Since its stunning debut at E3 2012, Watch Dogs has been one of the most anticipated games for the next-gen consoles. An achingly pretty example of what the new consoles could create, the trailer depicted a fully realised Chicago with rain, steam and lighting all recreated in gorgeous, crisp detail. Gameplay also looked amazing, with an all powerful protangist exploiting the technology that was supposed to make people more secure - Watch Dogs was next-gen in looks as well as content. Fast forward two years and Ubisoft's baby has finally been released - but does it live up to its huge hype?
The most noticeable difference between the trailer that blew everyone away and the retail version is the presentation. By no means an ugly game, the PS4 version of Watch Dogs is pristine looking - but lacks the outrageous effects of the trailer. Weather effects and lighting are a match for any next-gen game - but lack the breathtaking nature that so many were expecting. There are also a few odd quirks: for example, every reflection in a window appears to show a road junction - even if there isn't one nearby.
One of the other main draws for Watch Dogs was the hacking, open-world based play it seemed to show. In a short trailer the hacking and free roaming looked innovative and refreshing - but how does it stack up in normal play? For the first 45 minutes of gameplay, the learning curve is insanely steep, with suggestions and tutorials popping up on screen at a terrifying rate. At first, hacking is a time consuming process you're forced to learn - taking away from the sandbox nature of the game. This makes play somewhat tiresome to begin with, especially if you prefer your games less intensive. However, once muscle memory creeps in and you progress through the slightly weak story, you'll find the controls to be somewhat less counter-intuitive. After the first hour or so, the missions crank up the difficulty and that's when the hacking comes into its own. Manipulating the traffic lights so pursuers are T-Boned by traffic or distracting guards with a smartphone becomes second nature - and thoroughly entertaining. Hacking ability can be upgraded via a Skill Tree and after a run of challenging missions, you'll soon find yourself tailoring upgrades for your style of play. Despite not being the main tool at your character's disposal, fire fights are handled well too. Aiming is smooth and a slick weapon wheel makes selecting weapons quick and easy - if you remember which button brings the weapon wheel up. Where Watch Dogs does fall short is in the driving. Car handling is light and inconsistent, with even engine noise sounding distinctly unfulfilling. Racing simulation physics wouldn't have been needed but the poor, disconnected feel of the driving certainly falls noticeably short. When the rest of the game is similar to GTA, it's a shame one aspect of it is so far behind.
Once you get used to all gameplay and the disappointing driving, Watch Dogs will soon feel like a familiar mix between GTA and Assassins Creed - no bad thing. As for the story? You control Aiden Pearce, a semi-faceless hacker who has a personal grudge on someone else who killed a member of their family. After a glitchy flashback kicks things off, the plot opens up to a winding tale of faceless hackers who aren't what they seem, forgettable characters and a twist which you were always expecting. Much like both games, you're free to take on side missions between the main story. Side missions vary from simple point to point races to surreal Digital Trips where you can find yourself battling with robots or even controlling a giant robot spider. Ubisoft also deploys some of the best things about the Assassins Creed: there is a real sense that the game's Chicago is a living, breathing city with functioning citizens - something the AC series has always nailed.
One of the first true next-gen games, Watch Dogs sets itself a huge task and for the most part succeeds. More than just GTA with a smartphone, Watch Dogs introduces new play mechanics and leans on them enough to stop them being a gimmick. However, a weak story combined with below par driving and difficult controls make Watch Dogs fall short of the mesmerising experience it could have been. If Ubisoft can iron out those blips in a sequel, the next Watch Dogs will be one of the most accomplished games in the next generation of gaming.Suggest a correction