Also On: PS4, PS3, Xbox One, Xbox 360
Developer: Ubisoft Montreal
Let’s address that massive elephant in the room right off the bat: the mere fact Watch Dogs is on the Wii U is kind of weird. It came out on every other platform six months ago, Ubisoft was oddly coy about its continued existence for the longest time, and when it finally did come out, it was quietly released on the same day as approximately twenty other games, including one of its biggest influences, GTA V on PS4 and Xbox One. On top of that, there’s a not-insignificant chance that it represents the last AAA third-party game we’ll see on the Wii U. All of which is to say, it would be very easy to look at Watch Dogs on the Wii U and think about all the extraneous stuff, rather than the game itself.
Of course, this isn’t anything new. In fact, as anyone who played the game back at launch can attest, for all the hype the game received prior to its release back in May the actual product turned out to be a little underwhelming. Rather than being some kind of massive game-changer, Watch Dogs turned out to have a pretty run-of-the-mill (to be charitable) story alongside graphics that were nowhere near as good as initially advertised and gameplay that, hacking gimmick aside, wasn’t anything revolutionary.
In a way, then, picking up Watch Dogs on the Wii U now, rather than months ago when it may have felt like the game was massively overpromising and underdelivering, might not be the worst thing in the world. After all, if you don’t go in expecting much, it’s a lot harder to be disappointed. Freed from the prerelease hype, the hacking aspect is pretty fun; it may still be a little silly, sure, but it’s genuinely fun to drive around Chicago causing mayhem by turning traffic lights on and off, randomly making bollards spring up in the middle of the road, and doing all kinds of other little things that make people react in weird ways. None of it is really that consequential, but that doesn’t make it any less fun, provided you can embrace its inconsequentiality.
(And speaking of inconsequental fun, I’ll note that the AI here is just as spectacularly dumb as it was on the PS4 version. Words cannot capture the joy I got when I discovered that there are places you can go — like, say, on the water, or beneath a parking garage ramp — that no one can reach you, and you can wreak all the consequence-free havoc you want because enemies are too stupid to do anything about it. Maybe it says something disturbing about my personality, but every time I was able to watch from a safe distance as cop cars just kept plowing into each other, each time shouting “I’m going to ram him!”, I couldn’t help but giggle like an idiot. I doubt that’s what the developers intended, but holy crap was it hilarious.)
That said, the flaws that were so obvious back in May are just as obvious now. The story is still pretty terrible. This, of course, shouldn’t come as a surprise, since it’s not like they could’ve changed it up all that much just by porting the game over, but still; Aiden Pearce still has that creepy, quasi-incestuous thing going on with his sister, and there’s still a big reliance on technobabble and entry-level philosophizing in place of having anything to say.
Likewise, the graphics are still pretty “meh”. To some extent, this is to be expected. After all, the Wii U just isn’t as powerful as the PS4 or the Xbox One, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Watch Dogs doesn’t look as good here as it did on those consoles. Nonetheless, even with lowered expectations, this still looks a little flat and lifeless. It’s not as bad as, say, the gap between the Wii and the PS360 or between PS2 and PS3, but it’s still pretty noticeable, and considering we’re talking about a game in which the graphics were already a little disappointing, you can see why I — or anyone else who’s ever played an HD game — might not be awed by them.
It’s not all bad, though. The driving is noticeably better, as far as I’m concerned. Whereas I found it to be a huge chore in the PS4 version, navigating vehicles seemed to go a lot more smoothly here, even if you haven’t bought any driving upgrades. I was very pleasantly surprised to discover that here I was able to just hop into a car and instantly have it go exactly where I wanted. I wasn’t able to do that back in May on PS4, and I don’t think that any of that can be attributed to my own improvements.
(Speaking of driving, another aside: the streets here seem a little emptier than they did on the PS4 version. Whereas the Chicago of PS4’s Watch Dogs was teeming with big, heavy duty vehicles that could drive around town smashing through everything in their way — another of the great side effects of braindead AI — here it didn’t feel like there were nearly as many firetrucks, dumptrucks, or any other large vehicles suitable to causing mayhem.)
The biggest improvement, though, has to be the existence of the GamePad. It’s hardly a revolutionary concept to use the Wii U’s second screen just to show a city map, but it still feels amazing. I loved being able to just look down at the GamePad to see where everything was, rather than having to pause out of the game and search around.
Is the addition of the GamePad enough say the six-month wait was justified? Probably not, even when you factor in off-screen play (which, quite frankly, just feels cramped). And if you were hoping that Watch Dogs on the Wii U had resolved the game’s fundamental problems, again, you’ll be disappointed. If, however, you haven’t played it yet, and you want to experience the game without sky-high expectations and a ridiculous amount of ad-driven hype, then now might be the time to dip your toe in the water.