All eyes on Watch Dogs but have we seen it before?
REVIEWED: Watch Dogs
ADMIRABLY delayed six months by Ubisoft because it wasn’t quite finished, Watch Dogs was originally supposed to land alongside the new PS4 and Xbox One last November. But despite all talk of it representing the power of the next generation, the developers never hid the fact it ran on last-gen consoles from the start.
So how “next-gen” can it be? The inevitable answer is it can’t, not really, though its busy pastiche of Grand Theft Auto meets Assassin’s Creed injects enough new ideas to justify investigating.
For a game piggybacking the trendy hacker culture, Watch Dogs avoids much of the tense but long-winded game of cat and mouse beloved of Hollywood. This story of an embittered hacker seeking revenge for the death of his niece builds gameplay around rapid-paced action.
Watch Dogs anchors its fiction in a near-future Chicago where everything – bridges, doors, traffic lights, even people - is connected to the grid and therefore hackable with a smartphone. But it requires nothing more than one-second button press to perform most hacks even while driving at speed, which takes skill out of the equation.
It’s perfectly possible to play Watch Dogs as a GTA clone, blasting your way in and out of almost every scenario. But you’d be overlooking its distinctive systems that open up a palette of stealth and remote attacks for its typical missions.
Why risk getting shot when you can creep virtually through a network of CCTV cameras and trigger explosions from a safe distance? Don’t want to confront thugs? Distract them with an electronic lure and sneak past.
A mix of tightly structured goals and missions with more freeform, emergent solutions keep things interesting even as the script and nondescript lead character prove less than gripping.
As always with an open-world game, Watch Dogs is stuffed with diversions, many of which are just dull. The more compelling ones step outside the story into unreality, most memorably the spider-tank mode, an orgy of destruction in a giant robotic – yes – spider.
Multiplayer options live within the game world, offering car races , eight-player firefights and – best of all – invasion mode, where players silently tail each other for bonuses, leading to hilarious moments of paranoia.
Ubisoft has crafted a hugely enjoyable world, albeit one that feels too familiar, too much a compilation of other games’ greatest hits.
Like Assassin’s Creed before it, which didn’t crystallise its potential fully until the second game in the series, you suspect it may take a sequel for Watch Dogs to achieve greatness.