When Watch Dogs was first shown off at E3 two years ago there was tangible excitement at the prospect of this graphically gorgeous, mysterious, open-world title, which offered the promise of hacking into the infrastructure of an artificial Chicago and its inhabitants.
If the game can't live up to that initial hype it's no surprise, but what it does do is provide some novel tweaks to a familiar formula, and offer the hope of much more to come.
You play as grieving hacker Aiden Pearce, bent on revenge for the death of his niece, and willing to use all the computerised tricks in the book to achieve it – raising street bollards to smash chasing cars, or switching traffic lights to send oncoming vehicles into them. But at its heart is the all too familiar structure of activate main story mission, cut-scene, go there, kill him, chase him, find this, finish, activate side-missions, etc. It has you zipping all over the lovingly recreated streets of the Windy City – and the addition of the on-road directions to the next waypoint are greatly appreciated – but there's nothing that leaps out as groundbreaking.
Credit to Ubisoft, there's a decent variety in the type of tasks that can be taken on outside the main story and the publishers do have previous with disappointing opening chapters to new franchises that have gone on to produce superb sequels. Both Far Cry and Assassin's Creed became progressively more impressive with age – and there's no reason to think Ubisoft can't do the same with Watch Dogs – they just haven't nailed it down yet.
The car handling feels a bit too responsive, and vehicles a bit too tank-like, smashing through traffic with ease. Meanwhile, in-game avatar Aiden spends the entire time glued to his mobile like a distracted teenager as he looks for hacks to exploit, regardless of what's going on around him. In the age of Google Glass this seems peculiarly old fashioned – but at least that's in keeping with the game mechanics, which while hinting at exciting future possibilities (online multiplayer where you can hack into somebody else's single player adventure to cause chaos; a fully interactive, connected city; an app that lets you invade others' games), are still very much rooted in the rapidly dating model that began with GTA III in 2001.
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