Ubisoft has created a general game template and has used it with several high-profile titles, with Watch Dogs joining such sandbox blockbusters like Far Cry 3 and the Assassin’s Creed franchise. The vast game spaces are chock full of collectibles, extras, and side missions that bring out the completionist in everybody. The Achilles' Heel to the formula, iterated upon for Watch Dogs, isn’t quite the type of sandbox that next-gen consoles deserve to play in. Strides have been taken in Watch Dogs to generate a more vivacious open world, but today’s gamers deserve a little more dynamism than what Watch Dogs’ iteration of the formula provides.
While Watch Dogs features a hearty, accurate American city in all its glory, it also lacks some fundamental realism. Aiden can’t fall from a steep height, but he can ride on top of a car that crashes into a building and not fly off. When Aiden rides on top of a vehicle, the act of his riding is treated as part of the vehicle itself, so it’ll look like he’s surfing rather than trying to not fly off to his death.
Speaking of vehicles, their physics need some work. Watching a vehicle launched high into the air after raising road blockers doesn’t make sense when the blockers should be more inhibiting than that: make the car flip in whatever relative direction that the situation would realistically induce. As well, this is a video game after all, but the ability to careen through delivery trucks with a Mini Cooper, though entertaining, breaks the realism.
The story in Watch Dogs dances a line between the hacker/vigilante life and the family life that Aiden tries to keep separate. Though the events that lead to the opening of the game would be tragic, the focus of it all stretches a little too far. Aiden and his sister don’t feel like siblings but rather divorced spouses, and the writing reflects that. To top it off, many of the supporting roles throughout the story feel dissociated, like a motley crew of faces only there to push the plot forward.
The line that Aiden walks between digital criminal and a white knight in a trench coat is all over the place; consequently, his actions throughout the plot require suspension of disbelief. Juggling a character’s wants and needs is commonplace in all forms of storytelling, but the focus ends up being too much toward Aiden’s need to fix things rather than emphasizing the tragedy behind his motives. The foul word here is “sentimentality,” which is a use of emotional key words to invoke unearned emotional response. Using motifs like “family” and “protection” loses its meaning when they don’t have the proper significance instilled behind them, and the end result is a man with a phone complaining that he can’t fix anything. Give the protagonist more credit than that, and the trip down memory lane will be much more personal for both the player and the protagonist.
Knowledge should be power
The capability of one cell phone is put to the test in Watch Dogs, but that test ends up being graded on a curve. Though Aiden has access to some information about every single person within the city of Chicago, the ability to do anything with that information is gimped. The narrative touches on this ability to use an individual’s information for good or bad, but that power simply blows in the wind on the way to the next mission. On that note, the sensation of learning that a blood donor was diagnosed with AIDS or that a once-registered alien no longer has a valid green card leaves a lot of potential on the backmost burner. Give players something to do with that knowledge, and let them make good or bad decisions in that context. If someone’s on the Most Wanted list, let players identify and report them. If someone needs money for a mortgage or family investment, give players the opportunity to donate--or impoverish--the person.
Constant competitive connection
One concept unique to Watch Dogs is the ability to have other players invade one’s game and make things difficult. Why not have an option that allows player invasion for anyone free-roaming through the narrative and let those other players help or inhibit? Players already have the ability to interrupt between missions and attempt information access, but having an open game filled with other players doing the same thing as you would be as chaotic as it would be intriguing. Personally, the idea of having other players causing mass destruction all over my game all the time would be frustrating, but having the ability to live in a world like that feels raw enough to be an engrossing distraction from time to time. Constant competition holds a great new multiplayer presence that blurs single player and multiplayer for those who wish to partake. Chicago may not be big enough for something like that, but the World Wide Web isn’t exactly confined to one city anyway.
One in all instead of all in one
As mentioned earlier, the template that Ubisoft has created for its sandbox titles is very effective and highly refined, and the level of individual identity in Watch Dogs is the strongest that any open world game has accomplished by a long shot. However, the rules need to be changed. Instead of having a big game with a bunch of little parts, integrate all the little parts into one continuum that encompasses the entire game. Have all the extra components do more than simply add value to an overall percentage. Give all that extra work more meaning by tying collectibles with extra story content or greater depth into character and scenario background. The idea of main missions and side missions is rather primitive, considering that the premise of Watch Dogs is so progressive. Hide some secrets about the Watch Dogs universe at the hacking towers, or leave clues that a clever, eagle-eyed player could use to get into challenging late-game securities that much easier. Putting all this together with the previous point regarding multiplayer would yield an end product that gives players an experience much more personalized and alive.
As a future franchise, Watch Dogs already has a lot going for it, and the feature enhancements listed above could further divide this new title from its competition. Our review of Watch Dogs highlights a great amount of what the game does well and the few places it falters, so please take a look at what our very own Kyle Prahl had to say and feel free to comment on these points or make suggestions of your own.