When I am not able to review a game within the first two months after release, but still want to review the game, its review ends up in The Late Game. Games that get reviewed in The Late Game may be three months old, three years old or thirty years old. Of course I won’t be able to tell you how people experienced the game when it was initially released… well… I could… But so does Google. What I am trying to achieve with The Late Game is tell you whether you should still play that three month old or thirty year old game today.
Original Release: May 27th 2014 (PS4/PS3/XONE/X360/PC)
Release on Platform: November 21st 2014 (WiiU)
Personal Play Time: 22 hours; March 2015
Bought @ Amazon.co.uk for £23,04 on January 19th 2015
I could hardly imagine a better [sic.] game to start The Late Game with than Watch_Dogs on the Nintendo WiiU. Not only was I playing the game almost half a year after it was released on the platform, it also took the game about half a year to make the jump from almost every imaginable system out there to the WiiU. And before you start thinking that this review will be all about halves, you’re only half right about that. No, I’m not scoring it a 5 out of 10. Nor did I play the game half through. Yes, the game is only half as good as Ubisoft’s marketeers had made us want to believe. But that’s mostly because they promised us the world, and we only got Chicago.
Your not so neighborhood friendly Aiden Pearce
Watch_Dogs is not a bad game. Not even on WiiU. There I said it. It does come with its fair share of problems, but let’s keep those for later and start with a quick word about the game’s story. Aaah, not so much later then…
You play as Aiden Pearce, the masked vigilante who is not as neighborhood friendly, nor as radioactive as some of the other masked vigilantes out there… Although using your cellphone as much as he does, cannot be healthy either.
Aiden is not a very likeable character. Not just because he hacks random people’s bank accounts, or steals other people’s cars… who may or may not have just lost a family member to cancer (no joke!) – which you get to know by profiling them with your cellphone -, or because he has no sense of humor whatsoever. But because the main reason why he does what he does, why he kills who he kills, is because he wants to punish the people who he holds responsible for the death of his niece.
Read that last sentence again. Yes, who he holds responsible. Because no matter how you look at it, the main reason she died was because of Aiden himself, though it takes him a bloody long time (the entire campaign to be exact) to figure that out. No, that was not a spoiler. Not really. You will come to the same conclusion yourself during the first hour or so of the game.
Aiden’s lust for vengeance is what drives the story. Gangsters who get in the way have to die. Police officers who get in the way have to die. Even journalists who want to reveal his identity… have to die… Only once will you get to choose whether a person needs to die or gets to live, and that’s after the credits role…
But what about political intrigue, sabotage, double crossings? Oh, they’re all there, but their main purpose is to flesh out the story a bit. You never get the feeling that something out of the ordinary is happening. What do you mean politicians are corrupt? What?! They’re going after Aiden’s family? Noooo… Those thing… are just… impossible!
Competing hackers are introduced as quickly as they are killed off again, just to provide some filler (here’s looking at you Act IV!). And when something does happen to a person for whom we should feel something, I felt nothing. Why? Because Aiden just says he’s sorry about what happened without as much as a twitch on his face. Also, the fact that said person had not been around for a while in the main campaign didn’t help either.
It’s a shame really, because apart from Aiden, most characters are pretty interesting, with occasional partner in crime (and take crime as literally as you can) Jordi Chin being the king pin of the cast. Not that we get to know a lot about him, but the way he talks, the way he walks, it just make the ladies (and myself…uhum…) beg for more. Now, I know this is a very fan boyish thing to say, but when they release Watch_Dogs 2 or Origins, or whatever they’re going to call it (you know it will happen sooner rather than later) I would want Jordi to be the main character instead of stick-up my a** Aiden.
Aiden’s the name, hacking’s the game… rhyming’s lame
By now I probably should have mentioned what kind of game Watch_Dogs is… It’s a sandbox game. You can steal any car, bike or boat that you want in order to move more swiftly across the city (in this case Chicago). You have a plethora of weapons at your disposal to shoot innocent or not so innocent people. You can enter a few different shops and buy weapons, gadgets and clothes. And if you’re a bad boy the cops will come and chase you. Yup, sounds and plays very much like any other game in the genre. What mainly distinguishes Watch_Dogs from genre master Grand Theft Auto, is the lack of humor. Well that and the fact that you get to hack almost every electronic device in the city.
The entire city of Chicago is controlled by a Central Operating System, i.e. ctOS. The system is also the city’s biggest weakness, since hackers seem to be able to infiltrate it quite easily. With a simple touch on his cellphone’s touchscreen Aiden is able to control traffic lights, get money from ATM’s, hack people’s cellphones, open bridges, block roads, scramble communication devices, hack camera’s, remotely detonate explosives or even blackout the entire city. This hacking system is what makes Watch_Dogs an enjoyable experience. Doing what you’ve done in several other games before Watch_Dogs becomes far more interesting when you get to control your surroundings as well. Cops chasing you? Just open up a bridge seconds before you cross it. Follow up by using a blackout device to make sure they can’t trace you again. Want to take out an entire gang of criminals stealthily? Hack into their HQ’s camera’s, locate every single one of them, kill any of them by luring them to nearby devices that can explode, finish off the rest with your arsenal of guns and explosives.
Using every hacking trick at your disposal is great fun. It’s a bit of a shame that you do not have all of these hacking options from the get go, but have to gradually unlock them. Of course, it’s completely understandable that you become more powerful by levelling up. Heck, that’s one of the main mechanics behind almost every game coming out today. But most games also manage to find a decent balance between unlocking more and more abilities and increasing difficulty incrementally. While this is true for Watch_Dogs campaign missions, I found that police chases in open world Chicago were more of a hassle in the beginning of the game, than they should have been.
There are no bulls in Chicago
Chicago itself is portrayed quite nicely. Parking your car in Pawnee and gazing at the city skyline while listening to Rage Against was a great experience for me, but cruising through the Windy City itself felt lackluster sometimes. Not just because the driving controls need some getting used to on the WiiU gamepad, but also because I didn’t see a single person wearing a Chicago Bulls jersey. Come on! Okay maybe that’s nit-picking, or maybe I wasn’t paying enough attention when someone in a number 23 or 33 jersey did cross my path.
What the developers did include, are no less than one hundred Chicago city hotspots which you can check into and learn about. Great stuff if you’re willing to take your time to locate all of them…
… Which I wasn’t willing to do.
Unlike with Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag for WiiU (i.e. that other big open world action game by Ubisoft) I didn’t feel the urge to complete all of the side missions nor trace all of the collectables in Watch_Dogs. It is hard to explain why, but after the 20 hours of gameplay the main campaign had to offer, I just had enough. The progression bar in the game tells me I haven’t even finished 40% of the game, but I’m okay with that. I did try a few of the side missions, but they just couldn’t convince me to keep playing. They’re not bad, mind you. So, maybe it has more to do with me thinking that saving citizens or stopping crime wasn’t something Aiden would do if it wasn’t for me helming the controller. Or maybe it was because I wasn’t as invested in Aiden as a character as I was in Edward Kenway (i.e. the main character of Assassins Creed IV). Maybe it was because I had just recently invested too much time in other open world games. Maybe it was because I sporadically had to do a hard reset of my WiiU system because Watch_Dogs sometimes locked up my console. It’s probably a combination of all of those reasons.
What distinguishes the WiiU version from the other versions?
Apart from its platform specific set of bugs, glitches, freezes and frame rate issues, Watch_Dogs supports Off-TV Play on the gamepad, which is always a plus. I didn’t really use the option though, because of my personal preference of playing HD games on my HD television, instead of on a sub-HD screen – I do think using Off-TV play is great for smaller games like the latest Mario vs. Donkey Kong or virtual console games from the NES, SNES, GBA or other era.
When not in Off-TV Play mode, the gamepad displays an interactive map of Chicago. Normally I’m a big fan of not having to go through any menus and being able to directly look at the map on the gamepad, but that wasn’t the case for Watch_Dogs. It’s heavy focus on action, made me want to pause the game at times to mark my way on the map. This was less of an issue for me in games like Assassin’s Creed or the Batman Arkham series, which are action games as well, but aren’t as frantic as Watch_Dogs is.
All in all the gamepad specific features feel like a bit of a missed chance. Just like the main character in the game, you always have a touchscreen device in your hand while playing. Something tells me that could have led to a more immersive experience.
Whom should play this game?
If you like action games, but don’t own a PlayStation 4, Xbox One, or gaming PC, you should definitely check it out on WiiU. It is not the best game in the genre, nor is it technically the best port, but apart from the child friendly Lego City Undercover, there’s simply no other option available on the system.
The game mechanics are really fun when you have all options unlocked, and the story (while not great) will give you reason enough to get through some of the more repetitive missions. Even if it’s only to see Jordi’s smirk once more.
Watch_Dogs as a series has great potential. Potential which doesn’t always translate into good gameplay in this first game, but which does bode well for the eventual sequel. Just… don’t get your hopes up of ever playing that sequel on your WiiU.