Friday, July 4, 2014

Watch Dogs Review!


               False advertisement becomes more and more a practice used by the developers and publishers of video games, most of the times it is related to graphical fidelity of the games ported from consoles to PC.  
               Producers of video games take advantage of the fact that there are no laws against false marketing for the gaming industry as there are for the physical products. It would be hard to make a law to do justice in this matter, as rarely everyone is 100% satisfied with a game and because games can be patched later on. But there should be something to protect the video games consumer from greedy producers that would do anything to make more money with as little effort as possible.
               As the gaming industry becomes more successful more money is at stake  and the market is saturated with games to pick from, because of this producers make promises they cannot fulfill and in the end the product is different than what was promised.
               Alien Colonial Marines and Dark Souls 2 are just two examples of games that advertised one thing and offered something else entirely.
If there are no laws to protect gamers, maybe they should start taking action themselves by not  pre-ordering games and waiting to see if the game actually delivers what was advertised.

               In 2012 when it was shown at E3, Watch Dogs was one of the biggest surprises of the gaming exposition, showing beautiful graphics and physics and what looked like complex and interesting game mechanics. The main development platform for the game was to be the PC and Watch Dogs was looking like the first true next-gen title. Oh how deceiving that was…
               I usually start my reviews by talking about the story because it is one of the most relevant things to almost any game and it relates to everything else, but for this game I will make an exception and talk about the technical part as this was the thing that should have shone the most.
               From E3 2012 to May 2014 when this game was released many things have changed, the game was postponed for more than half a year and in all this time there was almost no sign of it still being alive. The producers didn’t reveal any new videos or screenshots and something didn’t feel right. In the spring of 2014 screenshots and videos started to flow, but none of them were confirmed of being from the PC version. What followed was the Watch Dogs Press Event in France where journalists received Nexus 7 tablets as a gift from Ubisoft (I’m convinced that it was in exchange for their impartiality).
E3 2012, now just a good dream...

               The game was released on 27 may 2014 and it shifted its visuals from those of the E3 presentation, and surprisingly it looked worse. The particle effects, the lighting, the physics, everything was gone, Watch Dogs comes with washed up textures, no casting shadows and a physics that doesn’t apply to most of the things in the world and has no ragdolls. On top of everything the game streams objects in front of the player at a good pace for walking but as you drive a vehicle the streaming remains at the same rate and while driving horrible players will experience horrible pop-ups. These pop-ups will negatively affect both the immersivity and the gameplay and players will find themselves in situations where they can’t avoid the stuff that just appeared in front of them.
He must be a vampire!

               It is ironic that even after lowering the graphics so much, the game runs poorly even on high-end machines, it’s not possible to maintain a constant frame rate when playing on the highest video settings of the game.
Ubisoft released statements blaming performance for the graphical downgrade, but a modder did search through the game files and found all the effects that were shown at E3 2012 and managed to unlock them with almost no performance losses.
               The question is now, why did Ubisoft went out of their way to downgrade this game and lie to the teeth about it? How much of an impact over their decision did console producers have?
One thing is sure, no games developer wants to give up on the PC market, but some of them are willing to downgrade their games even after time and resources spent in making it look better for PC (why?!) and then lie to the PC market consumers about the true state of their game.
Even after all these downgrades the game still looks quite good, the city looks amazing during night time after rain and the water is gorgeous. Watch Dogs looks much better than most of the console ports out there.

               Watch Dogs is a third person action game that features the story of Aiden Pearce, a hacker (cracker?!) that messed up with the wrong people and because of him his niece was killed right before his eyes. The action of the game takes place in Chicago, a city using a special operating system, cTOS, which connects everyone and everything in the city (smart move Chicago mayor!).
Aiden becomes a vigilante fighting crime by taking advantage of the most powerful weapon he has, a Smartphone, which allows Aiden to connect to the cTOS and hack it accessing everything related to it, from people profiles and bank accounts, to city cameras, road blocks and more. With this power over the city of Chicago, the main character tracks down the hitmans that tried to kill him and tries to find out who ordered the attack on him that got his niece killed.
On his crusade to make his own justice, Aiden messes up the situation even more and puts his family into grave danger.
It’s worth mentioning that Aiden is not a hero, he can’t even be catalogued as an antihero. Controlled by the player, the main character can steal people’s money, cause car crashes, destroy the smartphones of those that try to report him to the police or for hacking, violates people privacy and more. Aiden Pearce can be quite a jerk in this game and even if you don’t want to, at some point or another you will be forced to do all these things.
The sexual tension girl.
You can't watch the watcher!

               The gameplay of Watch Dogs is pretty straight forward, it’s a standard Ubisoft game with some additional mechanics to make it more interesting, but there is a lot to talk on this subject. Like in Assassin’s Creed or Far Cry series, the player can unlock details and missions about a sector of the map and in order to do that the player has to find a cTOS tower and hack into it.
Digital Chicago
Hmm... Ubisoft art?!

               The hacking is the key mechanic of the game, it allows the player to access other people’s phones and find information about them, unlock missions and even steal money from their bank accounts. The player has control even over the traffic lights, city cameras and road blocks, gas pipes, electrical gates, the player can even shut down the city lights and many other things that can be activated remotely through hacking the city’s operating system.
The hacking mechanic makes the gameplay more complex and fun and all of these can be done with no effort as hacking requires just aiming and the press of a button.
You can't hide!
Because hacking gives you superpowers!

               The combat in Watch Dogs is well done and is helped by the design of Chicago, which offers, most of the time, room for different play styles. The player can go full out combat or use a more silent approach by using hacking, stealth and silent takedowns in order to finish missions. The shooting has some weight, there is a large variety of weapons with great impact and sound effects, sadly the lack of ragdolls physics diminishes this aspect of the game. 
The AIs make the game’s combat system quite enjoyable, human AIs engaged in combat act realistically, shooting from behind cover and using suppress fire to help each other and keep the player pinned. A huge minus to the combat is the fact that you cannot shoot while driving in any of the vehicles in this game.
The game also has a skill tree, split in four different branches, which enhances the combat experience and the player’s game style, while destroying some of the immersion.
Welcome to America...

               In a game with a large map like Watch Dogs, transportation is important, while players can fast travel from one safe to another or use boats and even trains, cars remain the main means of transportation. Sadly however, the driving experience is terrible, cars have no weight or momentum, they accelerate instantly and they lack physical damage. The player’s vehicle is like a tank, it barely takes any damage and destroys almost everything that stand in its way.
               Players can entertain themselves in the game world by playing minigames like gambling, drinking games, chess, but the most fun are the digital trips. Digital trips allow your character to enter a fictive world (a fictive world inside a fictive world! Inception!) where they can fight robots, drive a card through hell or, my favorite, take control of a giant spider tank and shoot everything that moves for points!
Fun times!

               The in-game UI is a testimony to support even more the claims about Watch Dogs being a port from consoles. The UI navigation and design is horrible and renders mouse completely useless. The mouse acts like a controller stick when navigating the interface and this causes all kind of problems, is almost impossible to switch a weapon in time during combat because of this.
Must be an iPhone...

               There is a lot to do in the world of Watch Dogs there is no doubt about that, but this world that attempts to look realistic is plagued bugs and poor design choices.
The AI of the NPCs is terrible, they jump in front of your car instead of moving away from it, call the police when they hear you shooting but not when you run someone over or stay near a car on fire and die from the explosion.
               The city’s design is great but it’s not enough to make this world plausible. Things like the fact that trains stop instantly when something is on the rail, the absurd control over some things in the world like gas pipes or the lack of police on the street are just some of the immersion killers in this game and this list can get bigger.
The world of Watch Dogs is like a nice dream from which you wake up every few seconds and you can never fully enjoy.

               The sound is very well done, the game features a soundtrack of 14 tracks that can be listened to on the in-game radio. The overall sound effects are at a higher quality than the rest of the game.
               Watch Dogs has multiplayer featuring 6 distinct game modes, some of them being free for all and others team based with up to 8 players connected simultaneously. The multiplayer is fun and can be fun to play for a while (much more than the singleplayer), but as the rest of the game, the multiplayer is full with problems. For days people could not connect to the multiplayer servers because of Uplay errors and a later patch fixed the problem, but that wasn’t the end. The multiplayer has no dedicated servers and apparently matches players randomly from all over the world, the lag in multiplayer is horrible and drags down the fps a lot making the game unplayable.
               To make things even worse (like that was even possible) all the things that drag down the singleplayer, like the driving or bad physics, affect the multiplayer experience as well and to top everything you don’t even get access to the entire map.

               Watch Dogs was compared a lot to GTA V prior to the release and even to GTA IV after it, because the latter has features and mechanics that Watch Dogs doesn't. In all fairness, GTA V costs were close to 300 million $ while Watch Dogs budget was around 70 million $, the budget difference is astronomical and Ubisoft tried to make the most out of this money.
               Sadly what looked like a good license had to suffer, many things were cut off, others were not even implemented and even if the game gets fixed, which it would eventually, it will still lack the mechanics that were never implemented.
On top of everything, Ubisoft forced Uplay on everybody even if you purchased the game on a different digital distribution platform. I wouldn't mind this kind of advertisement for their platform, as it was done by others before, but Uplay is very unstable and annoying.
Watch Dogs was the dream of every PC master race gamer out there, that hoped this platform will get the attention that it deserves, but in the end it was nothing more than another console port.

+ Graphics
+ World Design
+ Shooting
+ AI in combat
+ Digital trips and mini-games
+ Multiplayer (if you can connect to it…)

- Graphics
- Physics
- Optimization
- Arcade driving
- AI outside of combat
- Some of the game mechanics destroy immersion and realism
- Lack of many necessary features
- Lots of glitches and bugs
- Uplay


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