Critical Consensus: Watch Dogs is fun, but is it the future?

Reviews oscillate between good and great as Ubisoft's eagerly awaited new IP finally arrives

This year's E3 will mark the second anniversary of the moment that Ubisoft unleashed its vision of next generation console gaming upon the world. The crowd, hungry for even the tiniest glimpse of something resembling the future, was enraptured. Watch Dogs stole the show with ease, but even that brimming stock of goodwill couldn't survive that interminable wait, the cascade of trailers and screenshots. At one point, Watch Dogs had the momentum of a bullet-train but, over time, uncertainty crept rudely into view; doubts, and quite reasonable ones, over Ubisoft Montreal's ability to make good on those audacious promises.

"At this point in life you've probably already determined whether or not you like this sort of game"

Giant Bomb

For Giant Bomb, those doubts are justified by the final product, which delivers in a host of familiar areas while falling agonisingly short in the one on which the promise of the game was sold. In a three-star review, Jeff Gerstmann laments that Watch Dogs not only fails to deliver the future, it also resonates unmistakably with the past.

"I'm reminded of the time when developers were ardently chasing after that Grand Theft Auto gold, resulting in a menagerie of takes on the GTA formula, each with their own little hook. Some worked out really well, others floundered and vanished."

The genre in which Watch Dogs most comfortably fits - the "mission-based open-world game" as Gerstmann describes it - has done little to stretch the template laid out by Rockstar all those years ago, and Ubisoft Montreal has fallen into the same "routine" as so many other developers. "The mission design is really standard for this sort of game - you'll hunt people down and shoot them, you'll get away from the cops, and the missions where you're asked to tail someone discreetly continue to suck.


"I don't necessarily view all this as a bad thing, but at this point in life you've probably already determined whether or not you like this sort of game... The things designed to set Watch Dogs apart, though, don't make that big of an impact."

Specifically, Giant Bomb takes issue with the implementation of Watch Dogs' hacking mechanic, which translates a single, contextual button-press into a plethora of different outcomes. "It's a one-size-fits-all approach to hacking," Gerstmann says.

However, while most critics do highlight Ubisoft Montreal's decision to streamline the hacking, not everyone regards it as such a problematic design choice. Much like Assassin's Creed's hold-down-the-button approach to parkour, certain gamers just feel uncomfortable when their fingers aren't give a constant workout. For Joystiq, though, it's a smart and perhaps necessary sacrifice that ultimately benefits the experience. Watch Dogs is not a game about "the act of hacking," after all, but a game about pervasive technology and how it controls and alters people's lives - only in a shallow action-movie kind of way, but it's there nonetheless.

"A wealth of variety that should stop almost anybody being bored"

The Escapist

Aiden, Watch Dogs' protagonist, can, "steal money, peek into someone's home through a laptop camera, read private exchanges, and see who's an activist, an adulterer, a karaoke enthusiast, or a fraudulent psychic. The world is obsessively detailed, expanding deep into Chicago's suburbs and beneath its daunting skyline, but the people and their secrets bring it to life.

"The temptation to peek exists without formal judgement, and there are no good or evil points to earn in your approach... The game is happy to let you spy, stalk, or brutally intervene when criminal activity appears in a dank alley. Putting the phone away means losing access to all the tantalising information floating around you, and eventually it becomes routine to take a break, stroll through the vivid rain and do some hardcore people watching. You start plucking online profiles out of the air because you can, because you have access. It's a contemporary fear you can explore here, albeit superficially, without being policed."

Joystiq awards Watch Dogs four-stars, which is a commendable score for a new IP. But The Escapist goes one better, handing out an extra half-star for the sheer density of informtaion and detail packed into its open-world. Aidan's ability to plunge into the personal lives of those around him makes Ubisoft's Chicago feel, "populated, thriving, buzzing with life. There's an ambiance to it, a sense of belonging to the world that no other city-based game has managed to capture as well."


The Escapist also salutes the generosity evident in Watch Dogs' "near overwhelming" amount of content, which range from relatively traditional side-missions to idiosyncratic little flourishes and hidden cutscenes. "Impressively, Watch Dogs is filled with optional gameplay that a player could miss entirely, leading to a wealth of variety that should stop almost anybody being bored."

And yet, as Giant Bomb's tepid response suggested, it is perfectly possible to grow weary of what Watch Dogs is offering. Eurogamer skews slightly higher with a respectable 7 out of 10, but its appraisal is quick to highlight the similarities between Ubisoft's first crack at new IP for the new consoles, and the numerous other IP that have populated its release schedule over the last generation.

"It's reliably good yet rarely great; entertaining without being inspired"


"The way Aiden jogs and clambers as he navigates back alleys and rooftops, with you holding down the shoulder button to seamlessly vault and climb, is reminiscent of Assassin's Creed, for example - though without that game's nimble verticality and vertiginous parkour.

"You won't be scaling any sheer walls or taking flying leaps here, but you will be barging through crowds and working your way around CtOS [Chicago's ubiquitous operating system] towers, each of which unlocks more map icons and side missions. That's much the same as the lookout towers from Assassin's Creed but also identical in function to the enemy outposts of Far Cry 3. Call it Ubisoft's house style, if you like, but it leaves Watch Dogs feeling more like a greatest hits compilation than a distinct title.

"So many of Watch Dogs' ideas have been proven in other games, so it makes sense to use them again, but it does mean that the game never really nails its own identity. It's reliably good yet rarely great; entertaining without being inspired."

Latest comments (10)

Ron Dippold Software/Firmware Engineer 3 years ago
It's the 'future' because having invested this much Ubisoft will now be churning out yearly installments.

Can they find anything interesting to do with it? Well, remember the leap between Assassin's Creed 1 and 2. They've got their base now, maybe they can find something more interesting than Too Serious GTA with Magic.
0Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Julian Beck HR Consultant 3 years ago
I also remember the big gameplay progress from AC 1 to 2, I hope they can achieve that with a successor to Watch Dogs. I might buy that first one for like 20 Dollars at a digital seller for PC but not more.
0Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Jeff Kleist Writer, Marketing, Licensing 3 years ago
As others have mentioned' the game suffers from the same "tech demo" issues as Assassin's Creed and other franchises. Everyone forgets the bad PS2 ports, and the only reason we weren't awash in remakes is that wasn't a thing yet. There's a reason why The Crew and The Division are pushed back, because this new interactivity is harder than people think. Watch Dogs 2 should be great, as long as they give the decks time to breathe
0Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Show all comments (10)
Klaus Preisinger Freelance Writing 3 years ago
Is the one button instant hacking an observant read on the intentions of the player by the game? Or is the the UI a cleverly designed, highly suggestive delivery system, which is making a few pre-implemented choices by level designers appear as if they were infinite choices from the mind of the player?

Certainly, games are almost always an illusion when it comes to player choice, hence the Stanley Parable. If you know where to look for the confines of the unlimited freedom promised, every open world game will fall flat on its face. Doesn't mean there aren't enough blind people around still believing in pop-up button prompts having been their idea all along. Inception says hi.
0Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Ryan Locke Lecturer in Media Design, University of Abertay Dundee3 years ago
Remember the first Assassins Creed?

There are some loose parallels which can be drawn here - a much hyped new IP that promised the world! It didn't quite deliver but it was good enough, the sequels it spawned regardless of mixed reception allowed room to improve the formula and appease fans one hit after another.
1Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Adam Campbell Game Production Manager, Azoomee3 years ago
I personally expected paralells between this and Far Cry 2 (which was effectively a new IP with an old name). Huge ambitions but bound to fall short in certain key areas. Like Far Cry 3, we could be looking at greatness.

Just going by my existing expectations though, I have only had a chance to look at reviews and haven't played it just yet. There tends to be an interesting pattern with Ubi's big new titles.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Adam Campbell on 28th May 2014 1:38pm

0Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
I go into the Assassin's Creed comparison in my Eurogamer review. I think the big difference is that while the first AC was an interesting tech demo with thin gameplay, Watch Dogs lacks that unique hook that a sequel could build on. Assassin's Creed had a setting and a gameplay mechanic that warranted a deeper, richer game. The hacking in Watch Dogs would need to be completely rebuilt and reintegrated into the world in a more interesting way for it to justify another game, in my opinion. If they can do that - essentially create an openworld Deus Ex - then it would definitely be pretty amazing. That's less of an iteration and more of a reboot, however, and I don't know if Ubisoft would go for that.
0Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Rick Lopez Illustrator, Graphic Designer 3 years ago
Honestly Im ok if this was 1 game. I bought it and Im not exactly crazy about. The gameplay itself doesnt really grab me. You cant escape the cops unless you use hacks, making stealth almost a none essential thing if you get caught. When driving you cant do anything else, no shooting while driving, and you cant really escape the cops. Automatic fail missions if you get caught. Dont get me wrong it is a great game. I bought it. But i had between this and Mario kart 8 to choose from. I wish i would have chosen Mario Kart.

I dont mind the 1 button hacks. After all it is the main gameplay mechanic. It just doesnt seem realistic to me to have an OS that has everything in the city connected, to be easily hacked from a phone.

I did like that your a vigilante, and you the game disuades you from killing Cops. I just hate that when they chase you, even if they dont see you, they still follow you were ever you go. And the clunky character movement doesnt help. However the cover mechanics a well done. You can move from one cover to another with just pushing the x button. This allows you to focus more on enemy positions. And you still have the free movement with the analog stick the whole time. So that was nice.

A spin off can be made. It can be set in Chicago but using different characters and story. they can make an awsome beat em up or crime investigation game using assets from Watchdogs. No need to recreate all of the enviroment, props and set pieces.

In fact they already have a model for chicago, they can make New york and then maybe New Jersey or San francisco, then make a new game using multiple cities.

I dont find it prudent to recreate everything from scratch when making these games, likewise, I dont think they necessarilly have to be tied to sequels. In fact im ok if the next watch dogs games has the hacking completely ommitted. In favor for differant play mechanics, and the hacking can be done by a support character which you instruct to help you out. Like all those cars in the game dont need to be recreated. If there are 64 cars in the game, another game set in a realistic world could have those same ones plus maybe a few more. Physics can be fine tuned and the specs for each car revised and maybe some details added or even include mod kits. They can even add areas. As with many of these sandbox games, most buildings have closed doors you cant open. So more places can be added, existing ones can be tweaked.

Anyway, hope what I said makes sense.

Edited 2 times. Last edit by Rick Lopez on 28th May 2014 7:57pm

0Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Pete Thompson Editor 3 years ago
Really enjoying Watch_Dogs at the moment, It is quite different from what I'd expected from all the trailers and PR hype, but it does mix campaign and online really well and there's plenty to keep players occupied..

Hacking is really easy, and it was obviously designed in a way so that you can quickly hack traffic lights, gates, barriers and bridges etc as you race through the city, putting in the same or similar hacking system to that as used in Deus Ex would cause problems as it would be far too long winded and complicated to use whilst driving around Chicago in Watch_Dogs, the only option I could see would be to have a simple one button press for traffic lights, bollards & bridges etc, and then use a harder / Deus-Ex style UI for hacking everything else..

A sequel would be easy, as there's plenty of other countries, cities and timelines to use for a backstory / backdrop and almost every other prequel or sequel in gaming has done just this, many with great success, why should Watch_Dogs be any different?

Oh, and I'd have never have said that Assassins Creed had thin gameplay, and it was certainly one of the more memorable and enjoyable games I've played to completion (1000GS / 1000GS.) :-)

I'll go have a read of your review Dan..
0Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Greg Wilcox Creator, Destroy All Fanboys! 3 years ago
Hmmm. You'd figure they'd build on what was established in the AC games and improve up, not work from the bottom (or a few steps up) of the ladder all over again. OK, I'm no game designer, but I'd at least have made some of the simpler elements more complex as an option for gamers who wanted to learn that hacking and not just one button their way to a resolution.

That said, I'll buy this for that obsessive level of detail noted above and because I do love open world experiences of all types (and hope there's a follow up set in New York City proper, not some made up version that's close but no cigar (like GTA IV, which I had a blast with... mostly).
0Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply

Sign in to contribute

Need an account? Register now.