Watchdogs / 16th of July 2014
Watch Dogs, developed by Ubisoft Montreal and released on the 27th of May, was billed as the first of the next generation of videogames that would convince us that buying an Xbox One or PlayStation 4 was finally worth it. It was initially set for release alongside the launch of the PS4 but was then delayed by six months. And although it has managed to rack up the sales - four million in its first week - and broke the record for biggest first day sales in Ubisoft’s history, it was met with a general shrug of indifference from critics.
Which is a bit unfair in some respects. The indifference that preceded the release of Watch Dogs was a result of Ubisofts over-marketing their new franchise. Releasing an admittedly impressive gameplay trailer way, way back at E3 in 2012, and then following it up with more and more gameplay demos at every gaming expo for the next two years. This practice, along with a frankly ridiculous variety of different pre-order bundles - brazen considering it’s a new IP - left the games media saturated, and no matter how good Watch Dogs would eventually be, the hype-train Ubisoft set in motion meant it never had any chance of surprising us.
As a result this tactic has somewhat backfired as the game has been criticised for not looking as good as the initial demos suggested. This criticism is unfounded frankly. On 360 and PS3 Watch Dogs is a very pretty looking game, especially when it rains at night and Chicago is lit up as the light reflects off of roads, raised train tracks and buildings. No it doesn’t look as good as it did two years ago, even on Xbox One or PS4, but it’s no less impressive than the likes of Grand Theft Auto 5. Rockstar’s game received rave reviews for its impressive scale and graphically quality, and is again being gushed over after the recent release of gameplay footage showing it running on next-gen consoles.
GTA was always going to be the series Watch Dogs was compared to and in some regards it exceeds it. Both the main story missions and the side quests are inventive and a lot of fun. In fact on my second day of playing it, I realised that without intending to, that I’d spent about two or three hours just roaming around the city solving little puzzles. These effectively function as the game’s collectibles, but with the added caveat that by collecting all eight or nine of one specific type you’ll unlock a unique mission. A far better incentive than collecting hidden packages, purely for the sake of a 100% completion achievement. Another highlight, this time from the campaign, was when I was tasked with guiding an NPC though an area littered with enemies. It reminded me of the beginning of the Matrix, specifically at the point in which Neo is instructed by Morpheus as to where he should hide and when to dash from cover to cover, as Agents attempt to track him down. By using the tools the game makes available, i.e. hacking cameras and using them to learn enemy patrol routes, I managed to guide him to safety… after a few attempts. But pleasingly when I did fail first time around and the NPC died, the mission didn’t fail, instead I was tasked with entering the danger zone myself to grab the dead man’s phone in order to obtain the information I sought.