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Editor's Corner: How the Hell Can You Review All of Watch Dogs?

Posted on Tuesday, May 27 @ 18:30:00 Eastern by

I've been reviewing games for several years now and I've built up a laundry list of critiques ranging from the small and obscure to the profitable-by-preorder blockbusters. My credits certainly don't stack up against those who've spent decades in this industry but who can blame gamers for flocking to hyped projects when they're wrapping themselves in convincing, wholly engrossing open-worlds like the one found in Ubisoft's Watch Dogs.

Nick posted GameRevolution's review early this morning and I had the pleasure of reviewing Ubisoft's new game for PlayStation LifeStyle. You can read my opinion on the game here, but keep in mind that Nick and I took totally different approaches to reviewing that which cannot be reviewed....

The modern open-world action game.

As our favorite medium has grown so has the open-world genre, expanding on a yearly basis with new distractions, new means of moving through a world, and new opportunities for interconnected gameplay that pit player against player or a group against the articificial intelligence driving crowds in cities modeled after Los Angeles, Chicago, and New York.

I love open-world games. If I had to pick a single genre to play for the rest of my life, I'd probably choose open-world games if only for the incredible levels of variance within each. One open-world game might focus exclusively on driving while another might focus exclusively on shooting. Bringing tons of competing gameplay loops into one sandbox allows for the greatest differentiation of moment to moment gameplay and seeing how systems combine to form unforgettable instances proves entertaining in an unending capacity other genres can't approach.

The seventh generation of video game hardware only furthered this as I blew up a car for the first time in Saints Row and a single rubber wheel bounded out of the wreckage and rolled past me on the street. I don't know how I passed anything in my freshman year at university.

With projects as large as Watch Dogs, especially those that get touched by thousands of employees from all around the world, you expect a certain level of quality in the experience and how you address that high-water mark as a reviewer varies.

I would say, and Nick might correct me, that GameRevolution's review took a kitchen sink approach to Watch Dogs. Does this game overcome small issues to serve up a greater collection of activities and challenges? Does this game stumble, but largely deliver on its promises? I think you could answer yes to both of those questions in the case of Watch Dogs.

I took a definitively different approach in my review at PlayStation LifeStyle. I've been on this ride with Ubisoft before, latching on to Assassin's Creed very early in that game's promotional cycle. I loved the imagery of a silent, hooded figure leaping across ancient rooftops to exact a brand of justice no one could really see until centuries later in the modern world.

I preordered Assassin's Creed and dedicatedly picked the game up on the day of release. I took it home and played several hours of the story before trading time living and killing in the Third Crusade for time studying Third Crusade art history for class.

Weeks later I hadn't finished the game. It wasn't until Assassin's Creed II was announced that I finally completed the first game's story and with that in mind I approached Watch Dogs with a critical eye for the game's narrative. I wanted to pay greater attention to the set up for what'll surely prove Ubisoft's eighth generation open-world franchise. The company has two Assassin's Creed games planned for this Fall (Unity and Comet), but it could be in the hope that the franchise collapses without a central figure driving the story now that Desmond Miles has left the scene.

Watch Dogs doesn't feature the same overarching set-up. There's no framing narrative to keep players on the edge between yearly releases, but the franchise has plenty of space to explore as technology continues to encroach on our daily lives. Where it goes next is anyone's guess, but I always had this in mind even before picking up the controller and playing Watch Dogs for this first time.

You don't get to be a massive AAA publisher without knowing what egg you're gonna break next and Watch Dogs benefits from plenty of eggs broken before it. Ubisoft isn't some greasy diner chef slapping sloppy joes together in the back of a converted train car that still smells of hobo.

Ubisoft is a world-renowned developer and publisher of some of gaming's best titles over decades, but Watch Dogs feels not unlike the Disney movie Ratatouille. There's all manner of heart and soul and well-meaning to find in the streets of Chicago, but how accurate do you think the measurements in this soufflé of digital subterfuge will be when there's actually a rat underneath the head chef's hat? I don't mean to suggest that the team at Ubisoft Montreal are a bunch of pastry-stuffing rats, but I think there was pressure to repeat the success Assassin's Creed found for a new generation of video game hardware.

Thankfully for the developers and the product itself, there was plenty of money in the banana flambe stand after Assassin's Creed's unending success.

Further, I think something may have been burned when Ubisoft purchased THQ Montreal and subsequently re-acquired Patrice Désilets. Désilets created Assassin's Creed before leaving Ubisoft for a better deal with more freedom at THQ, and dammit did Watch Dogs need to outperform expectations with the awkward and uncomfortable silence following Ubisoft's second firing of ​Désilets.

I might be highly skilled at making Kraft Macaroni and Cheese and I might do a great job cooking Top Ramen too, but that doesn't mean the two should mix together. This poor game critic metaphor is brought to you by my dinner experiment for tonight, but I think you catch my drift.

In both the first Assassin's Creed and this inaugural entry in the Watch Dogs franchise, Ubisoft has demonstrated an awareness of market and gameplay trends that will continue to carry it further into success. The publisher remains one of my favorites for blending core strengths with each title and my hope is that Watch Dogs returns in a year or two with a cohesive narrative that more effectively teaches us about the kinds of power abuse that affect our lives without our knowledge.

That doesn't mean it isn't fun to cause car accidents at every stoplight in town. Watch Dogs is out now for PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, Xbox One, and PC.
Related Games:   Assassin's Creed II, Watch Dogs

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