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Watch Dogs review: Meet the new open world game, same as the old open world game (but with hacking)

Hayden Dingman | May 28, 2014
Watch Dogs is beautiful, but it doesn't do anything to change up the same core game we've seen since Grand Theft Auto III. This game is "next-gen" in the looks department only.

Except in Watch Dogs, sometimes you kill people by "hacking" nearby dangerous objects, luring enemies near a forklift before overloading a nearby electrical box. Sometimes you cause the street to explode underneath a pursuing police car, putting it out of commission. Sometimes you play through interminably long sequences where your ghost is basically hopping from surveillance camera to surveillance camera, navigating enormous compounds from the safe all-seeing eye of a rotating appliance.

But at its core: Drive somewhere. Get mission. Drive somewhere else. Kill someone. Drive away. Repeat. 

There is nothing next-gen about Watch Dogs outside of its graphics, and that's a damn shame. I can't help but wonder if we went wrong somewhere. Why are all our open-world games still so largely bereft of foot traffic? Why is there so little for me to spend my accumulated cash on? Why are the buildings just husks--pretty exteriors with few real interior environments?

Watch Dogs doesn't have answers. There is no innovation here, and nothing to make the feedback loop any more entertaining than it has been in the past. 

If you're a fan of that now rote open-world feedback loop, congratulations--you are going to love Watch Dogs. It's a fun enough game, punctuated by some mind-blowing moments of hack-powered awesomeness, and it's full of distracting things to do in that now rote open-world way. But do not be tricked by pretty graphics into thinking you're receiving something more than what's actually in the box. Watch Dogs plays like a weird fusion of Grand Theft Auto and the worst Assassin's Creed game. (Which, just so we're clear, is Assassin's Creed III.)

Set yourself apart
With a few of these open-world games every year, games have survived by staking claims to specific niches. Grand Theft Auto has taken up the incredibly-serious, "It's like a movie you control!" segment of the market. Saints Row picked up the "We're wacky!" flag when Grand Theft Auto disposed of it. Assassin's Creed dominates the "We love history!" market.

If you're not going to innovate, you have to--have to--make your mark here, with story. I loved Assassin's Creed IV despite it having essentially the same feedback loop. I enjoyed Saints Row IV.

Watch Dogs stakes a claim to this near-future, reflection-of-our-own-tech-dependency, hack-everything world. A big, maybe-evil corporation created a network called ctOS that controls everything from the steam pipes (oh, so that's why they explode!) to your phone to the camera on your favorite game console. It's a not-so-subtle commentary on our own world and the question of privacy in a post-NSA era. As a hacker, Pearce can force his way into this system and use it for his own vigilante needs, or simply spy on people.


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