look that good. When we first saw the game two years ago the streets of Chicago looked alive, there seemed to be a living eco-system within the game. When you boot up your copy of Watch Dogs (I played mine on the PS4 for context) the game doesn’t jump out at you, it doesn’t scream next gen instead it splutters out some generic looking game. Walking around the streets just isn’t an interesting place; once you’ve seen a one tall concrete building you’ve seen them all. Not even when you travel up to the forested area of the city does the game look nice, it instead just continues its streak of being a bland and uninspiring landscape. I was really hoping when I loaded up Watch Dogs for the first time that I was going to be blown away with how beautiful it would look, this was very much not the case.
Now I want to move onto the biggest issue for Watch Dogs and that’s its gameplay. Once again when the gameplay was first shown it looked varied, fun and engaging. Well after your first couple of missions you’ll realise the game doesn’t really have any of those traits. What you instead will get is the same repetitive mission structure in some different locations. To give an example of the type of mission you’ll end up playing a lot I’ll quickly map out how it will play out.
You will receive a phone call telling you to drive to a heavily guarded location where you will use cameras to tag enemies. It’s at this point you decide whether to sneak to your objective or kill everyone and walk over to it, the former is usually more challenging and enjoyable. Once you have held the square (or the X) button a couple of dozen times you will have the information you need, it is at this point that the enemy is fully aware of what you are doing and sends hoards of guys to soak up bullets, here you can either dispatch them or flee. Either way it’s pretty dull, shoot twenty bad guys or drive around the streets of Chicago waiting for a button prompt so that you can cause the enemy vehicles to crash. After all this you return to base and wait for the next phone call. That layout there is pretty much how the majority of your missions play out and that is unfortunately not an exaggeration. I also must take a minute to say that the checkpoint system is the most frustrating, poorly coordinated system I’ve encountered in a long time and might be the thing I grew most tiered of when playing the game. Where the missions in Watch Dogs are different are in the side missions, the game offers some experiences that are definitely enjoyable. Some see you taking hallucinogenic drugs which then transfer you into a separate gameplay experience that is very different from the main game, though I never felt inclined to jump back into these more than a couple of times they still add a refreshing change to the stale selection of missions.
Holding all these missions together is the story buried deep somewhere within Watch Dogs. I say buried deep because you have to dig really hard to find a story that is at all interesting or filled with any emotional resonance. After a while I found myself tuning out and checking my phone as cut scenes played because I was that dis-interested in the story. The story is also not helped along by the smorgasbord of characters that range from tedious to slightly interesting and at the centre of it all is Aiden Pearce, the big dog in all this. Well Mr Pearce is a man with the emotional range of a plank of wood, apart from when he slightly raises his voice you don’t really get a sense of what it is he is feeling or trying to convey he more or less just stands there and stares blankly into the scenery.
So far my review has been pretty negative of Watch Dogs and there are a lot of valid reasons for that but I do want to take the time to say that the game does have some enjoyable moments. Some of the missions you play can be fun, hacking your way through a high security building and dispatching foes without ever having to fire a shot. Blacking out entire city blocks with the touch of a button and then sneaking away from pursuing enemies, the game does have some enjoyable moments it’s just a shame that you have to fight your way through so much dullness to enjoy these little moments of joy.
In the end though Watch Dogs is a game that ultimately doesn’t work, it has some unique ideas, some of which can be fun but there is just too much mess surrounding it and it’s this mess that makes Watch Dogs a game that is too tedious to play. I really wanted this game to be good but it just isn’t and I would not recommend it as a game you go out of your way to pick up. If you can borrow it from a friend or get it cheap in the sales then perhaps give it a go but if not then just let this one pass you by.