Will Watch Dogs break free from the Ubisoft formula?

Though Watch Dogs has borrowed from Splinter Cell, Far Cry, and Assassin's Creed, it could still bring something new to open-world action games.

Ubisoft has cottoned on to something lucrative, a particular gameplay formula that has been seeping into its major releases for a number of years. It is an almighty template--one that dictates everything from high-level world structure down to basic core mechanics. Though the Assassin's Creed, Far Cry, and Splinter Cell series still offer unique power fantasies from different perspectives, they are slowly blending into one--and Watch Dogs is next in line.

This is most obvious when examining the high-level structural similarities between titles. During Far Cry 3's 2012 promotional tour, Jeffrey Yohalem, the game's lead writer, stated, "You can think of it like an Assassin's Creed game in first-person." Though he was referring specifically to the narrative delivery structure, much of the open-world framework of Assassin's Creed came to define Far Cry 3's gameplay, too.

Just as synchronising a viewpoint in Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag reveals key points on the minimap, activating a radio tower in Far Cry 3 reveals nearby locations. Both actions unlock fast travel points in their respective worlds, as well. All in all, Ubisoft likes to break its open worlds up into distinct sections, which lock off regional functionality until a specific loop is completed.

Other locations that bear more significant gameplay changes are dotted throughout Ubisoft's worlds. In Assassin's Creed IV, the state of the Caribbean's divided seas is anchored to one well-defended fort per region. Breaching the fort, killing its commander, and raising your own black flag over its turrets essentially unlocks that section of the map. New missions can be accepted, vendors set up shop, and a grab bag of nearby collectibles are suddenly highlighted on the map. Far Cry 3's outposts serve a very similar purpose. Severing the alarm, taking down every enemy, and raising the flag of the native Rakyat tribe opens new safe houses and alters the ratio of friendly to enemy NPC propagation in the surrounding area.

For Watch Dogs, these open-world anchor points come in the form of CtOS Control Centers--secure hubs that house the omnipresent operating system that controls Chicago's electronic devices. When players infiltrate a control center and hack its main terminal, they gain access to the region's map and are then able to hack all electronic devices throughout.

These systems allow players to adopt an extremely similar flow from series to series, as they're able to sweep across the open-world map and activate each anchor point, in whatever form it may take, to instil a sensation of "clearing" an area. These forts, outposts, and control centers are all multi-stage encounters with various outcomes: Alarms can be tripped; reinforcements can arrive; systems and resources like wild animal attacks, or the presence of hostile Spanish frigates, interact to make clearing each point of interest a relatively unpredictable experience.

Flipping these locations over to the player's control is not enough to highlight their significance to the world at large, so these anchor points continue to affect the world well after they are breached and cleared. Far Cry 3's outposts will spawn friendly NPCs in the nearby area, instigating additional systemic encounters between the island's opposing factions. Assassin's Creed IV's forts will deploy their cannons and mortars against the player's enemies, should they be led within range of that fort's arsenal. Taking a control center in Watch Dogs allows the player to profile every nearby NPC, which increases the incidence of systemic vigilante encounters with random criminals.

The incidental activities that are also highlighted across the map usually tie in to a crafting system. Near-identical progression can be found in Assassin's Creed IV and Far Cry 3, with the skinning of progressively more dangerous animals being required actions for players wanting to buy their way down a list of increasingly desirable items. Even Splinter Cell: Blacklist appropriated this crafting, but rather than skinning terrorists for their pelts, you're earning cash for functionally similar character upgrades to those seen in Ubisoft's other franchises. Though we haven't seen Watch Dogs' crafting in action yet, Ubisoft has mentioned in the above open-world gameplay demo that players will be able to "craft their tools", so, based on this formula, we know what to expect.

Manipulating these in-game economies is usually more straightforward and less receptive to player expression than taking forts and outposts, but these systems' presentation strives to maintain an in-world presence. Both Far Cry 3 and Watch Dogs tell players they've looted items like an "LCD watch" or "Luxury timepiece", respectively, rather than simply increasing their bank account. And then there are the bar-filling, checklist-completing doodads that populate the rest of each game's map--Assassin's Creed IV's messages in bottles, Far Cry 3's World War II letters, and whatever piece of written, collectible side content Watch Dogs has in store.

Even the way that players deal with enemies feels familiar across Ubisoft's major franchises. Though it was Splinter Cell: Conviction that first allowed players to mark and execute enemies, the marking and tracking mechanic, sans execute, has found its way into Far Cry 3, Assassin's Creed IV, and, of course, Watch Dogs. All four franchises feature some form of free transversal, with Edward Kenway's parkour, Sam Fisher's active sprint, Jason Brody's first-person mantling, and Aiden Pierce's ability to scurry up the city's infrastructure. Each game's on-screen minimap communicates much the same information with near-identical visual language. Your moment-to-moment manipulation of each character is becoming increasingly familiar, whether you're clambering across rooftops in Havana, infiltrating Iranian terrorist cells, scaling radio towers in the tropics, or slinking through the back streets of Chicago.

Ubisoft has not stumbled upon this formula accidentally. It has taken a couple of Far Cry games, six mainline Assassin's Creeds, and elements of the latest Splinter Cells to refine the recipe to where it is today. Does this mean the next Splinter Cell will go open world, too? Hey, if Hideo Kojima can do so in Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes, anything could be on the cards for Sam Fisher. But for Watch Dogs, a couple of outcomes can be more clearly predicted. The Ubisoft formula could create a competent but all-too-familiar dose of open-world action or the push for a higher degree of environmental manipulation, along with truly systemic interactions, could elevate Watch Dogs above the other games that Ubisoft's formula has concocted before.

The push for a higher degree of environmental manipulation, along with truly systemic interactions, could elevate Watch Dogs above the other games that Ubisoft's formula has concocted before.

We do know that Watch Dogs will have everything we're familiar with--an open world divided into anchor points, a crafting system, systemic and randomised encounters with NPCs. But the game is also expanding Ubisoft's formula to include a reflection of the player's morality in NPC interactions, as well as a mode that blends single player and multiplayer by allowing players to secretly hack into and disrupt the worlds of others. These are some daring leaps forward, and, if we know Ubisoft, we can expect these additions to the formula to filter back, in some way, to future titles in their existing major franchises as well.

And if you don't believe me, well...considering Ubisoft knows exactly where you died in Assassin's Creed IV, we can assume that Watch Dogs is being developed on a mountain of player metrics, which, considering the game's information warfare focus, makes the existence of the Ubisoft formula nothing if not sweetly ironic.

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340 comments
CoCoBean1
CoCoBean1

Did anyone read the e-mail in ACIV between Abstergo and the security company in watchdogs? They're so similar, and they're set in the same universe. If they added free running to watch dogs, it could be modern AC. They probably wouldn't have to change the gameplay much, just add templars. At the very least, I hope there's some sort of crossover with Aidan helping the assassins or something. That would be sick. 

starjay009
starjay009

Will definitely buy it for my PS4. Looks good and I have utmost faith in Ubisoft. They deliver quality games time and time again. Will also get it for the PC. Hopefully, no DRM issues with this title. 

cratecruncher
cratecruncher

I first read another member's post about this Ubi "formula" back when Watch Dogs was being hyped up for pre-launch back in October.  At the time I hadn't played any of the games mentioned.  Since then I've played about half of Far Cry 3.  The first 5 hours was amazing!  Then the familiarity started to set in.  Climb the tower, take the base, skin the animal for the equipment upgrade.  It's like ground hog day, 123, 123, 123, 123.  The first Far Cry was linear but I enjoyed reloading the major set pieces to try new tactics.  It seemed more entertaining.


Open world games have difficulty in showing the player how to move forward without forcing them.  Skyrim used an obvious main quest surrounded by short fetch quests.  I guess the Ubiverse has you do this formulaic 123 dance.  I am still looking forward to Watchdogs and I hope the delay was to build more systemic gameplay as the author hinted.  It would be a shame to start a new franchise on such a stale formula.  

Biotasticmeat
Biotasticmeat

(Is it just me or is this game seriously coming to the Wii U? That's very surprising IMO but good news for Nintendo!) I'm sure it will be unique enough to survive. Ubisoft always makes it a little different every time without changing the core formula. Its what their good at.

Morphine_OD
Morphine_OD

BS overload. Hey people, let's review the formula of THE WORLD

1) Every FPS game is shoot and run till you win

2) Every Race is about being faster than your opponents and getting faster vehicles

3) Every RPG is about making quests for other people and learning skills.


OMG TOO FAMILIAR, I CAN PLAY NO GAMES NO MORE.

oneligas
oneligas

Watch Dogs is Assassin's Creed + GTA in a High Tech Hacker world

Naylord
Naylord

These games just feel like a checklist; you go around from icon to icon on your minimap ticking things off and upping the games overal completion percentage. It feels so artificial to me.

amdreallyfast
amdreallyfast

"...the game is also expanding Ubisoft's formula to include a reflection of the player's morality in NPC interactions..." 

I am interested in what that means.  Possibly intriguing.

shooters125
shooters125

For an Ubisoft game you could probably expect these pros and cons:

Pros: Good story, likeable protagonist, vast open world, pretty visuals

Cons: Easy combat that may or may not involve tagging enemies and instakill abilities, gradual repetition as the game progresses.

sean1979
sean1979

Anybody think this kind of formula making game-play a lot complicated and confusing?

smokeless_0225
smokeless_0225

I have been wondering about this as well. However even if the game does have these elements in them...it won't necessarily be a bad thing if Ubisoft ties it in well with the story. 

The viewpoints got really old (like everything else) in AC3. But look how AC4 turned that all around. I just hope the story is good. That can make or break this game for me.

xKrNMBoYx
xKrNMBoYx

I have yet to play a Splinter Cell game but I'm a fan of how Ubisoft games work (viewpoints, unlock area, etc)  After getting 100% sync in ACIV: Black Flag I began playing the whole series from the original AC.  I loved Far Cry 3 too so if Watch Dogs is similar to these games I'm all for it.

zux2000
zux2000

for u who say this is to hyped and will not live up to the expetations... well i say this will be exactly so great it seems... just like GTA V was hyped and well it was great... and like FAR CRY 3 was hyped but well well... it was also a 10 of 10 if u ask me... this will probably get a 9 of 10 

endorbr
endorbr

All this whining and complaining from the peanut gallery.  Either buy the game or don't people.  I for one will add it to my collection along with the Far Cry, Spliner Cell, and Assassin's Creed games that I already own.

darkdealer
darkdealer

I have a very strong feeling this game is not going to be very good way to much being put into it to save it from itself and any game that gets pushed back like this usually is not worth the wait.

theugly773
theugly773

I'm sorry but, this game is being hyped up too much. As the hipster would say too "mainstream". I wouldn't be surprised if the game doesn't live up the hype.

quakke
quakke

What "Ubisoft formula"? You mean the like where they made Prince of Persia and Splinter Cell forexample completely mainstream by dumbing them down? To anwswer that, then no. This won't be different. The Division has already proved that Ubisoft continues to cater to casual gamers until Ubisoft is down.


So glad that i got the good games from you like Far Cry1, Splinter Cell1-4, Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time.. since you apparently never will be making awesome games again. Therefore i can't help but hope that you go down just like Activision will eventually go, because it's the greed that eventually gets ya.

19James89
19James89

What are the recommended settings for Watch Dogs on PC?

Warlord_Irochi
Warlord_Irochi

If the core mechanics work well together (and so far they mostly do) then nothing is wrong with them as long as the finals users don't get tired of them.

Meltic
Meltic

Why hasn't it been any news of Watch dogs since october 2013 ?. Wierd... they could have show us some new trailer or something... they dont answer when i asked a question

surfepic
surfepic

I don´t give a shit about the "history" of the game mechanics or, comparisons with older games. I strongly want to play it, and in consequence, I need to know the actual RELEASE DATE, there is no news from ubisoft, neither their forum. It feels really bad.

G4mBi7
G4mBi7

Am i the only one who isn't impressed? Game feels like a modern day AC and after black flag i think I'm done with AC as well :(

Jeremy Steele
Jeremy Steele

Well, until we get to play it, we won't know how to answer that question... I've wanted to play it, more for the setting than the story.. but hopefully it will work well...

The-Neon-Seal
The-Neon-Seal

It looks like PoI so I'll be happy with it. Now we just need the Beeb to let Bethesda make a Doctor Who game and have Rocksteady release an Arrow game.

jigar7
jigar7

@TheExxorcist Yeah right! For starters... I'd like to see you hack the trams, signals, security cams, cellphones, hack bank accounts... raise bollards... reroute signals in GTA V!


GTA V is a great game... but it lacks stealth... this is a completely different genre of the open world concept.


Having an opinion is a good thing... but being absolutely ignorant... *sigh*... I have nothing more to say to you.

NTM23
NTM23

@xKrNMBoYx What you describe isn't the aspects this game is taking away from recent Splinter Cell's.

orbit991
orbit991

@zux2000 Then again there are many examples of hyped games that sucked so your point is moot.

Restivus
Restivus

@endorbr My decision to purchase this game hinges largely upon whether it is derivative or innovative.


Kudos GS for a great article discussing these structural formulas.

Rhys4Peace
Rhys4Peace

@19James89  

  • Processor: Core i7 3770 @ 3.5Ghz or AMD FX-8350 @ 4.0Ghz
  • RAM: 8 GB
  • Video Card: 2048 VRAM DirectX 11 with Shader Model 5.0 or higher (see supported list)
  • Sound Card: Surround Sound 5.1 capable sound card
  • Supported Video Cards at Time of Release:
    nVidia GeForce GTX460 or better, GT500, GT600, GT700 series; 
    AMD Radeon HD5850 or better, HD6000, HD7000, R7 and R9 series
    Intel® Iris™ Pro HD 5200
  • Senior_Rosa
    Senior_Rosa

    @Warlord_Irochi Well, that is the main problem. It looks to be the same kind of game over and over an over and….

    ACWH
    ACWH

    @surfepic TBH, after they dropped it from the PS4 launch I forgot about that game. By the time it comes out I will be a father and have no time for it anyway.

    G4mBi7
    G4mBi7

    The only reason they didn't call it AC5 is because Desmond is dead and they had no idea where to take the main AC storyline (alien gods bs). This would have been a pretty good direction imo.

    phantompain888
    phantompain888

    @jigar7 @TheExxorcist yeah this game is something different, BUT if u have played GTA,V thoroughly u should have known that stealth is there even in the very first heist u got a choice, stealth is there even in hunting in the shape of your scent and noise.....and then u got stealth indicators and noise indicators on map, stealth moves and attacks....what more can u expext from a massive game like gta v. what i mean is that its perfect in every sence, im looking forward to only 2 games this year.....

    mgs v ground zeroes and if phantom pain also comes out this year

    and

    watch dogs

    but i strongly believe gta v would still be the king for atleast a couple of years....

    a next gen full fledge sleeping dogs could do the trick i think.........

    xKrNMBoYx
    xKrNMBoYx

    @NTM23 @xKrNMBoYx I see well as I probably said I have never played a Splinter Cell game.  But I understand that marking enemies was taken from a Splinter Cell game and it was first used in the recent AC4: Black Flag for the AC franchise.  It's something I like.  After playing ACII after IV I kind of missed being able to lock a target instead of just seeing which ones were the target in the eagle vision mode.

    Meltic
    Meltic

    @surfepic @Meltic This is BS. Ubisoft must release this game soon i Think. They have no choise. They are already loosed to much Money on this.

    everson_rm
    everson_rm

    @ACWH @surfepic Well, congrats! A fresh new daddy! :)

    shooters125
    shooters125

    @G4mBi7 They didn't call it AC5 because it's the fourth main title, barring Brotherhood and Revelations.

    everson_rm
    everson_rm

    @Kisalon @Rhys4Peace But with high to ultra settings... and waaaaay cheaper hardware...

    xKrNMBoYx
    xKrNMBoYx

    @Warlord_Irochi @G4mBi7 What spoiler?  Desmond dieing?  That happened in Revelations and that came out in 2011.  No one should have to worry about spoilers for a game that is from almost 3 years ago.  Anyone who had/has interest in the AC franchise would have already played the game or read about it by now.