Why we’ve stopped playing Watch Dogs

Thursday, 19 June 2014 08:24 GMT By Brenna Hillier

Watch Dogs is a great game built by a huge team of very talented people. But it’s not perfect, and we can’t be arsed with it any more. Here’s why the VG247 crew has moved on.

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Watch Dogs is a triumph for Ubisoft, selling like hot cakes on both sides of the pond and proving once again that when it comes to huge open-world action adventure games it really has its production lines in order. It’s definitely not a bad game, and many people enjoy it.

One month on, when we’ve had time to faff about with it at our leisure, we’ve mostly gone off it. Here’s why Watch Dogs just isn’t doing it for us any more:

The novelty of hacking wears off quickly.

No, give Ubisoft the credit it deserves: the hacking in Watch Dogs is cool. Raising and lowering bridges, messing with traffic lights and bollards, shifting trains about, peeking into people’s lives – that’s all brilliant stuff, and a lot of fun.

The problem is that it’s strapped to a pretty tired genre – the open-world action adventure – and this one differentiating factor just isn’t enough to make us feel interested in another million-hour side activity marathon. In the beginning, hacking is awesome and you want to do it all the time, but it soon becomes just another tool, and that’s when the rest of the game starts to underwhelm.

It goes for about three centuries.

Part of the reason why the novelty of hacking wears off is that Watch Dogs is so long. Like the Assassin’s Creed and Far Cry games (and competing titles like GTA and Saints Row), it’s absolutely packed with content. Now, if you only play one or two games a year, maybe that’s perfect for you; maybe you need that to feel like you get your money’s worth. For many other people, the dragging on of mission after similar mission starts to grate.

We’re in that camp. Watch Dogs feels unnecessarily padded, and stops being fun. Again, the rest of the game experience just isn’t enough to keep you going on, doing the same thing over and over; it has none of the insolence of GTA or the self-awareness of Saints Row to inspire you to keep going.

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The city doesn’t feel alive.

The Chicago of Watch Dogs is a tremendous technical achievement. It might not be quite up to GTA 5′s level, but it’s certainly the best city we’ve seen on consoles besides that, and second place to Rockstar’s stunning effort is not an insult. Comparisons of screenshots from Watch Dogs and photos of Chicago show off how beautifully Ubisoft have captured the city’s shape and form, while exercising judicious artistic license to lend it the drama and gravity required of a gritty modern video game.

Unfortunately, Ubisoft Montreal haven’t managed to capture the feel of Chicago. The thing about Chicago, the thing that makes it an important place and not just a convenient spot to move cargo between riverboats, is that a shit ton of people live there. Absolutely nobody lives in Chicago except Aiden and a few other main characters; the NPCs are lifeless and colourless and behave like weird little robots as your prance among them, overturning their lives. They seem so cool at first, with their own little personality traits and background stories, but it doesn’t take very long before you realise there’s no meaning to this randomly-generated information; it has absolutely no effect on the game, and you’ll hit duplicates faster than you might expect.

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The best bits aren’t scripted.

Yes, we admit it: there are some really great stories coming out of Watch Dogs. It gives you just enough tools that being set loose in the city can lead to incredible adventures. Just wandering around and interacting with things can trigger some great emergent behaviour, and if another player invades your world, the most amazing shit can go down.

Unfortunately, this doesn’t happen very often. Like, at all. For most of the time, Watch Dogs just plays out like an other action adventure game, and the little mechanics that ought to fit together beautifully don’t. Some of this is to do with the dull AI, as discussed above, but it’s also because the missions make so little use of the world. It’s just go here, kill that guy, get this thing – so much linearity, and very few opportunities to get some real sandbox play under your belt.

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