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.