We all remember when Watch_Dogs was first showcased to the world at E3 back in 2012 and completely took everyone by surprise. The standards were set inexplicably high during that first reveal, with so many hoping that the promised game was truly going to herald the next gaming generation. Two years later and the game has finally been released, so the question is - does Watch_Dogs live up to hype?
Gameplay wise, Watch_Dogs is presented as a sandbox and draws heavily upon other games within that genre. Making comparisons to Grand Theft Auto and Saints Row are unavoidable but Ubisoft use their open-world to it's utmost, lifting it from simple imitation to a setting with it's own unique, lively personality. This Chicago is vast and full of detail, and the depth that Ubisoft have managed to give the city really shows. You can check into city hotspots through use of your in-game phone, and even the NPC inhabitants have been given a taste of authenticity thanks to being able to hack into their cells, gaining snippets of fictional information about their lives. The amount on offer within Chicago which isn't a vital part of the main campaign is also astounding, and lack of gameplay diversity isn't something to worry about. You can play a host of mini-games across the city from Chess to various drinking games, to the slightly absurd digital trips. There is also a wealth of side-missions to engage in, from intercepting street crimes to dismantling a human-trafficking ring.
As this is also a third-person shooter, the combat and cover mechanics have also been implemented to a solid level. There is an arsenal of different weapons to choose from, giving you a range of alternate play styles to experiment with and find a preference. There are silenced weapons to aid in the more stealth-based gameplay, and there are loud assault rifles and (even a grenade launcher) if you want to run into situations with guns blazing. Ubisoft have catered to a range of different play styles largely due to the length of the game's campaign and the frequency with which you can engage in combat, which adds a small sense of variety to something that can become very monotonous when executed in other games.
Watch_Dogs also comes with several online modes, the most of interesting of which are the 1v1 matches. The game is designed to be played whilst online anyway as other players can "invade" your game during your campaign playthrough. Even though this can be disabled in the options, it's an interesting concept and one that I wouldn't mind seeing explored and expanded upon in later titles. It really would allow Watch_Dogs to carve a greater identity for itself as an online franchise as well as a single-player one, further distinguishing it from its free-running cousin - Assassin's Creed.
Whilst eventually interesting, the story and the characters offer nothing particularly new as far as storytelling in gaming is concerned. Ubisoft decided to go with a pretty generic story and familiar characters with familiar drives and motives - all of which has been seen before. This game could have been so much more if the developers had taken more risks with these elements. Since the story is very run-of-the-mill, coupled with the game's large playtime (it took me a solid three days to complete the story) and the ability to mix and match campaign quests with side-missions, the story becomes quite forgettable quite quickly. That said, its climax does actually raise some interesting plot devices for possible future installments.
Something that could use a complete overhaul however are the driving mechanics. Driving is central to any sandbox game and in Watch_Dogs, the integrated driving system is downright awful. Driving in a straight line is fine but god help you if you change direction slightly because you'll be either drifting into the nearest wall or will spin out completely. This is a very frustrating thing when driving is both the focus of several missions and the main means of in-game travel around the setting.
But still despite all of its faults, Ubisoft have their hands on a good new IP here with great potential. The world that they have built is interactive, rich, fun and full of detail, and they touch on some very interesting concepts such as their integration of the online features. However if they took more risks with the story and taken the driving mechanics back to the drawing board, Watch_Dogs could have been a real spectacle. Here's hoping that Ubisoft learn from these errors and improve upon them for the sequels, allowing Watch_Dogs to reach it's potential and become the defining franchise that it was promised to be back in 2012.