When’s the last time you played an original open-world game? No, go ahead, I’ll wait. Seriously think about it for a second. Now I know what you’re all thinking. There are literally dozens of open-world titles that are “original” but exactly how many of them are just replicating something that was seen in another game? Isn’t Saints Row just GTA on steroids? Isn’t Far Cry just a less detailed version of the elder scrolls? Yes. We all know that. I’m not telling you, the reader, anything you don’t already know. But let’s think about the word “original” for a second. Open-world games have a very specific formula that no one really thinks about. Give the player a world to run around in, fill it with NPC fodder, form a loose story that can be played at any pace, and then fill said world with more side activities than lines of code in the actual story. In theory, one could play forever and never actually complete a mission. Just come home from a tough day of work and slay everything that moves with hailstorms of gunfire and molotov cocktails. And baseball bats. Watch Dogs proves that games can be more than a way to blow off steam. A way for a player to directly influence the environment around them rather than just being an overpowered object in it.
Ubisoft has had one franchise in the open-world genre, namely Assassins Creed and as successful and popular as it has been, the past few years have been repetitive. AC4 being the largest culprit of the “follow-kill-follow-kill-follow-kill” method of action. It was hard for me to get through some of those missions when the only thing I had to do was follow a guy and kill him. Or look at a guy and kill him. Or look for buried treasure needed to kill a guy. Watch Dogs offers plenty to do to keep you from actually completing the campaign but never lets you lose sight of it. Yes you can play chess and poker. Yes you can play a shell game in the park. Yes you can earn money that’s not really needed. But these features are so subdued and cloaked in-world that you won’t find them unless you like, really want to play virtual poker instead of murdering fools. With all of the in world pop-ups about side missions and the goings on of online players it felt cluttered sometimes. This is Ubisoft pulling a Rockstar by telling the parents of young gamers “Hey! you can do so much more than kill stuff! Learn to play chess!”.
Watch Dogs presents a story like an archetypal super hero game written by Edward Snowden. All of the characters are written in a way that conveys their dismay towards their involvement with the world around them. The protagonist, Aiden Pearce, doesn’t really get a solid backstory before the player is thrust into the action. Likely because Ubisoft might want to expand on the title and make a prequel. It’s also likely that the developers didn’t want to present the game like another super hero title or a GTA clone. Watch Dogs is not intended to force the player into the perspective of the lead character but more experience his actions from an observers perspective. And even though the game presents a kind of morality meter (Red Dead, Fable, Mass Effect), it makes it perfectly clear that the wanton slaughter of civilians is looked down upon.
Ubisoft makes good on its promise to deliver an action filled play style to suit most gamers. When it comes to gunplay, the shoot and move mechanics are familiar yet still amazing when coupled with the environment and challenging intelligent AI. The rounds fired have a definite impact behind them. Cover is whatever you can make it from in a cityscape. And the sounds of the weapons make gameplay more intense. Any situation in which a gunfight takes place is completely different from the last, forcing the player to adapt to environmental circumstances rather than keeping AI repetitive. Something I’d personally like to see Ubisoft expand upon in future titles. The driving, although heavily advertised seems to take a backseat at the developers table. All of the vehicles in-game feel choppy and stiff regardless of what you’re driving and they seem to be more suited towards being shot and taking non-driving damage than actually being driven. Granted, Watch Dog is more focused on its theme of hacking and story. And regardless it gives the players enough wiggle room to craft their own style of gaming.
Overall Watch Dogs has made it to near the top of my list of faves. The story is exciting enough to warrant a players focus, and the in-game content is so ridiculous it would take multiple playthroughs to experience everything the fictionalized city of Chicago has to offer. It isn’t trying to do too much with what it is either. No lampooning of the Grand Theft Auto franchise. No recycling old ideas. Just giving you exactly what it said it would be. Taking control of a city by hacking it.