Last week saw the release of possibly the most hyped game of recent times, as Ubisoft’s open-world hackathon Watch_Dogs finally made its way onto shop shelves.

I think the level of hype has worked against the game somewhat; like many, I was incredibly excited about it when it was first shown at E3 in 2012, but every subsequent showing stripped a little more of that enthusiasm away. Also tempering my excitement was my cooling interest in Ubisoft’s output as their games begin to trend more and more towards homogenisation; now everything is an open-world with skill trees and lots of ‘stuff’ to do. I thought I’d love that, until I’d just had enough of it. Far cry 3 was about the limit for me – I loved it up to a point, and then I suddenly couldn’t even be bothered to finish it.

It doesn’t help that much of that ‘stuff’ I talked about is uninteresting. In Watch_Dogs, you can’t walk the length of a block without some pop-up informing you that some more ‘stuff’ is now available, or that some identikit mini-quest has been triggered in your vicinity. It feels a little strange to say the game has too much content, but when much of it seems to be filler, it makes me feel overwhelmed with pointless crap.

It’s putting me off going back to the game, if I’m honest. Going forward, I will probably just be focusing on the main story missions, but I really wish I could turn off the extraneous filler that I’m only going to ignore anyway – perhaps I’m not the obsessive-compulsive gamer that I once was, but I’m finding that it’s on the verge of ruining the experience for me. Having said that, there are a few additional things that I will be doing, such as hacking ctOS stations (as they’re generally fun little environmental puzzles), and the digital trips, which I’ll touch on later.

One criticism I saw in a few reviews was that the city feels lifeless and dull, and that’s something I can’t really agree with. Strolling around the city – in between ignoring all the prompts, of course – you can see couples kissing under bus stops, people playing keepy-uppy, others engaging in street rap battles and plenty of people staring, zombie-like, at their phones. Toying with the people of Chicago by messing with traffic lights and bollards also brings out some great reactions and one-liners, too. Below is a video I put together showing some of the life in Chicago, as well as me just having a bit of fun trolling the populace.

Moreover, the city is given life through the ability to passively profile everyone you see as you walk down the street, listening in on their calls, intercepting text messages, learning their purchasing behaviour and political leanings and even their sexual proclivities.

Unfortunately, much of this information seems to have been included simply to be provocative. I get that a large part of the game is about invasion of privacy, and that the ease at which Pearce is able to learn almost anyone’s darkest secrets at the push of a button is intended to underline this, but it often comes across less like timely criticism of our digital information age and more like lurid voyeurism.

I’ve been somewhat negative on the game so far, but there is certainly fun to be had. There’s a fair bit of mileage in playing with the city infrastructure to troll random bystanders, but for me the real fun comes when you need to infiltrate a guarded area. Watch_Dogs smartly rips the cover and movement system from the last couple of Splinter Cell games, which allows the player to stay out of sight, swiftly moving from cover to cover as needed. This is all great if you want to play the game as a third-person cover shooter (which is totally viable), but what’s more fun is to use the game’s central theme of hacking to get to where you want to go without even needing to fire a bullet.

Staying out of sight, you can hack a nearby camera to survey the area, jumping to other viewpoints as need be. You can then see all the available hackable elements that you can use to bring down your foes. It’s a fantastically fun (and oddly calming) slice of gameplay that allows you to sit back, somewhat detached from the action itself, and act as and when you please. For me, it’s stuff like this that validates Watch_Dogs‘ tagline of “hacking is our weapon” – not only does the game give you powerful yet easy to use tools, it changes the way you’d generally play through such an encounter. You can see how this plays out in another of my videos below.

I mentioned digital trips earlier, and this is an element that I’ve only just come across in the game. Digital trips are small virtual reality-style mini-games, yet even these have skill trees to unlock. So far, I’ve only played the Spider-Tank game, which basically puts you inside a Fuchikoma, and it’s a whole heap of fun.

Your tank is highly mobile, capable of climbing everything, jumping from building to building, firing a chain gun, and finally engaging in an arachnid “HULK SMASH!” melee attack. Leaping around the city clambering over buildings frees you in a way that can never be realised while playing as Aiden, and it’s exhilarating to clamber up a building before leaping from the top, hurtling towards the ground before slamming down to wreck everything around you. I would probably play a full game of this, if it was more fleshed out, and I can certainly see me putting in a few hours, as well as trying out some of the other trips. Below you can see a video of my first attempt at Spider-Tank.

I must admit that I’m finding it hard to be drawn back to Watch_Dogs at the moment – I’m still on Act I. As I said, it certainly has its moments of fun, but it also has an equal amount of mundanity. I have both Wolfenstein: The New Order and Murdered: Soul Suspect calling to me from my shelf, and surprisingly Borderlands 2 on the Vita is consuming the majority of my gaming time at the moment, so I think I’m going to have to stick to the main story and bomb through it. Hopefully, once I’m a bit further into it, I’ll be enjoying it a lot more.

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