I think I’ve just about earned the right to expect to be able to play my new games on launch day, to be able to login to whichever client my new game belongs to (in this case Uplay) and download or activate my new title on said day and play that thing under the very sun that God (or the publisher) intended. You know, what with having witnessed the boom in the gaming industry over the years with next-gen IPs, incredible developments in video game and computer technology, and the millions my peers and I have invested into the industry.
You’re with me on this, right? I mean, any title that took 5 1/2 years to develop (including a 7 month delay on the original release), that quickly took its place as the fastest selling IP in Ubisoft history and second-highest pre-ordered Ubisoft game ever, I think it’d be fair to assume that somebody in the office would have stopped, scratched their head while looking at the impressive pre-launch sales figures and thought – ‘has anyone checked if we can actually handle this?’ It almost certainly goes deeper than that, with factors I clearly won’t know about or be arrogant enough to presume – but I think we at least deserve a better statement that actually inspires some confidence as opposed to what we actually got.
Over that 5 and a bit years, Ubisoft had the opportunity to learn from a great many PC games that failed to show up with some dignity on release day; EA’s Battlefield 3 and (somehow still) Battlefield 4, even Ubisoft’s very own Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, and who could forget the headache that was Far Cry 3 (just to namedrop a couple). Yet, after so many embarrassing launches we still see the same issue time and time again across the market.
Teething problems aside (kind of, I’m still sour about it), I think I played Watch_Dogs for all of 30 minutes before hitting ALT+F4. That’s when you really know you don’t want to play any more, when you don’t even have the patience to follow the conventional in-game ESC > Quit to Desktop path.
I’m not naive enough to say that I had given the game it’s chance at this point, but after almost 2 years of being teased with gameplay trailers since E3 2012, engaging in an abundance of social media campaigns, and having had countless amounts of ads thrown at me, trying to sell me one of the 27 ways I can buy the bloody game – I was well and truly underwhelmed.
Sure enough Watch_Dogs looks brilliant in my untrained opinion, not nearly as beautiful as it did in the gameplay trailers but a smooth, high quality, well textured game nonetheless. And motion blur, I love me some motion blur. Watch_Dogs boasts a decent number of options to tweak in the Graphics menu – some of which I don’t even understand the effects of until I make said changes. I really don’t like it when developers forget that neat little tooltip on the settings screen that explains the consequences of what you’re about to change. I guess I can thank Ubisoft for this one though, had they taken the (presumably small amount of) time to embed a tooltip feature on the settings menu, I never would have been encouraged to Google the difference between SSAO, HBAO, HDAO and learn something new. I guess I should have done this sooner before spending big bucks on a rig I don’t truly know the capabilities of. I digress.
It took a couple of days before I revisited the game, at which point I ended up staying on for a couple of hours hell-bent on giving the title the chance I felt it deserved. With the same mechanics of Assassin’s Creed still fresh in my fingertips I soon started to pick up the core gameplay relatively easily. The skills tree should be second-nature to any ES V: Skyrim fans out there, and if you’ve played a decent amount of GTA IV (I haven’t played GTA V to be able to justify the reference) then you should be pretty much at home with driving, shooting, and the tedious smartphone feature.
Having already made my mind up that the game would play out similar to that of Grand Theft Auto’s startup with big money, fast cars, and powerful weapons being notoriously difficult to come by early on in the game (legally and in plain-sight, that is) I was soon astounded when I realised a few things:
- You’ll get your first skill point very early on – spend it on ‘Car Unlock’ (1 point, from the Driving tree) and you’re sorted. Never worry about wheels ever again.
- Second, the whole map is open from the get go – and it’s pretty big. No road-blocks preventing access to various districts (just a lack of ctOS support). As a result, all gun stores are open for business so pew pews and ammo should never be a concern. Oh, and don’t bother going to different ones to get different stuff – they all sell the same thing. Suck on that double-edged sword, Rockstar.
- And then there’s the money. The bank. The dough. The coin. The dead Presidents. The loot. The moola. The hindrance of many open-world RPGs in their opening levels – but not so for Watch_Dogs. Simply walk down the first street you come to, have Aiden take his smartphone out and just spam-hack to your hearts content at the expense of every poor Sunday school teacher, multiple-divorce victim, and cancer patient that you can lay your eyes on. Within the hour you’ll be cruising around in Lamborghini’s, dressing in the latest winter-woodland-camo trench coats, and packing so much heat that you’ll be laughing… whether it’s at the game or with it, I haven’t quite decided yet.
Digital Trips? I don’t even.
Paying credit to the games’ storyline, it’s actually quite refreshing to play a story where the catalyst to the underlying vengeance isn’t the death of the main protagonist’s wife or child, instead this time a niece. Fresh, I like it.
The games’ AI is pretty sound in my opinion too, well that of the NPC’s you actually care about anyway. Civilians are beyond all hope, diving into your path when you’re busy doing 80 down the sidewalk – though if you’re decent enough to bib the horn they’ll be just fine (like I can be bothered).
Cops and criminals on the other hand are a pain in my arse, hallelujah. A game with Objective NPCs that actually test me. Criminals in Watch_Dogs will try your tactics and then some in a firefight (I recommend a Tommy Gun, an M8-M revolver, and plenty of meds and focus pills), and Cops, christ. Here’s a tip, if you ever get in trouble with the 5-0, get out of your Mitsubishi Evo (arguably the best car in the game, and my RL favourite anyway) and run like the wind. The Chicago P.D. spent the last 5 1/2 years of the games development taking Driver-ZED classes, so are definitely not a road force to be reckoned with.
If you do find yourself in a high-speed police chase then try and find your way through some trees and then straight into an empty grave. Mega Lols when the police instantly lose sight of you.
Despite how underwhelmed I’ve been so far with Watch_Dogs, I’m actually starting to accept the fact that it’s not quite the game I dreamed it’d be, but instead a Grand Theft Auto/Assassin’s Creed medley, fronted by a really confused 21st Century Bruce Wayne with a smartphone that deserves a name like other legendary weapons such as Mjölnir or Frostmourne (it truly does have an app for everything) – all wrapped up in an IP that doesn’t require cheats for me to wreak some real havoc with it.