Watching The Watch Dogs: When Do Delays Matter?

Delayed. It’s a word that gamers have become all too familiar with, along with the feelings that usually accompany it. Not quite in that nasty vein of “canceled,” and nowhere as definite as “coming soon,” delays are a strange lot that few like and fewer can decipher. There are often any number of reasons for them happening, and most of them as ambiguous as the delay itself. The delay of Watch Dogs (and others like it) consistently raises the same question that’s been asked to death come every game delay: Is it ever too late to be great?

It’s not hard to say that Watch Dogs has spun a wealth of conspiracies since its debut. With its interesting gameplay mechanics, a compelling narrative, and a gorgeous open-world Chicago to explore, Aiden Pearce’s urban vigilantism promised to be the best mix of Assassin’s Creed and Grand Theft Auto all in one when it burst onto the scene of 2012’s E3. Fast forward to E3 2013 and Watch Dogs was already touting a cross-platform release right alongside the autumn next-gen console launch as one of its star titles before its surprise delay. Flashback to just a week or so ago, Watch Dogs quite unceremoniously rebranded itself with a May 27th release date after months of stone-cold silence. It wasn’t long though before fans began spotting some noticeable graphical discrepancies between its previous and most recent trailers and to make matters worse, new claims allege that the game’s showing two years ago was forced by the studio’s CEO last minute with suggestions that it’s development was never intended for next-generation consoles. These implications follow lead voice actor Noam Jenkins’ as-of-yet unfinished voice work. All of these claims can be taken simply as the rumors they still are, but none of them bode well for a game already perceived as a down-scaled version of an originally better product.

That said, there are plenty of ways to interpret the seemingly hard evidence for Watch Dogs’ new face. It’s not impossible that so many months of hype exhausted the game’s available PS4, X-Box One, PC reels and the studio had to fall back on its archive of PS3/360 footage. Another likelihood is that the game’s voice acting might’ve simply needed a few touch ups rather than a complete rework. As for its development on next-gen consoles? No one can ever really know, but it’s no secret that Ubisoft’s spent quite a pretty penny on Watch Dogs already. According to Ubisoft’s Stephane Decroix, Watch Dogs’ budget was already a sizable $68 million before its delay, and that’s not counting its absurdly huge marketing venture. It’s probably not a stretch to say that its easily passed that up by now and its most expensive and hard-to-develop-for-platforms are going to take every financial priority because of it.

What comes as more of an issue for Watch Dogs isn’t what’s being sold so much as what it’s overselling. Graphics and horsepower have particularly been the bread and butter of its controversy since its dated release and their disproportionate emphasis speaks ill of a game that, by all means, was meant to be far more than an aesthetic. Graphical resolution is only skin deep you could say, especially in light of open-worlds like GTA V relying on the greater attractions like art style and exploration than just looks alone. I’ve rarely encountered people that play their games in still-frame anyway, and in motion polygons are more overwhelmed by such things like controls and gameplay. It won’t be a crime for Watch Dogs to have lowered its graphics to accompany a bigger, better world, but only if ti delivered that compensation.

It doesn’t help that Watch Dogs hasn’t been a very equal friend to all systems either. Over the last few years, it’s never been clear how much Ubisoft favors its players. While its gravitation towards annual release cycles and its delays have made it something of a punching bag for fans, olive branches such as its unlikely support of the underrated Wii U for the past two years haven’t gone without controversy. The company’s been known to play favorites when it’s come to multi-platform releases, as Nintendo fans may still recall with its delay of Rayman Legends to the Wii U just last year for the sake of a simultaneous release, only to be met by the frustration of Wii U fans who quickly protested the decision. While Watch Dogs’s main versions are in development by the Ubisoft Montreal crew, the game’s Wii U version remains in development under the smaller branch of Ubisoft Bucharest and indefinitely delayed, perhaps past 2014 as plenty already cry foul over what seems like a blacklisted cash-in prepped for failure. The studio’s since responded, citing its hope of maintaining a quality title, but some amount of cynicism can’t be dismissed. Watch Dogs exemplifies a long-standing demand from Wii U owners of not just getting a good game for their system, but an equal one, or simply releasing none at all.

Watch Dogs isn’t the only game to recently be delayed, of course. CD Projekt RED most recently delayed its much anticipated The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt following Driveclub‘s similar return to the workshop. None of those even begin to match South Park: The Stick of Truth’s much-speculated cancellation after months of delays. Success stories are always possible, but while games like South Park rock Metacritic with a solid 84 average, Watch Dogs is still a game without a clear vision for anyone to grasp (or trust) just yet.

It’s said by Nintendo’s Shigeru Miyamoto that a delayed game is eventually good, but a rushed game is forever bad. It’s true that delays aren’t and shouldn’t be omens in themselves. Then again, they simply aren’t a confirmation of anything. Watch Dogs could still be that good game that benefited from the extra polish, or it might be one that was never repairable. No one knows until they play it, and that’s good enough. . . for now.


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