The lights are on
I wanted to like this game, I really did. But I just can't do it. Absolutely nothing about the game goes beyond mediocrity, but some things really bring it down. My main gripe: Hacking. What about that tagline, "hacking is your weapon"? What the hell happened to that? Despite the pre-release emphasis on the protagonist being a hacker, it never shows in any meaningful way, gameplay-wise. It's a minor piece of innovation in what is otherwise a by-the-numbers third person sandbox game.
The visuals range from slightly better than mediocre to pretty damn bad. The cover mechanism is sticky and the on foot movement controls are soft and imprecise enough to adversely effect the game's many stealth portions. Also, the shooting mechanics are mediocre at best (this is one of those games where you can see the bullets as yellow light going toward your target, which should give you a good idea of the caliber of shooting mechanics, pun very much intended), and the driving is truly abysmal. Driving is far worse than it is in the Saint's Row games (cars are floaty, weightless, and they all feel more or less the same), but the difference is that Saint's Row is a series that laughs at its own absurdity, so it's fine. Watch Dogs is trying to be serious, and the poor driving shatters any sense of immersion.
More importantly, when you hit something with your car, it behaves with cartoon physics. You hit the middle of a fence? The whole thing falls apart, and does so in geometric pieces with straight edges rather than violently splintering wood. The plot is a joke, a shallow revenge tale (and the protagonist is literally an empty trenchcoat for all the personality he has) with nothing interesting.
But the worst part about the game is its refusal to acknowledge the very institutions that it's built around. Namely, that of privacy in a digital world. Simply sweeping the camera across someone gives you their name, occupation, income, and a randomly generated fact about them (everything from "donates to extremist groups" to "choir member"). The sheer amount of information you have access to (and presumably that whoever is in charge of CToS does as well) is mind-blowing.
However, the game never asks any questions about that issue. Say what you want about Assassin's Creed 3, but the game did an excellent job of showing the moral ambiguity of the Templar/Assassin conflict and exploring the complicated themes of freedom vs. control. Watch Dogs refuses to even touch the matter, while at the same time portraying the protagonist as a hero, despite his manipulation of other's private info.
In closing, Watch Dogs is a game that wants to be something more, but fails on all counts. It's derivative enough to lack its own identity (if you've played a Ubisoft game in the last few years, you'll recognize a few core mechanics). The gameplay mechanics are all mediocre at best, the plot is nonexistant, the characters are bland, the voice acting ranges from decent to awful, the hacking mechanic is a minor sideshow, the visuals are mediocre, the effects are bad, and the game refuses to acknowledge the complex themes at its core and simply ignores them.
I'm not sure what happened to that game Ubisoft debuted at E3 a number of years ago, but I wish they had gone with that instead. What they have now is a soulless, forgettable, aggressively mediocre game that never rises above simple competence.
I must say, having played this game most of the day, that your review is spot on. It isn't a -bad- game per se, but it sure as heck isn't good either.
I love "aggressively mediocre" that is a great line, I've had doubts about this game, but I'll probably give it a rental.
I know that these are opinions, these being reviews and such. But after seeing videos online and those that friends sent me I have to wonder. I mean, a lot of games would have been buried from the issues I have seen. This game seems to show how well marketing and hype can help.
A lot of the positives I read seems to come with negatives sprinkled in and then brushed off. Mostly saying that although this-this-and this the game overall is still good. Or this is a new IP and so it can be forgiven. What about other new IP that get blasted because they do not live up to the standards of the genre or gaming in general.
Now, I had this game ordered. Multiple copies in fact. Not sure I want to pick them up. Have literally seen to many things that look like they would detract from the experience. Then you throw in the issue that some seem to be pointing out that it is hard to get into mp with a group or stay on the same team. Or hack friends for that matter. I do not know really. I just read about the game, viewed Ubi's game videos, and such. Wanted to like this one a lot. Never know, I might actually like it. But I am finding it hard to pick up my copies instead of something else now.