(Horrible title, right?)
There are always hype trains for big games, especially ones that seem unique. Watch_Dogs was easily one of the most anticipated games since its original showing at E3 2012. The hype train was so monstrous, in fact, that it was pretty much guaranteed to not live up.
And for many, it did not.
A lot of gamers (or at least a small, vocal minority) were especially disappointed in how much different the visuals looked between the original trailer at E3 2012 and the final product, released 6 months after its original planned release date in November 2013. Others complained that the game got too repetitive. Still others complained that the option augmented reality missions broke the immersion of the game. Some complained about all of those things (if not more).
On top of that, the Wii U version–which was supposed to release alongside the PS4, XBO, PC, PS3, and 360 versions–got delayed with no release date (or even release window) in sight. For those of us who own a Wii U and were imagining the potential for unique ways to use the Gamepad, this either gave great hope (in that Ubisoft would do more with the Gamepad to make it the definitive version feature-wise) or would eventually just cancel the project altogether as their other M-rated games (especially Assassin’s Creed III and IV) had sold quite poorly on Wii U.
But in September, Ubisoft finally confirmed that Watch_Dogs would come to Wii U on November 18th, a mind-boggling decision considering Super Smash Bros. for Wii U would be released later the same week. It seemed that Ubisoft was expecting it to fail or wanting to “prove their point” by releasing it on what could be the worst possible time to actually have it sell. And to make matters worse, they released no screenshots or mentions of what the Gamepad would actually do until just a few days prior to release. There was no marketing whatsoever. But when November 18th came and the game released, I decided to buy the Wii U version.
Why Wait for Watch_Dogs Wii U?
I know a lot of people are wondering why I’d spend $60 for the game on Wii U instead of just getting it for another platform for $40. Others are asking why I wanted to play it at all.
1. I was never very hyped about the game, even though the concept seemed cool (and reminded me a lot of one of my favorite TV shows, Person of Interest on CBS). So when I saw the very lackluster reviews, it didn’t do much to persuade or dissuade me because I knew most of them were clouded by hype. I wanted to experience the game for myself and form my own opinions. About 12 hours in (with only 5 or 6 story missions done so far), I have not been disappointed.
2. Even with slightly inferior hardware (power-wise), the Wii U had the potential to do some unique things with the Gamepad.
This is just one person’s idea of how to make the Wii U version more unique.
And even if they decided to do the bare minimum (off-TV play, map on the Gamepad screen, radio audio through the Gamepad speaker), it would still be better for me personally (the map on the Gamepad is actually what sold me on getting Batman: Arkham City for Wii U instead of spending much less on the PC version).
3. Even though third party support is all but non-existent when it comes to AAA titles on Wii U, I still like to show my support when I can. I bought both Assassin’s Creed III and IV (though I haven’t gotten much into III yet and haven’t even tried IV), both Batman: Arkham City Armored Edition (which is the DEFINITIVE version, hands-down) and Batman: Arkham Origins, Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed, and others.
4. The Wii U doesn’t have a ton of open world games (the only other truly open games I’m aware of are the two Batman: Arkham games–which I’ve played extensively–and Lego City Undercover) and this one seemed to be more or less Grand Theft Auto with hacking and other unique features.
5. The game looks really, really good on Wii U. I know that it’s not as great as the PS4/XBO/PC versions (and isn’t even close to the E3 2012 trailer), but it still looks fantastic, whether played on the TV or the Gamepad.
What’s Different on Wii U?
To be frank, Ubisoft did the bare minimum when it comes to Gamepad features. When you play on the TV screen, the Gamepad displays a full map of Chicago with icons for various points of interest. You can move the map with your finger or stylus and with a simple tap, set or remove waypoints. In this way, it feels kind of like you’re looking at your in-game phone as none of the on-screen action pauses while you do this, thereby making the game more immersive. The down side, however, is that because you always have a mini-map on the TV screen, you really don’t need the map on the Gamepad at all (whereas in the Batman Arkham games, it was extremely useful).
They’ve also made it so that you can hear dialogue, music (i.e. when you’re driving or if you use the media app), and the audio from hacked calls/audio logs when the Gamepad volume is turned on. This is another neat feature, but the fact that it plays regular dialogue through that speaker makes it a bit less immersive in my opinion (other games, like the Batman Arkham games and Lego City Undercover, kept spoken dialogue played through the TV or central speaker when using surround sound).
Lastly, the game can be played in its entirety solely on the Gamepad screen. You lose the touch screen features (and as with other games supporting the feature the range is limited to roughly 20-30 feet from the console), but you retain all of the necessary buttons to play and the connection is always super smooth. The greatest thing about this feature is that you do not need to even have the console connected to the TV to play. All you need is a power source to plug in the console (and it wouldn’t hurt to be able to plug in the Gamepad to charge every 3-5 hours as well) and you can play with ease. I’ve actually been playing almost exclusively on the Gamepad (and have even played when not at home and without a TV to use).
All of these features are neat to some degree (off-TV play being the most useful by far), but it would have been nice if Ubisoft had decided to do more with the Gamepad, like display all of the “phone” stuff on the Gamepad screen instead of on the TV and enabled touch for accessing different menus, audio logs, etc. I do think it was wise for them to keep the hacking to a single face button rather than on the touch screen (especially as it gets used a LOT while in car chases and it’s important to keep your eyes on the road when driving), but there’s still more they could have done to increase immersion.
Ubisoft could learn a lot from WB Montreal’s use of the Gamepad’s touch screen in Batman: Arkham City Armored Edition.
Was Watch_Dogs Wii U Worth the Wait?
Frankly, I can’t for the life of me figure out why it took them 6 months extra to do such a minimal amount of new features. But I can say that the game does not have any noticeable frame rate issues (in my estimation, it seems to run a consistent 30fps with maybe a few frames lost when driving cars), no screen-tearing, and while there is a minimal amount of graphical pop-in, it’s honestly barely noticeable and hasn’t bothered me at all.
As for the quality of the game itself, I’ve been very pleased. I’ve found a wide variety of stuff to do (though I haven’t touched any of the augmented reality stuff), the story is keeping me interested, and the gameplay feels different enough from other open-world titles that I have been enjoying all I can do. The mini-map really makes the Gamepad display of the map fairly pointless, but that also makes the off-TV play even better as I don’t feel like I’m losing anything by playing on it instead of the TV.
What I will say, though, is that unless the sequel happens to come to Wii U, I’ll just buy it on PS4 or PC.