Watch_Dogs Review: Deus Ex Smartphonia

👤by Tim Harmer Comments 📅27-05-14

If there was one word that could some up Watch_Dogs it would be this: Ambitious. In creating one of the first titles intended to be deemed next generation Ubisoft Montreal had to be seen to cram in as many ideas as they could whilst still coming up with a coherent and engaging product. To a certain extent they have, but in many respects the game is stretched very thin indeed.

The drop-in online multiplayer is perhaps one of the most striking successes, mainly because it is so seamless with the rest of the game content. It's also not a design which 'builds community' or forces a progression treadmill on players, going against prevailing wisdom to the detriment of a long-term investment. Unfortunately it is often undermined by its seamless nature making them appear thematically like in-game tasks means they mechanically resemble the weak single player missions.

Very much in the plus side is that the same looks very much like a next-generation title so long as you have the hardware. The Disrupt engine is extremely promising technologically and even in its debut outing blows many competitors away with weather and lighting effects that could be oh so atmospheric elsewhere. Here is it window-dressing very pretty, but with potential to mask failings behind a glossy veneer.

And so it's disappointing to see that so much of the game is utterly superficial. Open world single player games are supposed to let you make your mark on that world but swathes of content in Watch_Dogs have all the impact of footprints on a beach as the tide comes in, wholly reflected in an apparently meaningless reputation system. There's hour upon hour of content to complete but very little of it leaves you satisfied; still worse, none stoke an appetite for more.

A hollow world goes hand in hand with the inferior quality of the port. Performance is fine as we stated a consistent 35-40fps with a modest NVIDIA-powered system is achievable on great looking High settings but PC optimisations for control method and UI are poorly thought out. Couple that with the single profile preventing you from running more than one playthrough at once and you kind of get the picture of a game built on restricting the player rather than letting them play their way, a supposed hallmark of an open world.

Core gameplay is fine but not exceptional. Once again the cover mechanic gets in the way rather than greatly improving upon the experience, but Watch_Dogs is hardly unique in this regard and we've suffered through worse. Hacking disappoints though because it's so superfluous a mechanic in the main, only really coming into its own during the car chases and selected skirmishes with hostile forces. It should make you feel smarter than the foolish NPCs relying on their silly high-tech equipment, instead you lament how formulaic camera-hopping has become after your second incursion into a ctOS hub.

So the question largely comes down to if the game can succeed on the single player storyline alone, to which we would respond a qualified 'Yes'. Although it had the potential to be a deep discussion of the impact a pervasive surveillance state and technological integration has on society, we're instead treated to a relatively run-of-the-mill thriller with cardboard cut-out characters and mere hints of shadowy organisations. It doesn't raise the questions of the reach of technology as in Deus Ex, nor confound like Bioshock, nor lead you on a character-driven journey as in Tomb Raider; in this respect it is at best underwhelming. Nonetheless it is enough to maintain interest in a pulpy sort of way.

Despite promising much in its E3 reveal Watch_Dogs descends into the mundane far too quickly thanks to repetitious content and a problematic control scheme. With a simplistic hacking mechanic best thought of as 'Deus Ex Smartphone', hints at something grander have been ground down into a near standard third person shooter. The single player story will be enough to keep many interested, and the visuals are often arresting, but the game has to go down as a missed opportunity.


+ Looks great, even below the recommended
+ Interesting storyline
+ Engaging characters
+ Innovative use of flexible multiplayer system
+ Well voice acted
+ Low barrier to entry with regards to player skill


- Disappoints those looking for a deeper hacking system
- Average/poor default keyboard/mouse controls inc mouse acceleration
- Chicago isn't quite as alive as you might expect
- Small range of mission types
- Often results in an exercise in camera-hopping

Click here for an explanation of our awards at Our thanks go to NVIDIA for supplying our review copy.

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