Lately, I’ve decided that I don’t want to know anything about the AAA titles before they are released so I can be surprised. Going into Watchdogs, I knew nothing (other than it had some hacker theme). Well, I’m somewhat disappointed in this title. Let’s explore.
Grand Theft Auto
I don’t mind playing Grand Theft Auto clone games, but games that don’t expand that idea enough beyond jacking cars really don’t do it for me. That, and I’d only recently finished playing Grand Theft Auto 5. Yes, I know, I play games slowly and in steps. Just prior to that, I had finished Saint’s Row the Third, also another GTA derivative.
It’s not that I have a problem with game developers taking some ideas from games and using them in new creative ways. But, when you just abscond with the entire control system and gameplay mechanics nearly unchanged, that’s when it treads far too near plagiarism. Though, adding the ‘hacking’ gimmick to divert your attention away from Ubisoft’s blatantly ripping a page straight from Rockstar’s GTA book doesn’t mean I’m okay with that. In fact, I’m definitely not okay with this. We already had the original GTA and Saint’s Row, do we really need another GTA? It’s a cool game structure and all, as long as it’s under the Grand Theft Auto name. I forgave Saint’s Row only because of it’s satirical nature. Anyone who can add irony and satire to a derivative game franchise will always make me want to play it.
But, that’s no where to be found in Watchdogs. Watchdogs is as serious as serious games come. It makes no attempt at hiding the fact that it’s a GTA clone, but it doesn’t make fun of that fact either. It’s just a straightforward ripoff with no apologies.
Road Layout and Car Handling
If you’re going to spend time writing a GTA clone, then make the road maps accommodate driving a car. More specifically, driving a car fast. The one thing that really irks me about Watchdogs is the crappy road layout of the city. Seriously, if Rockstar got anything right with GTA5, it was the roads and how they work in relation to vehicles. With the exception of the Vinewood Hills area in GTA5, the rest of the roads had easy and realistic curves that work quite well with high speed driving.
Unfortunately, the maps are an extremely sore point in Watchdogs. You simply can’t do high speed driving in Watchdogs. Nearly every city road runs into literally an L turn. And I’m not talking about a curve like (. No, I’m talking about an L. If you’re doing high speed to avoid the cops, the road abrubtly L turns and you’re crashing into a barrier or coming to a crawl to make the turn. Bad bad design. It’s clear, Ubisoft’s level designers put no thought into the road design. You can drive maybe 2 blocks before encountering yet another L turn. The subdivisions are just not conducive to high speed driving. Sure, I expect some L turns on some roads. And even then, they were occasionally in GTA5. But, they were the exception, not the rule. In Watchdogs, the roads are nearly L turns at every dead end.
Another thing Rockstar finally got right was the driving feel of the vehicles. Not so much in Watchdogs. The cars careen all over the road in unrealistic ways. In fact, the handling is so bad, it feels like a game from the 90s or maybe GTA 1 or 2. It doesn’t matter what car you jack, they all drive like crap. Ubisoft just didn’t get the driving or the roads right at all.
Just like GTA, if you go vigilante on the public, the wanted level goes up and the cops come after you… right down the Helicopter chasing you with a search light. It’s just a complete and utter rip off of GTA. Though, instead of the wanted stars, you get this flashing line bar. Effectively the same, though. And, like GTA, as long as you can outrun the cops or are good at hiding, you can eventually evade the cops. I even evaded the cops by jumping in a waterway and swimming away even when a helicopter was after me. This is something that would never have happened in any GTA game. The helicopters would have simply sent you to the hospital. Of which there is…
When your player character dies in the game, the game reloads back to the same point where your character died. So, for example, if your character happened to die in the middle of the freeway, that’s where the game places you after loading. No money lost, no trips to the hospital. I’m mixed on this, though. On the one hand, I like that I don’t lose my place where I was. On the other, placing my character in the middle of a busy freeway on foot is not really ideal.
Though, losing your place is one of the bigger problems I had with GTA5. If you happened to be in a part of the city where you’re not sure the exact location or weren’t paying attention to the map when your player character dies, you’re transported to the nearest hospital which might be a very long way from where you formerly were. So, on the one hand, I like that your character spawns where it died. At the same time, it’s not always practical to spawn in some of these locations. Overall, I’d say this is a miss by Ubisoft.
Yes, Ubisoft did add the ‘phone hacking’ feature to Watchdogs as its primary gimmick. Note that hacking was actually a big part of Saint’s Row the Third, but offered up in a different way. The mechanics involving the cell phone hacking here is actually done very well. But, it doesn’t add so much to the game that you feel it’s a primary reason to play this game. The hacking is really to be thought of as another weapon that can help or hurt you as you progress through the game. Because the game is way overshadowed by the GTA5 feel, the hacking piece feels like an add-on that could have just as easily been added to GTA.
I would have preferred them rip off Assassin’s Creed’s climbing and or the quest system over GTA5. Give me the ability to climb the buildings over jacking cars, popping caps and joyriding.
Though, I will give credit to the camera hacking system. In fact, the entire game could have revolved around camera hacking. As long as you can ‘see’ another camera in the camera you’re viewing, you can hack into it. With this idea, you could string along camera hacking and ‘travel’ throughout the entire city without leaving the street corner. In fact, with this idea, it could have had other abilities like exploding street lights or hacking other devices that you might even be able to thwart crime simply by using the phone. While this infinite camera hacking idea wasn’t explored, it has a great potential at making a big part of a game. This is the one idea in this game that was left way underutilized but had immense potential. In fact, the camera hacking could have been a game unto itself.
Having just completed GTA5 and SR3, I’m still in my ‘I don’t really want to play another one of these games’ modes. I’ll snap out of it in a year or so, but for now it’s not really something I long to play at this point. GTA5 also had a whole lot going for it with the ability to mod vehicles and store them in garages and also supported switching between multiple player characters. While I don’t know if modding cars or storing cars is yet possible in Watchdogs, I’m not really planning on playing this game for a while to find out. I’m just a little burnt out on this style of gaming, but I’ll pick it back up eventually.
Because the roads are also not conducive to street racing, the game really made a huge blunder here. If the roads had been designed with more subtle curves to allow for high speed racing, chasing and escaping from cops, Watchdogs would have been a whole lot more fun with the cars. As the city roads are designed, it’s a chore to drive around the city. If you’re planning to rip off GTA (which is effectively a car-centric game wrapped in story), then you need to design the in-game roads to accommodate racing the cars. Right now, Watchdogs just doesn’t work well enough for that.
Recommendation: Rent or Buy
Car Racing: 2/10
Overall: 7/10 (needs improvement)
Comment: Derives far too much if its play from GTA5. Road design is crappy and doesn’t work properly for racing.