After a couple of hours playing Watch Dogs following the Australian midnight launch some 17 hours ago, my initial impressions are an indifferent “meh”.
Before you go angrily scrolling past my words to leave an equally angry comment, let me reiterate this is my initial impression of Ubisoft’s ambitious “next-gen” open-world hacking game. There’s a lot of things going on here, and I expect the further I dig into what the game has to offer the more I’ll begin to enjoy, but the promise of great things is doing absolutely nothing for me right now.
I really am nitpicking here, but my idea that Watch Dogs would serve as the vanguard of a new generation of gameplay was shattered no less than 30 minutes after starting the game. Playing on a PlayStation 4 retail copy, I experienced something I can only describe as a “Jimmy dance”; a weird animation glitch where NPCs would spaz out before they would ‘glide’ along with their predetermined path a couple of inches.
Earth-shattering stuff, right? While it’s a relatively minute issue it was enough to break the immersion the game was working so hard to build; something that really is a total shame. I sat there, with a controller in hand, thinking to myself “I thought I’d never see this sort of thing again, and especially while playing Watch Dogs, a game that should personify “next-gen”. My thoughts betray me, as it turns out, as this is just a last-gen game coated with current-gen paint.
But it’s more than just this ridiculous glitch, as Watch Dogs continued to leave me unimpressed after I managed to move on from the opening section; a football stadium where you’re tasked with escaping while avoiding detection from the Chicago police department. Once you successfully evade the cops here, they somehow pick up on the fact you’re the one they’re looking for as soon as you jump into your getaway car and start driving through the streets! Whether I was just really tired while playing, or something else, there seemed to be a disconnect here.
The subsequent carcase felt clumsy, as I bashed my way through residential Chicago trying to familiarise myself with Watch Dogs’ awkward driving controls – though I’m not sure if the car handling was just poor, if I was just sucking, or because Grand Theft Auto V has ruined me for these types of open-world games (obligatory GTA comparison!). Couple the clunky car handling with my lack of familiarity with the map, and the continuous hacking prompts flashing on-screen, this secondary escape sequence felt both unnecessary and poorly laid out.
The one ace up Watch Dogs’ sleeve, at least in my eyes this early on, is its hacking mechanic. The open-world genre is generally made up of two models, and you can totally disagree with this, which are either Spider-Man/Superheroes and GTA and its clones. Watch Dogs on the other hand provides players with unparalleled access to all kinds of areas they’d otherwise not be able to reach, while creating a subtle on-going commentary concerning how open and exposed our personal information is because of the technology we carry around; I was able to swipe more than $1,000 in less than 60 seconds from Chicago citizens simply because, well, I could.
Assuming more opportunities to invade the privacy of those around me, not to mention the ability to seize greater control over the city itself, hacking could very well be the reason to play Watch Dogs; and I’m totally okay with that.
Of course, don’t take my word for it. The game’s out on store shelves right now, and if you haven’t already bought it you should go out and pick it up. Or wait for MMGN’s review. I haven’t been entirely impressed with Watch Dogs’ first couple of hours, though then again this is a huge game, and I’ve only begun to scratch the surface.