As I sat watching the credits roll on Watch_Dogs last night, I took time to reflect upon the game’s announcement and initial promise, combined with the excitement it brought before release.
I remember sitting in the Los Angeles Theater the night the game was announced at E3 2012. A long day of other press conferences, dark theaters, and the LA heat do not lend well to your continued attention. However, walking into the theater, there was a spotlight moving around the room. On occasion, it would stop and focus on an individual in the crowd and then profile them on the big screen. This intrigued me. What kind of game could this be alluding to? Is this just to have fun with the gaming media?
Like clockwork, the Ubisoft presentation continued on as usual, unveiling what many expected that year. Then, as has become the norm now, Ubisoft’s CEO Yves Guillemot took the stage to give us a final thought, a final revelation. This time, the game he would be unveiling would be quite unusual.
A short introduction conveyed to us that we live in a digitally connected world. Perhaps even, our world is too connected. What happens when our world becomes so connected that our modern society can be flicked on and off like a light switch? As the video went on, I felt uneasy. I hadn’t had much to eat that day though, so maybe I was just hungry. Eventually, we were shown what the game would look like.
The main character (as we know now as Aiden Pearce) was shown walking around a beautifully detailed downtown Chicago, with nothing in his hand except a smartphone. With a touch of a button, Aiden was looking into people’s lives. Where people work, what their hobbies are, their age. Suddenly, Aiden was tapping into their private conversations. I felt more uneasy. What they were showing us could all be true in the real world. What is privacy in an always-connected, always-on world?
As the presentation wrapped up, we were shown a few other powers that Aiden could wield such as blacking out the power to the surrounding area. I thought it was really cool. Watch_Dogs felt fresh. There were no weapons, no signs of being every other game out there. Everyone else I talked to at E3 that year felt the same way. Everyone was so excited to play it, it was the buzz of the show. The only question was: When could we, and would it be on the next generation of consoles?
Now that I have gone through and finished Watch_Dogs and reflected on the feelings surrounding the initial announcement, I can’t help but feel quite a bit disappointed. The reason the game felt so fresh in the beginning is because we were seeing what can feel fresh in small doses. Hacking becomes passe after 10 hours, and even then, the bulk of the game is spent running around shooting baddies or driving around dodging them. In the combat situations, I felt like I was playing a watered down Splinter Cell, and the same could be said for the driving and Grand Theft Auto. Neither methods of playing in Watch_Dogs felt superior to each of those games either. The hacking that felt so fresh in the beginning becomes more of an afterthought as time goes on. It’s still just a means to get from Objective A to Objective B.
I guess you could say Watch_Dogs is an extreme victim of being “over-hyped.” The problem lies in what Ubisoft presented in the beginning. If the rest of the game wasn’t going to be this cool, why try and make it come off that way? I’ve seen the trophy statistics on PS4 and they reflect at least some level of apathy from players (less than 40% even get halfway through). Not to say Watch_Dogs is bad, but to come off an explosive debut like it did and not deliver can’t be anything but disappointing.