‘Watchdogs’ was the poster-boy for the next generation, on release though the public’s perception was that it was less a centerfold and more of a mug shot.
The critical reception was neither scathing nor overwhelmingly positive, it was middling – unremarkable was used among other terms.
Recently I stated that ‘Watchdogs’ gets far more hate than it deserves; what was it though that makes my opinion of this game deviate from many critics and the majority of gamers?
As I said in my article on Saturday, if you take the word of gamers at face-value that ‘Watchdogs’ is an ugly game you will be very pleasantly surprised – this game is beautiful. the world is large, varied and populated. Best of all though is the fact that it runs absolutely beautifully. During my forty-some hours I noticed no frame-rate drops (a consistent 30 even during huge action scenes), no pop in, no ‘jaggies’ or any other graphical inconsistencies that usually plague games of this ilk.
In saying all this though there was one thing that really annoyed me throughout my playtime and that was the character models. There is a difference in the facial animation in cut scenes and during gameplay. One thing that was consistently annoying though was the hair! It was TERRIBLE, flat textures and sharp polygonal details all over the place – the bad hair sticks out like a sore thumb in the beautiful world of ‘Watchdogs’ Chicago. I reckon the hair is the reason that Aiden Pearce always wears a hat! /speculation
Why am I discussing graphics so much? Well many gamers feel that they were sold this game on the promise of glorious graphics back in e3 2012. And there is an obvious downgrade in graphical fidelity from THAT video which left a very sour taste in many peoples mouths. It is THE reason for the vitriol and hate that ‘Watchdogs’ gets around the internet – while people are very quick to point out the negatives they are not so quick in pointing out the positives that this game has…
…and it has many, many positives.
The first is the story that Ubisoft Montreal have weaved is excellent. On the face of it, it is a cliched revenge story that is far from original – a loved one (usually a female – in this case; a niece) is killed and you are on a murderous rampage for vengeance.
There are several things that help elevate the story to a level that is above tits conceit; the first and most important, is the superb support cast of characters. While none of them are likable or sympathetic due to their nefarious pasts/present, their role within the story is pronounced and the twists and turns they all take is very satisfying – pair this with the superb voice acting and the story takes on a new level and chugs away at a nice pace – keeping you guessing right to the end.
The second thing that lifts the story is the fact that Ubisoft have learned from Assassins creed bloated, confusing and ridiculous story; because here they have kept things very simple here. The story’s focus is never away from the revenge and even when subplots open they close quickly and in a satisfying manner – at last a comprehensible Ubisoft story. Without spoiling anything the ending is incredibly satisfying – a man who has killed hundreds of people isn’t allowed to ride off into the sunset – it is a logical ending but not a happy one. I cannot wait to see the ideas that Ubisoft have for continuing this narrative in the inevitable sequel/s.
On a gameplay level there are several well realised (if toned back from promises made during development) mechanics that combine to create the feeling of freedom and choice that other games shy away from. There are numerous modes that focus on different mechanics – the digital trips range from parkour to shooting, the online races on racing, gang hideouts on stealth, hacking games on puzzle solving and I could go on.
Seldom does a game combine this many mechanics and suceed – but ‘Watchdogs’ does. The online mode is integrated seemlessly into the single player action, players will invade your space and attempt to hack you for information – you must stop them by means necessary – it’s an intriguing mix of ‘Assassins Creeds’ multi-player and ‘Dark Souls’ – and it is an incredible amount of fun. Ultimately though it is a short-lived side-show that lacks depth to be truly great; but the foundations are solid and Ubisoft could have a winner with further iterations.
The single player has depth in spades – you can approach any mission with a plan and more often than not; complete it with that game plan. You can be stealthy and take out guards silently, you can go in like an action hero or you can hack cameras and treat every mission like a puzzle game. It is free-forming, emergent gameplay and the game is richer for it. Of course most of it is a trick; with levels purposefully designed to offer this “freedom” but at least its there.
In saying all this – a rose is not complete without thorns and ‘Watchdogs’ has its thorns. The sharpest of which is the utter adherence to the ‘Ubisoft Formula’. It is by-the-numbers. There are viewpoints (CTOS Towers), lore puzzles (QR codes), side-missions and collectibles.
My God the collectibles!
They show them on the map, damn you Ubisoft, you put them on the map. This little detail taps into my compulsive collector – if I can see collectibles I will go for them and Ubisoft knows that. There are countless collectibles including weapon caches, hidden phones, murder victims, QR codes, phones hacks …I could go on here! They are all quite interesting diversions of your time and they will ensure you sink time into this game. You cannot go far without something grabbing your attention, if you attempt to complete this game 100% it is actually overwhelming – it caused me to burn out and leave the game for months.
The most damning criticism that I could direct at ‘Watchdogs’ is that the world revolves around you and your action. In GTA you feel like a very small cog in a giant living, breathing machine! In ‘Watchdogs’ however every news report you hear on the radio will be referencing you, every person will ring the police if you do something illegal (it’s as if they always watch you), the police will chase only you and people do not seem to have a life – you cannot follow people to work or home , they walk in circles and figures of eight. This world exists because of you, not regardless of you – it’s a last gen trick to create the illusion of a populace.
The question is now, do these flaws detract from the core experience? No. They are worth mentioning though.
Overall I really enjoyed my time with ‘Watchdogs’ it was a good story, with great visuals and it was always fun! Don’t listen to the hate, play this game and enjoy it for what it is, a great sandbox action title.