Released on Tuesday, Ubisoft's long-awaited open world shooter has long been heralded as the game that would set the standard for our new generation. Over the two years that the game has been on players' radar, we have been inundated with every screenshot and every video and the game itself has been called "revolutionary" more times than can be counted. And all that before anyone - even critics - were able to get their hands on it.
Yet, with all that fanfare, the game released to surprisingly mediocre scores. At the time of this post, Watch Dogs is sitting at a mere 80% on metacritic. By comparison, the last media juggernaut (Rockstar's Grand Theft Auto 5) holds an incredible 97% out of 100 on metacritic.
Okay, so an 80 percent actually doesn't seem too terrible to the lay person, but in an industry that makes a routine of giving games review scores in the 90s and higher, 80 is actually not that great for the game that was meant to change the way we play. But are the harsh scores and scathing critiques a result of a game that's not that great, or is it the product of impossible expectations set by game writers and marketing companies?
Watch Dogs initially appeared (and blew gamers away) in 2012 at E3. That was two full years ago give or take a week. In the time since their first post about the game, Gamespot has added 117 more articles to hype gamers for Watch Dogs' arrival. That averages out to more than one article every week since the time it was revealed. You can bet competitor sites like IGN.com have a similar total in their archives, too.
It's true that critics have not been very kind to the title, but their caustic reviews haven't pointed out flaws in the game's delivery so much as they've decried that it just wasn't as good as they were hoping. Edge Online said, "It’s all a bit of a muddle, suggesting an unwarranted lack of confidence in the core systems, and at times the most keenly anticipated game of this new generation leans too heavily on the conventions of the past."
Polygon stated that Watch Dogs, "leans so heavily on ... noir stereotypes that it becomes achingly predictable - and picks up the genre’s sexism to boot."
Maybe it was Eurogamer, though, that put its critique best when they said that Watch Dogs, "certainly entertains, but mostly through borrowed concepts, and the central notion that could have made it stand out - the hacking - is the most undercooked of all. It doesn't get anything horribly wrong, but nor does it excel at any of the genre beats it so faithfully bangs out."
In other words, most game writers have been reporting that Watch Dogs is a solid game that doesn't quite live up to the hype. Of course it's hard to live up to the hype when the company that released the title, Ubisoft, repeatedly claimed that Watch Dogs was "perfectly positioned to become the industry’s most successful new IP in history." But that hyperbole is almost understandable. Would you play a game whose creators said it was "pretty good, but nothing to write home about?"
Even more, in the scads and scads (and scads) of content surrounding the title, you'd be hard-pressed to find a game writer who was extra-gushy about the game. The major news sites simply reported the game's development progress. Everyone was excited, but no journalist in the industry (to my limited knowledge) went out of their way to specifically proclaim that Watch Dogs was an A+ title. The most you could get out of those guys was, "we expect it to be good."
So, was it mere repetition of the name that built up our excitement? Or was it the same pitfalls that 24-hour news outlets fall into: the need to cover news purely because something new needs to get posted?