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All Thumbsticks Game Review: Watch Dogs Retrospective

Updated: Jun 9, 2022

Watch Dogs, stylized as WATCH_DOGS, is a champion of its unofficial title of a AAA underdog story. As a new and rushed IP from Ubisoft, famous for titles like Assassin’s Creed and Rayman, Watch Dogs promised players the chance to play as vigilante hackers seeking justice against a corrupt system of conglomerate tech companies seeking to control the public eye and opinion. Outside of conceptual “hack the planet” undertone, Watch Dogs provides a stealth or action experience to players.

Ubisoft Montreal had developed the game as a developers demo then was greenlit as a fully functioning game on the next generation PlayStation 4. Watch Dogs went through a brutal five years in development since its first trailer was released in 2009, then a full gameplay demo was released in June 2012 before two more years of final development.

Watch Dogs 1 finally released on, May 27th, 2014. By sales, the game sold 10 million units at total, listing it as the second first day launch property, beating Assassin’s Creed 2’s record by 17%. However, Watch Dogs was met with mixed to polarized reception. While the hacking gameplay was one of the defining elements and received praised for intuitive button placement, the game was also praised for mission variety and open world design. Online multiplayer was also established as hacking missions or stealth elimination, so players can try and hack other people for in game rewards. At the same time, harsh reception was met on the graphics; the developers failed to meet expectations from marketing trailers; Ubisoft even was accused of graphical downgrading. The plot was described as being flat or predictable, meeting clichés and lack of personality, reducing characters to stereotypes.

In 2014, however, a trailer arose during E3 . Ubisoft announced its second installment into the Watch Dogs titles, Watch Dogs 2. Development started in 2014, after Watch Dogs 1 was received by the public. After looking at reviews, it was determined that the series could be another long standing franchise. For this project, Ubisoft Montreal, along with subsidiaries Ubisoft Toronto, Paris, Bucharest, Keiv, and Reflections all worked together to work on the project; specifically, Ubisoft Reflections revamped the driving mechanics. Instead of the grim streets of Chicago like in WD 1, sunny San Francisco, California was dubbed the locale for the “hack-tivist” sect of Ded-Sec to roam and call out the powers that be for invasive data collecting and privatizing basic human rights. The characters, overall story, and side missions had greatly improved. Gameplay and puzzle solving is sleek and interactive rather than stiff boring. Hacking the world is still the same concept, though new mechanics like having drones or rovers to do the work for you are included. Critics and audiences both praised the massive improvements the Ubisoft team made as the developers took in past criticism and hired real life hackers to create the story true to its source material, along with frequent trips to California to create an open space for players to explore freely. Watch Dogs 2 was finally released on November, 2016 to positive reception, but with mixed results for characters being “inconsistent,” including the protagonist, Marcus Holloway.

Playing through both games, I found that Watch Dogs 1 was bland at first and Aiden Pierce was the dark brooding character that most people can find boring. But, he is consistent outside of the tongue in cheek humor of Marcus and his occasional character flubs. Between these two protagonists and their stories, I find that being out in San Francisco taking out white collar data crooks and messing with people at the ATM is more satisfying than being talked at for exposition. Then again, being the Fox vigilante and taking out data criminals and underworld gangsters for putting a hit on me but then accidentally killed my niece is appealing. Regardless, Ubisoft made gigantic leaps and bounds with this series and it will only get better from here.

With Watch Dogs Legion on the way, I recommend that people start paying attention to the Watch Dogs games. Sure, Watch Dogs 1 is a game to gather dust in your digital library as opposed to Watch Dogs 2, but they both offer an interesting take on hackers. As trailers have stated, it’s going to be interesting seeing how Ubisoft creates randomized NPCs that you can recruit and then take control of. Mostly because of the old lady character with a taser.

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