WATCH_DOGS (Wii U) Review
It’s been a long time coming for Wii U owners but it appears that Ubisoft finally have managed to get their stuff together and release Watch Dogs for the Wii U. Originally promised to be a healthy middle ground (of sorts) between the older console versions and the newer console version, it’s unfortunate to report that Ubisoft’s promises have largely fallen flat. Wii U owners beware – Watch Dogs on the Wii U is almost entirely identical to the other versions of the game available but at almost double the price and missing some key content too. That’s not to say the game is entirely a disaster, however.
Watch Dogs tells the story of Aiden Pearce, a mercenary of sorts living in the futuristic, somewhat dystopian world of Chicago. Chicago is now run by ctOS, a system designed by Blume Securities to help control and govern almost all aspects of the city. Aiden himself is a hacker, who has somehow managed to find a backdoor into ctOS and control everything that it controls. When a mission goes wrong early in the game, Aiden loses his niece as a result. Seeking to avenge her, he finds himself embroiled in a plot between Blume and hacker activist group DEDSEC and the convoluted web of lies and deceit that they both weave. It’s a fairly uninteresting story laden with unsatisfying and uninteresting tropes – one which many players will foresee the outcome of before the credits roll.
Easily the most ambitious thing about Watch Dogs when it was first announced was the way it would play, but unfortunately the game is still rather similar to other Ubisoft titles and does little to carve out it’s own identity amongst its contemporaries. Players are dropped into an open world, can complete main missions to progress the story or partake in smaller side quests. It’s a very familiar formula, especially in today’s modern games, but Watch Dogs attempts to differentiate itself by providing players with extra abilities on top of the usual.
As you’d expect, having access to ctOS has it’s benefits in the world of Watch Dogs. Devices and data that are controlled or regulated by the system can be infiltrated by Aiden’s handy PDA. Just by looking at anyone in the world, Aiden can pull up their personal data as well as a short sentence describing one of their secrets. When I played the game back in May, I thought it was a clever and yet simple way to make the game feel much more alive – and it still does today.
Of course, there’s more to it that makes it much more exciting. Hacking can be used to wreak havoc throughout Chicago. Bollards, ramps and even steam pipes underground can all be hacked to damage pursuing vehicles or even help you vanish into side streets. Similarly, during missions that incorporate stealth mechanics, other items like steam valves and transformer boards can be utilised to create distractions or even take down enemies without implicating Aiden at all. For those who want to take a more passive approach, cameras can be hacked to scout out an area too. There’s admittedly quite a lot of variety in the way ctOS is used in the game but ultimately, upon reflection, it does little to change up the typical Ubisoft formula.
When Ubisoft first delayed the game for all platforms, they claimed it was to make sure the game was still an enjoyable and varied experience. Unfortunately, I’m not convinced this was entirely successful. While Watch Dogs is filled to the brim with heaps of content to do – many of them boil down to stealing a car, driving it to a specific location or both. If the objectives were a little bit more varied or a bit more interesting to play, I’d be willing to say that Watch Dogs wasn’t a bloated game. But it is.
When you’re not playing the main missions or side missions, you’ll be playing the multiplayer games which do a good job at integrating themselves into the main game. There’s your typical deathmatch modes where you can race against other players or attempt to survive as long as possible while holding a key item. The more interesting ones, however, are the tailing and hacking modes. Once turned on, players can “invade” your game to either tail a player without being seen or hack them before they’re found. They’re a great little diversion that emphasise the idea of “social stealth” that Ubisoft have been pushing so much lately. It’s seamlessly integrated, it’s tense and most importantly it’s fun. Unfortunately, due to the low Wii U user install base, it can be hard to find people to play with however.
What’s especially disappointing about Watch Dogs on the Wii U is how lacklustre the overall package is. Sure, the game will last most players fifteen hours, but it’s by no means a concession for such a long wait for the game to appear on the console. GamePad support is lacklustre and absolutely run of the mill – which seems strange given Ubisoft pushed this version back to ensure such a thing wouldn’t happen. Similarly, this version is being sold at almost double the price of other versions at the time of writing and has none of the substantial downloadable content either. It just seems like a package designed to serve a regretted obligation, which is disappointing.
Similarly, the game is rather disappointing in terms of presentation too. Chicago is believable and feels rather alive as a city, or at least as alive as a dystopian future version of it would be. The game definitely looks it’s best at sunset or night time, however, as most of the colours don’t appear washed out in these low light situations. The Wii U port, unfortunately, appears to be poorly optimised. Jumping into a car and speeding through the streets of Chicago feels like you’re literally driving too fast for the console to keep up as the framerate sometimes, if not always comes to a distracting crawl. It wouldn’t be a problem if the game didn’t place such an emphasis on vehicles in missions, but unfortunately, it does.
On the other hand, the voice work is okay, but the characters themselves aren’t exactly the best so there’s definitely a dichotomy. The soundtrack on the other hand, is pretty fantastic. A collection of loud buzzing and bold synths, the soundtrack is very reminiscent of Mass Effect with light tinges of Blade Runner. Given the technological themes surrounding the game, it feels like a perfect fit for the game.
Watch Dogs is ultimately a game that is riddled with the DNA of it’s developers pedigree. While it makes attempts to change up it’s design with the implementation of hacking and a futuristic, almost dystopian setting; it ultimately falls flat in providing a solid and engaging experience from start to finish. There’s the blueprints for a great franchise here but there’s a lot of honing and focusing that needs to be done. The Wii U version, in particular, is a disappointment. After a seven month wait, Wii U owners are expected to enjoy a poorly optimised, over-priced version of a game available in better prospects elsewhere? Come on, Ubisoft.
Rating: 3 / 5