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This week, Zero Punctuation reviews WATCH_DOGS.

TranscriptEdit

The hype train for Watch_Dogs had all the grace and subtlety of a 19th-century steam locomotive dangerously overloaded with jizz cannons and jizz cannon maintenance equipment. Which, as we’ve often learned, can be the warning sign that the publishers don’t have a lot of faith in the game being able to stand upon its own merits. Well, it certainly can’t stand upon its understanding of how hacking works, I can tell you that straight away! Basically, if your hackers are mostly hip young DJs and tattoo artists who all cribbed their sense of style from the halfway point between My Little Pony and Pinhead from Hellraiser, and have been so obviously workshopped to oblivion that they might as well be snapping their fingers and referring to authority figures as "daddy-o", then you are already showing your ignorance, 'cause most hackers are fat, greasy shit-minglers with terrible beards, posting Google Street View images of the houses of people who think we should have to pay money to watch TV shows. What will certainly not help is having your hackers put on very serious faces and wave their handheld devices about the way Marvo the Master Wizard works his magic wand!

Fortunately, the protagonist of Watch Underscore Dogs is not one of the heavily-workshopped Johnny Lee Miller rejects, but Aiden Pearce, a character who appears to have had all personality sandblasted off, 'til he’s a blank cipher who doesn’t even know how to button a trench coat properly. He was a hacker who did any work for hire and stole money from bank accounts, but then accidentally targeted someone powerful who killed his six-year-old niece, which gave him a little Spiderman moment and he declared that from this day forth he would use his powers to… continue working for hire and stealing money from bank accounts, but also fight crime! In-between. If he can be arsed. Not stealing-money crime, or property-damage crime, or murdering-policemen crime; just, you know, all the bad crimes, the ones committed by people other than himself. Oh, but no one can understand Aiden’s pain! Other than, you know, the kid’s mother, his sister, who seems to be infinitely better-adjusted about the whole thing. But then, she also hasn’t figured out that Aiden is the mystery vigilante even after the news media starts broadcasting his name, so she’s probably a few dead kids shy of an origin story.

Watch_Dogs isn’t an easy game to summarize. The elevator pitch must have been delivered during a massive power outage. I suppose you could refer to it as “Assassin's Creed in the future”. Might as well, it’s got about the same amount of stabbing as Assassins’s Creed does these days. Main difference is that instead of using rooftop vantage points to plan ahead, you use security cameras, and I’d say that’s where the game comes onto its own: when you learn to think outside of the little bland cardboard cut-out of a man we have been insolently asked to identify with and turn the environment to your advantage, creating distractions and blowing up people who come to look at them, which never stops being funny.

“Gosh, I’m curious about that dog barking sound! Gosh, I’m curious as to where my legs landed!”

It falls apart pretty quick when the enemies spot you, because Aiden Pearce in a firefight has the durability of a Pringle between a professional wrestler’s buttocks. But at least that provides incentive to use all these mechanics. In this age of namby-pamby, "play-it-your-way", psychotic mass-market inclusiveness, more games should have the apricots to draw the line and say, “You’ll do it the way we like, or you’ll do it with more bits of metal in you than your love interest’s face”.

But at other times, Watch_Dogs has the old Assassin’s Creed problem with getting easy shortcuts confused with gameplay innovation. For example, if Assassin’s Creed II wanted someone dead, you had to creep unnoticed into close enough range to stab him up the brisket. But by AC Brotherhood, you're free to crossbow them from two rooftops away when you're not just handing it off to the intern. In Watch_Dogs, you can hack traffic lights and barriers to discourage pursuers, but how that applies is that a quick-time event flashes up as you drive along the road, you press it, and hey presto, pursuer fucks off. Thank goodness, I was coming dangerously close to waking up!

And Sass-o Creed-o at its worst always seems to be just assembling a big disconnected pile of stuff to do as opposed to a cohesive whole, which in theory is something for everyone, but in practice is like hiding someone’s birthday present in a room filled floor-to-ceiling with ping pong balls.

All Watch_Dogs' fun side activities are outnumbered by shit ones. The ones I found most specifically vexing were the random crimes. How they work is that a "crimer" and a "crimee" get together, and the moment crime starts, you leap in and brain the offending party with a stick, ideally before the victim gets hurt. But something like five times in a row I failed the mission because I jumped in nanoseconds before the event had been officially declared a crime. So I’d see one of the dudes raise a gun or a big knife and then I'd leap out yelling, “What’s all this then!?”, whereupon the criminal would go, “Well, that completely ruined the mood, you asshole!” and then skip off, hand in hand with the erstwhile victim, leaving me with the game saying, “I hope you're proud of yourself.”

But the main thing that kills the sandbox activities is that there's bugger-all they can reward you with. Money only buys weapons and craft items that are all lying around for free anyway, and the character upgrades are as enticing as Chuck E. Cheese prizes:

“Here's one that lets you steal more money!”
Not gonna dignify that with a reply.
“How about the ability to resist tire blowouts?”
I only had a tire blowout once in the entire sodding game; I just nicked another car. Give me something I can use, like a thing that makes enemies drop dead when Aiden Pearce says something boring!

The ability to disable pursuing helicopters is useful, but it would be most useful from a getaway car, and the camera won’t look straight upwards while you're in a car, so you can’t get line-of-sight. I had to stop the car, sirens blaring all around, stand there in the street like a knob as the police snipers took aim, and point gormlessly at the helicopter like a man with a wonky garage door remote.

Watch_Dogs does not live up to the hype, but that’s hardly fair, because it would need to have made me spontaneously grow a third bollock to do that. A predictable story with no likable characters – Aiden and his sister both look at the grave of the child that is his whole motivation the way they'd look at a middling-difficulty sudoku puzzle – and the gameplay is a lot of faff and chaff packed around one or two core ideas with potential.

I really liked the two or three missions where you stay on the cameras and guide an accomplice from cover to cover, because at that point, you're basically playing as the tutorial voice in somebody else’s video game. They make a whole game of that, I think it would do alright, because any measure that will minimize the amount of time Aiden Pearce’s burbling little face has to appear on-screen is worth about twelve Game of the Year awards right there!

Addenda Edit

  • Keep an eye on this motherfucker: Ben “Yahtzee” Croshaw
  • Here’s a simple hack for you – stand in the middle of a street and wave your smartphone around and hey presto! You’ve just been mugged
  • This was Watch Dogs Review Special Edition #5,789
Episodes
2007 - 2010
2007
Q3 The Darkness Demo · Fable: The Lost Chapters · Zero Punctuation (Episode) · Heavenly Sword and Other Stuff · Psychonauts · Console Rundown · BioShock · Tomb Raider: Anniversary · Manhunt · Peggle
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2008
Q1 Super Mario Galaxy · Silent Hill: Origins · Crysis · The Witcher · Resident Evil: The Umbrella Chronicles · Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare · SimCity Societies · Yahtzee Goes to GDC · Uncharted: Drake's Fortune · Devil May Cry 4 · Burnout: Paradise · Turok · Zack & Wiki: Quest for Barbaros' Treasure
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2009
Q1 Awards for 2008 · Tomb Raider: Underworld · Far Cry 2 · Gears of War 2 · LittleBigPlanet · Thief: The Dark Project · Skate 2 · F.E.A.R. 2 · Spider-Man: Web of Shadows · The House of the Dead: Overkill · 50 Cent: Blood on the Sand · Resident Evil 5
Q2 X-Blades/Halo Wars · Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars · MadWorld · Tom Clancy's H.A.W.X · Siren: Blood Curse · The Chronicles of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena · Valkyria Chronicles · Velvet Assassin · Duke Nukem Forever · Bionic Commando · InFamous · The Second Annual E3 Hype Massacre · Prototype
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Q4 Scribblenauts · Wet · Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story · Brutal Legend · Washington D.C. · Uncharted 2: Among Thieves · Dragon Age: Origins · Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 · Assassin's Creed 2 · Left 4 Dead 2 & New Super Mario Bros. Wii · Demon's Souls · Holiday 2009 · The Saboteur
2010
Q1 Awards for 2009 · Torchlight · Darksiders · Bayonetta · Dark Void · Borderlands · Mass Effect 2 · Dante's Inferno · BioShock 2 · Aliens vs Predator · Heavy Rain · Battlefield: Bad Company 2 · Final Fantasy XIII
Q2 April Fools 2010 · God of War III · Red Steel 2 · Just Cause 2 · Silent Hill: Shattered Memories · Splinter Cell: Conviction · Nier · Dead to Rights: Retribution · Monster Hunter Tri · Alan Wake · Red Dead Redemption · Alpha Protocol · Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands · E3 2010
Q3 No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle · Super Mario Galaxy 2 · Singularity · Crackdown 2 · DeathSpank & Limbo · Shadow of the Colossus · Split Second: Velocity · Transformers: War for Cybertron · Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days · Mafia II · Metroid: Other M · Video Game Voters Network · Amnesia: The Dark Descent
Q4 Halo: Reach · Dead Rising 2 · Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions · Castlevania: Lords of Shadow · Enslaved: Odyssey to the West · Fallout: New Vegas · Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II · Call of Duty: Black Ops · IPhone Games · Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood · Splatterhouse · Epic Mickey · Holiday 2010
2011 - 2014
2011
Q1 Top 5 of 2010 · World of Warcraft: Cataclysm · Fable III · Minecraft · A Shadow's Tale · Dead Space 2 · DC Universe Online · MindJack · Two Worlds II · Bulletstorm · Killzone 3 · Kirby's Epic Yarn · Dragon Age II
Q2 Pokémon White · Yakuza 4 · Crysis 2 · Nintendo 3DS · Portal 2 · Castlevania: Symphony of the Night · Mortal Kombat · Brink · L.A. Noire · The Witcher 2 · Hunted: The Demon's Forge · Duke Nukem Forever (for real this time) · InFamous 2
Q3 Alice: Madness Returns · Shadows of the Damned · F.E.A.R. 3 · The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D · Call of Juarez: The Cartel · Bastion and From Dust · Catherine · Red Faction: Armageddon · Deus Ex · Deus Ex: Human Revolution · Driver: San Francisco · Dead Island · Resistance 3
Q4 Gears of War 3 · Hard Reset · Rage · Kinect · Batman: Arkham City · Battlefield 3 · Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception · Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 · The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim · Saints Row: The Third · Assassin's Creed: Revelations · The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword
2012
Q1 Serious Sam 3: BFE · Top 5 of 2011 · Super Mario 3D Land & Rayman Origins · Sonic Generations · Star Wars: The Old Republic · Amy · Resident Evil: Revelations · Darkness 2 · Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning · NeverDead · Syndicate · Mass Effect 3 · Twisted Metal
Q2 Yakuza: Dead Souls · Ninja Gaiden 3 · Silent Hill: Downpour · Kid Icarus: Uprising · Fez and I Am Alive · Prototype 2 · Risen 2: Dark Waters · Sniper Elite V2 · Diablo 3 · Max Payne 3 · Dragon's Dogma · E3 2012 · Lollipop Chainsaw
Q3 Quantum Conundrum · Spec Ops: The Line · Walking Dead · Inversion · The Amazing Spider-Man · Half-Life · Wreckateer and Deadlight · Steam Roundup · Sleeping Dogs · Darksiders 2 · DayZ · Guild Wars 2
Q4 Borderlands 2 · FIFA 13 · Resident Evil 6 · Dishonored · XCOM: Enemy Unknown · Medal of Honor: Warfighter & Doom 3: BFG Edition · Assassin's Creed 3 · Halo 4 · Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 · Hitman: Absolution · Far Cry 3 · ZombiU
2013
Q1 Top 5 of 2012 · Paper Mario: Sticker Star · Black Knight Sword & Hotline Miami · Anarchy Reigns · DMC: Devil May Cry · The Cave · Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch · Dead Space 3 · Aliens: Colonial Marines · Crysis 3 · Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance · Tomb Raider · SimCity
Q2 The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct · BioShock Infinite · Lego City Undercover · Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon · Injustice: Gods Among Us · Star Trek · Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon · System Shock 2 · Metro: Last Light · Next Gen Buyer's Guide · Fuse · Remember Me · E3 2013
Q3 The Last of Us · Deadpool · Animal Crossing: New Leaf · Ride to Hell: Retribution · Dark · Mario & Luigi: Dream Team · Rise of the Triad · Papers, Please & Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons · Pikmin 3 · The Bureau: XCOM Declassified · Saints Row 4 · Killer is Dead · Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs
Q4 Grand Theft Auto V · Lost Planet 3 · Beyond: Two Souls · The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD · Batman: Arkham Origins · Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag · Call of Duty: Ghosts · Exclusives Showdown · Ryse: Son of Rome · Dead Rising 3 · Super Mario 3D World
2014
Q1 Top 5 of 2013 · Knack · Killzone: Shadow Fall · Survival Special · Broken Age · Might & Magic X: Legacy · The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds · Dark Souls · Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII · Strider · Thief · Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 · Dark Souls II
Q2 Titanfall · InFamous: Second Son · Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes · The Elder Scrolls Online · South Park: The Stick of Truth · FTL: Faster Than Light · Child of Day-Light · The Amazing Spider-Man 2 · Tesla Effect: A Tex Murphy Adventure · Wolfenstein: The New Order · WATCH DOGS · E3 2014 · Murdered: Soul Suspect
Q3 Tomodachi Life · Enemy Front & Valiant Hearts: The Great War · Shovel Knight · EarthBound · Transistor · E.T. · Firefall · Sacred 3 · Risen 3: Titan Lords · Daikatana · Lichdom: Battlemage · The Sims 4 · Destiny
Q4 D4: Dark Dreams Don't Die · Hyrule Warriors · Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor · Alien Isolation · The Evil Within · Bayonetta 2 · Sunset Overdrive · Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare · Assassin's Creed: Unity · Far Cry 4 · Dragon Age: Inquisition · Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric · Top 5 Games of 2014
2015 - 2017
2015
Q1 The Talos Principle · Elite: Dangerous · Five Nights at Freddy's and This War of Mine · Lords of the Fallen · Saints Row: Gat out of Hell · Dying Light · Grim Fandango · Evolve · The Order: 1886 · The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask 3D · Resident Evil Revelations 2 · Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number & Ori and the Blind Forest
Q2 Battlefield: Hardline · Bloodborne · Half-Life 2 Update · Axiom Verge & Stealth Inc 2 · Mortal Kombat X · Grand Theft Auto Online · Broken Age: Act 2 · Wolfenstein: The Old Blood · Cyberpunk Double · The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt · Splatoon · Hatred · E3 2015
Q3 Alone in the Dark: Illumination · Batman: Arkham Knight · Yoshi's Woolly World · Cave Story · Godzilla · Rocket League & Tembo the Badass Elephant · King's Quest: A Knight to Remember · Nom Nom Galaxy & Freedom Planet · Everybody's Gone To The Rapture · Volume · Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain · Mad Max · Gears of War Ultimate Edition · Until Dawn
Q4 Super Mario Maker · SOMA · Rock Band 4 · Assassin's Creed Syndicate · Halo 5: Guardians · Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 · Rise of the Tomb Raider · Fallout 4 · Star Wars: Battlefront · Just Cause 3 · Fatal Frame: Maiden of Black Water
2016
Q1 Top 5 Games of 2015 · Devil's Third · Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam · Assassin's Creed Chronicles · Xenoblade Chronicles X · The Witness & Bombshell · Gravity Rush · XCOM 2 · Firewatch & Layers of Fear · Far Cry Primal · Stardew Valley & SUPERHOT · The Division · Salt and Sanctuary
Q2 Republique · Shadow Warrior · Quantum Break · Dark Souls III · Ratchet & Clank · Star Fox Zero · Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door · Uncharted 4: A Thief's End · Doom · Homefront: The Revolution · Overwatch & Battleborn · Mirror's Edge: Catalyst · E3 2016
Q3 Mighty No. 9 · Inside & Shadow of the Beast · The Technomancer · Furi & Song of the Deep · I Am Setsuna · Headlander & Quadrilateral Cowboy · Quake · No Man's Sky · Grow Up · Deus Ex: Mankind Divided · Metroid Prime: Federation Force · The Curious Expedition & Mother Russia Bleeds · ReCore
Q4 Capcom Five · Clustertruck & Lichtspeer · Paper Mario: Color Splash · Mafia III · Gears of War 4 · PlayStation VR · Battlefield 1 · Titanfall 2 vs Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare · Dishonored 2 · WATCH DOGS 2 · Final Fantasy XV · The Last Guardian
2017
Q1 Top 5 Games of 2016 · Let It Die · Dead Rising 4 · Hitman · Gravity Rush 2 · Resident Evil 7 · Yakuza 0 · Nioh · For Honor · Nintendo Switch & Breath of the Wild · Horizon Zero Dawn · Nier Automata · Ghost Recon Wildlands
Q2 Mass Effect Andromeda · Yooka-Laylee · Persona 5

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