Watch_Dogs Review

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[aesop_parallax img=”http://www.idle-handz.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/Watch-Dogs-Ubisoft-cover-art.jpg” height=”300″ width=”500″ parallaxbg=”on” floater=”off” floaterposition=”center” floaterdirection=”up” captionposition=”bottom-left” lightbox=”off”]Watch_Dogs has had a slightly bumpy road throughout its development.  What with early “demonstrations” looking spectacular, while later versions looking severely flatter and, well, less spectacular. And then being delayed several months to apply some more polish to the game, but did that delay for a spit-shine improve the look and experience, allowing it to surpass it’s already crushing hype train, barreling down on it like a … well, with the weight of a train, I guess.  Shut up, don’t judge me!

Gameplay

Imagine for a second that Assassin’s Creed and Grand Theft Auto V bumped uglies and had a freakish little baby that preferred being sneaky and climbing stuff like it’s daddy (Assassin’s Creed) but also liked to drive fast and shoot people in the face like its momma (GTAV)… also, it’s color blind, that is important to remember for later.

You play as Aiden Pearce, a guy that something bad happened to and now he is out for revenge… that is pretty much it.  I mean, I don’t want to give anything away because I hate spoilers, but on top of that there really isn’t a lot to this story that isn’t completely obvious.  No deep character building or multi-layered personalities.  Dude wants vengence = shooting bad guys in the face, which by itself is fine to setup a game, I mean, I don’t need Hemingway-esque writing to warrant face-shooting, but they really could have woven some interesting anti-tech threads through here and made it really poignant.  The deepest they get into that idea though is when you are snooping on peoples conversations and they complain about the operating system that apparently EVERYTHING in the city is controlled by.  No, seriously.  E-V-E-R-Y-T-H-I-N-G.  Traffic Lights, Forklifts, Scissor Lifts, Water pressure valves.  I mean, come on, water valves? It’s best not to think about it and just have fun with the idea of bursting a water main to hurt and distract the enemy.

In terms of gameplay it really does feel like Assassin’s Creed, but as if the “out of Animus” sections didn’t suck and were all played out in the futuristic setting the series always reminds us we are bored to be in for more than 5 seconds.  You are able to steal cars at whim, shoot people for no reason, etc, etc like GTA, but also climbing feels a little more like Assassin’s Creed and you unlock more side-missions by hacking ctOS towers that require some thinking, which are reminiscent of Assassin’s Creeds Viewpoints that unlock more of the map.  And just like AC and GTA (and Spider-man and on and on.) This game contains random events that you can intervene on or not.  These, like the ones that came before them in GTA, don’t require action, but they do add a feeling of the city being alive around you, rather than your personal toy-box.

The big draw for this game is obviously the hacking element.  This has been hailed as innovative, and it does seem pretty cool a lot of the time.  It gives the player more options when dealing with enemies especially when driving.  Being able to pop up the road blocks just as you pass over them to have your chasers crash is a great feeling!  But the game too often doesn’t make these the center-piece of the experience.  Frequently, even, the game seems to just shoehorn some hacking abilities in because it’s expected, and that is a damn shame given that some other missions make it the focal point and really force the player to use it to advance, breaking the player from the mindset of “Hey, just GTA this bitch, guns blazing.”  I think some better mission design would have alleviated that feeling of “same ol’-same ol'” that cropped up a lot of times.  It would have pulled it from the crowd of sand-box shooters and differentiated itself more if hacking was the creamy center, rather than just the sprinkles. Food metaphor, bitch!

Controls feel pretty good, the character has a weight about him but it feels a little lighter than Assassin’s Creed 4, not nearly as twitchy as inFAMOUS 2 though, which I could never really get the feel for.  In terms of car physics, they all so far have their own weight, turning, grip and they feel pretty good.  maybe a little too eager to loose grip, but it isn’t controller-throwing.  Reminds me of the original DiRT racing game.  After a little while I started to prefer the car feel over GTAV’s

Graphics

Dear Developers,
Look, we get that you want to show off what you are doing, we really do get that, but when you don’t deliver on the visual experience that you are trying to sell us on, we get a little, how you say, “rambunctious.”  Is that to say that we won’t play the game? Probably not, but it does mean that no matter how you hype your wares from this point on, they are always going to fall short of what you promised.  My advice; Don’t show us dev-builds running on Sli GTX680 with 16GB of RAM, which is what has been said was driving the game when it was first shown at E3 2012.  Instead, just show us something on a modest setup.  Is it going to look as ZOMG ARMAZING? No, obviously not, but it also won’t feel like indian-giving when it’s released, and if you optimize it from then to now, we’ll feel like you are actually progressing development and not regressing.
Sincerely, The Gamers.

With that out of the way, yes, the game doesn’t look as good as the footage shown and we’ve known it wasn’t going to, ever, since more footage was released in 2013.  But, the game does look a little better than that 2013 footage, so it’s not all bad, I suppose.   The biggest problem is the lack of volumetric fog that the early footage was full of.  That and the large amounts of depth-of-field really gave a sense that the city was dense and full.  With those things taken out or severally minimized all the grey becomes really obvious, and jesus, that is just about all this game has.  If you thought Gears of War loved earth tones then you ain’t seen shit.  Gray and brown and then more gray because GRAYGREYGRAYGRAY is all I can say about the palette choices.  I get it though, it’s a city, sure, but if the volumetric fog and DoF were still as strong as they were, it would feel much different, right now it’s a little boring.

Aside from the color-blindish feel the game gives out, it doesn’t look horrible, in fact, it sometimes looked very realistic and impressive and almost reaches the levels that the E3 trailer showcased.  Water effects are impressive, animations are all pretty fluid and believable, the rain effect is very nice.  Textures, aside from being very one note, aren’t overly blurry and all seem pretty balanced, unlike Wolfenstein: New Order‘s textures which go from gorgeous to fugly, most the time right next to each other.  One thing I found odd was the lack of antsiotropic filtering in the game’s options menu.  Everything else, except that… weird.

Turning down the settings does uglify the game a bit though.  Take a look below:

[aesop_image img=”http://www.idle-handz.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/WD-Low.jpg” imgwidth=”200″ align=”left” captionposition=”left” lightbox=”on”][aesop_image img=”http://www.idle-handz.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/WD-High.jpg” imgwidth=”200″ align=”left” captionposition=”left” lightbox=”on”]

The top image is the game running lowest everything, in the Options menu, while on the bottom everything is on Ultra.  (Note: there is no Low texture settings, only medium/high/ultra.)  On lowest, it doesn’t particularly look “bad,” but it’s clearly flatter looking, while the left image, thanks to ambient occlusion, everything looks far more textured and bumpy, full of detailed shadows.

[aesop_image img=”http://www.idle-handz.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/WD-Low2.jpg” imgwidth=”200″ align=”left” captionposition=”center” lightbox=”on”][aesop_image img=”http://www.idle-handz.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/WD-High2.jpg” imgwidth=”200″ align=”left” captionposition=”center” lightbox=”on”]

While the car is a different color, and the time of day is a little off, you can still see the big different.  Top image, the car has barely any reflective properties, the road lacks texture. the shadows are very stippled and dotted and things just look very flat, again and worse than the previous screenshot.  While the bottom, the cars are shiny, the shadows are gradient and smooth and the view distance becomes slightly hazy and unfocused instead of abrupt and jarring.

[aesop_image img=”http://www.idle-handz.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/WD-Low3.jpg” imgwidth=”200″ align=”left” captionposition=”center” lightbox=”on”][aesop_image img=”http://www.idle-handz.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/WD-High3.jpg” imgwidth=”200″ align=”left” captionposition=”center” lightbox=”on”]

Finally, I think this one shows it best of how much higher settings can change the way the game looks.  The top image shows the water as very symetric, flat, and patterned.  With a severe lack of detail on the grass below.  The distance is sharp and has no depth to it, it almost looks painted on.  The docking port to the left is extremely barren and reminds me of a PS2 game.  In contrast, the bottom image looks alive with a pretty good draw distance for trees and objects that the left is sorely lacking.

Audio

Right off the bat I noticed something interesting that I never noticed with other games in terms of how cars engine noises are represented.  Typically in any game, the harder you press down on the trigger, the higher pitch your engine sounds.  Realistically that isn’t the case, but no game represents that with all cars and this game got it right.  In cars with a deeper idle, like something with a beefier 6-8 cylinder car, pressing the gas peddle to the floor is going to cause a deeper sound until the car can rev up.  That sound alone makes those throatier cars feel more powerful.  I don’t care if they actually are or not, the sound makes you think it is and it’s great and Watch_Dogs pulls that off,  I started looking for the older cars just for that sound, the other cars sound fine and realistic, but that deep throttle was a little detail I loved.  Other sounds, while not groundbreaking, all sounded well represented such as background chit-chat from citizens, traffic, footsteps, etc.   All present and sound natural.  Gun fires have a nice power behind them, though.

The voice acting is pretty alright.  There aren’t any great performances but nothing that was laughably bad.  It matches the “at least it doesn’t suck” feeling you get with the story and graphics.

Final ThoughtsThat is really the running theme throughout this review.  While nothing really jumps out as bad, nothing really jumps out as amazing either, which is really disappointing given the hype surrounding this release.  Ubisoft is really positioning this as their next yearly release IP and I’m sure it’s going to sell a lot and that is exactly what it is going to be.  But I was really hoping for more.  There were so many possible directions to take the story.  I mean, this guy can hack anything with his freaking superDUPERsmartphone.  Where is stock market manipulation, Branching data espionage, why can’t we hack guns and keep them from firing, because we sure as shit can hack a forklift to go up or down.. you know, because logic, right?   The player is “punished” (even though that never really materializes into anything negative) for injuring or killing pedestrians but nothing comes from stealing money from their bank accounts during hacks, that is completely ignored.

The game as a whole is fun, I’m not saying it isn’t or that I think it’s bad in any particular way because it isn’t at all, Spider-Tank = most bad-ass thing ever, but it is never able to achieve what it is trying to do… Example: During a very early mission you are able to knock out power in a whole building and then that ability is never used freely.  For every innovation the game parades out to show you it never actually leaves it out long enough to actually innovate the game.

Score: 7.7 out of 10

The GoodThe BadThe Ugly
Hacking is simple, but fun

Well structured

Feels Triple-A

Driving feels pretty good

SPIDER-TANK!
Everything feels good, but never great.

Reaches high but never quite gets the brass ring
The monochrome color palette.

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