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Watch Dogs review: Meet the new open world game, same as the old open world game (but with hacking)

Hayden Dingman | May 28, 2014
Watch Dogs is beautiful, but it doesn't do anything to change up the same core game we've seen since Grand Theft Auto III. This game is "next-gen" in the looks department only.

Watch Dogs (PC)

I'm speeding through the streets of Chicago, coat billowing behind me in the wind, hat magically glued to my head even at these speeds. There are two police SUVs in pursuit that keep obnoxiously ramming into me whenever they get a chance.

Have you ever seen the classic (and I use that term lightly) 1995 film Hackers? Good. In that case, you won't be surprised when I say my next move is to hack the steam pipes below the streets of Chicago, causing the asphalt to explode and putting the two police cruisers out of commission.

And like that, I'm scot free. Aiden Pearce, the hero of Watch Dogs, is so gifted with computer code I literally use it like magic.

The promise, executed
I remember watching Ubisoft unveil Watch Dogs at E3 nearly two years ago now. It seems like so long ago--this promise of an incredible, next-gen open world experience, and one in which you could directly manipulate much of the environment by "hacking," no less.

After a lengthy wait and a subsequent delay, it's finally here. The shoes of Aiden Pearce, hacker-at-large and all-around vigilante, are ready to be filled. Unfortunately, the end result doesn't feel quite as groundbreaking as the years worth of previews would have us believe.

Prior to the delay, Watch Dogs was supposed to be most people's first real next-gen game. Ignore that it's coming to the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3--Watch Dogs looked next-gen, and it still does. Find a dark, rainy night in Chicago on your super-powerful PC and just watch the lights reflect off the wet pavement. Does it look as good as target videos, et cetera et cetera? I'll admit, I don't really care. It looks good, and that's all that matters.

But as we enter into our third console generation with these massive open-world games, I think it's finally time to ask what we expect out of this genre. Watch Dogs looks pretty. Its lights reflect convincingly, and we've about reached the feasible limit of "recreating cities in 3D environments" without drastically changing up how developers create games.

Distill Watch Dogs down to its core concepts, however, and you've got Grand Theft Auto III. Again.

And no, I don't mean that insofar as you're playing through the tale of a criminal rising through the ranks of the underground. Aiden Pearce is--despite some questionable methods--an extremely righteous fellow. Too much so, if truth be told. (More on that later.)

The feedback loop on Watch Dogs is the same thing we've played for over a decade now, though: drive to a location, start mission, drive somewhere new, (probably) kill someone or just drop something off, drive away (sometimes with the police in pursuit). Every single mission, forever and ever.

 

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