Like many open world games, Watch Dogs is a wonderful open world matched with a miserable game. The GTA games get around their poor gameplay and annoying mission structures by filling them up with edgy outsized characters and social commentary.
Watch Dogs tries feebly for the social commentary angle, but their ruminations on privacy and technology don’t distract from the Instafail missions, the annoying placement of saves and cutscenes, the too complicated control setup and the poor shooting.
And everything else.
As an open world, Watch Dogs has a Chicago that looks terrible in the daylight, but amazing at night. The overlays give every little NPC a story and make the world come alive in a way that GTA and Saints Row never managed to do. Most of the functions are just pickpocketting and eavesdropping with a cell phone, but picking up missions by eavesdropping on phone calls makes for a dynamic world and mission structure.
It’s too bad that the missions themselves are so miserable.
Watch Dogs is Assassin’s Creed with less cyberspace and even more awkward controls. The controls are too complicated when they don’t need to be burying the game under layer and layer of strange screens and too simple when they don’t need to be so that when you’re trying to stay in cover, your one press of a key instead alerts every bad guy in the area.
The missions are all about stealth, without the controls to make stealth workable. You have dozens of weapons, but it takes a few shots to kill you.
And that’s just the random missions.
Watch Dogs’ campaign tasks you with an annoying protagonist impossible to care about, who never develops a personality and never shuts up. And he has sidekicks who make you appreciate his lack of personality especially since they keep calling until you take their mission.
If you thought GTA 4’s social networking was annoying, try listening to the same Jordy Chin phone call a dozen times.
Watch Dogs builds a complicated and interesting open world and then jams you into a dumbed down game making the same mistake that Rockstar keeps making with the GTA games. But Watch Dogs doesn’t have enough color to compensate or enough style the way that its Assassins’ Creed games do. Once you get past the open world, there’s no reason to keep playing.
Watch Dogs is Assassin’s Creed with the amazing open world, but without any of the fun combat or platforming. Instead you’re stuck with another character who can die if he steps the wrong way outside a mission zone, but who doesn’t even offer the fun of cutting through a mob of enemies with a cutlass.
That’s what makes Watch Dogs so joyless. Its characters are bland, its combat is poor and its controls are worse. It’s a great open world that lets you go from urban to rural in a short drive, that lets you encounter a hundred different people with their own stories in a single block, but that plays like an arcade game without any of the fun.
It’s fun to occasionally raise a bridge during a chase letting you fly overhead or raise the bollards shutting down your pursuers, but more often it feels like trying to play a piano while someone is throwing bricks at your head. Stopping criminal convoys also sounds like fun, until your mission requirements tell you that your job is to knock down one driver while surviving attacks by his dozen cronies in a body that can take about three gunshots. Kill him accidentally and you also die.
It’s fun to hack a grenade that your enemy is carrying, but you’re as likely to end up inside a camera while he kills you. It’s fun to zoom through the cameras, but then you’re stuck with hacking a pipe puzzle.
The only way to have fun in Watch Dogs is to avoid its mission structures and Ubisoft’s design makes that as hard as it can to do assaulting you with phone calls and pop ups until you give in and muddle your way through another miserable mission.
And then you wonder why you’re playing Watch Dogs at all.