Some might suggest that it's the end of an era. While Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 have continued to receive conversions (of varying quality) of the majority of the recent AAA hits, Nintendo's Wii U has clearly missed out this season, with Assassin's Creed, FIFA, Call of Duty, Destiny and many others conspicuous by their absence. Delayed for six months, Watch Dogs could well be the last major multi-platform release the console sees - Ubisoft itself declaring that it's the last mature title it's willing to bring to Wii U. Going into the game, initial buzz on the internet seemed positive, with talk of the game sitting between the last-gen and PS4/Xbox One versions - right where you'd hope it would be, given the capabilities of the more modern Nintendo hardware.
It's been four months since Watch Dogs sold a ton of copies and earned itself Yves Guillemot's rubber stamp of franchise status. The debate of how well the game delivered on its lofty pre-release expectations now feels long worn out but, having stuck through the game's story until the very end, do indulge me a quick opinion here. I think I've earned it.
It was our first taste of next-gen. Watch Dogs' brilliant E3 2012 reveal demonstrated a new level of open-world gameplay - a stunning simulation of Chicago, where the ability to hack smartphones and infrastructure hinted at previously impossible levels of interactivity, rendered with visual fidelity that wasn't achievable on the hardware of the time. This was Ubisoft's vision for the future of gaming.
Like many people - judging by Ubisoft's declaration of record day-one sales - I have spent the last few days driving around Watch Dogs' next-gen vision of Chicago, raising and lowering bollards and searching in vain for something to wear that doesn't make me look like Neo in chunky knit. I've had some fun but, as is often the case, I think the things I've most enjoyed have been the incidental details. No, not Aiden Pearce's "iconic cap", but things like the billboard signs hacked to show internet memes, or the snatches of stolen SMS traffic thrown up by Aiden's profiler. "I'm doing vaginas tonight... Oh crap! Fajitas! Fajitas!"
Pre-launch, Ubisoft Montreal confirmed Watch Dogs would operate at different resolutions on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. The PS4 operates at a straight 900p, while the peculiar '792p' - first seen in Titanfall - is the resolution of choice for the Xbox One version of the game. But what other differences set the two releases apart? And do they each play just as well as each other?
While we've had access to the PS4 and PC editions of Watch Dogs for a few days, access to Xbox One code has been non-existent, so we got our hands on the game at the same time as everyone else, buying it from the Xbox Store on the stroke of midnight on release day. We're currently working on a much more extensive analysis, but we thought we'd share some initial findings with you ahead of time.
Let's kick off with some initial observations on image quality. Generally speaking, intricate texture detail and high-contrast edges aren't the most obvious elements of Watch Dogs' visual make-up, so the good news is that despite lacking a full 1080p framebuffer, the PS4 edition remains a very handsome-looking game compared to the PC release running at maximum settings. The surprise is how close the pared-down Xbox One game compares; after Titanfall's aliasing issues, we had concerns about Watch Dogs' visual presentation, but it manages to acquit itself rather well overall, as the shots below should demonstrate.
Watch Dogs' unveiling at E3 2012 lives fondly in the memory for two reasons. Firstly because it was one of our earliest looks at a real next-generation console title, flaunting a calibre of lighting, physics and effects in a sandbox world that trumped any PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 reveals that year. Secondly, it was announced for no console in particular at the time, with Sony and Microsoft still stubbornly quiet about their new hardware plans. Having sparked off the next-gen discussion two years ago, though, does the final game deliver the explosive excitement we were promised? We've been playing the finished article on PlayStation 4 to find out.
There's something about Watch Dogs' recent graphics debate that goes beyond skin deep. Games evolve between conception, unveiling and release - and after a five-year development it should be no surprise that things have changed. It sounds like there's now good news in the graphics department, but it remains to be seen whether the vocal minority that felt disappointed will have been won back. It wasn't simply that the game might look worse - rightly or wrongly, those players felt Ubisoft had cheated on a key part of the vision sold back at Watch Dogs' E3 2012 unveiling.
Open Watch Dog's world map and what will you find? I see a city divided into districts, around half a dozen in number. Each has a central control point to capture, to unlock a surrounding sea of icons - side-missions, mini-games, collectibles. So it is in Assassin's Creed, so it is in Far Cry and so it is in Watch Dogs too.
Four months have passed since Watch Dogs' initial launch date and still the game isn't on shop shelves. But - as announced earlier today - Ubisoft's tech-savvy open world is now, finally, coming. Just two more months remain until its marathon five-year development draws to a close.
We've had our say already, and typically we were probably well wide of the mark, so it's now your turn to let us know what games you're looking forward to over the next 12 months. Thanks to all who voted (but no thanks to whoever suggested Pong, and to the handful of people who put forward Half-Life 3, well... I'm sorry). The top 10 are presented in reverse order below - and it was incredibly tight out at the front, with the top result beating out the runner-up by only a couple of votes. We've also included some of your comments, although since the submission form was anonymous we can't say exactly who made which point. Sorry about that - if you feel particularly proprietorial about one of your insights that we've highlighted, tell the world in the comments. Onward!
Yet more proof this week, if more proof were needed, that the next generation does not start when Sony says it does. Or when Microsoft says it does, for that matter. The last-minute delay until spring 2014 of Watch Dogs, Ubisoft's post-internet open-world 1984-'em-up, was met with a certain amount of shock and no small degree of disappointment. Once that wore off, however, the greater concern was what we are going to play on next-gen consoles instead.
Deep down I always try to be optimistic about sequels, even though I probably make all the same jokes about them as everyone else, but I'm really struggling to get worked up about Killzone: Shadow Fall or Killer Instinct. There's Dead Rising 3, the latest in an unpredictable series with strong pedigree, but given Capcom's run of form at the moment, I half expect to burn through that and throw "out of ten" on the end without interrupting my gait.
OK then, maybe I am not as optimistic about sequels as I claim (although that really was a joke - I'm sure Dead Rising 3 will be, you know, transcendent), but besides new instalments in proven series like Battlefield, FIFA and Forza Motorsport that will sustain a few of us, Watch Dogs' delay means there's a lot resting on the shoulders of Mark Cerny's Knack and Crytek's Russell Crowe QTE extravaganza for those of us seeking new experiences. At least there's ResoGun and Crimson Dragon.
At E3 2012, Watch Dogs kickstarted the next generation of gaming long before the PS4 or Xbox One had even been announced, joining Star Wars 1313 as one of the defining moments of the show. A short gameplay walkthrough demonstrated a highly detailed world with a slew of impressive visual effects, animation and physics work that added an extra level of realism not possible on current-gen console platforms.
The bombastic E3 show floor was packed with open-world games.
Microsoft's stunning U-turn on its controversial Xbox One policies has delighted gamers and retailers - but are developers and publishers just as happy?
At E3 last week, in a behind closed doors presentation called Xbox 101, Microsoft engineering manager Jeff Henshaw - not a member of the PR team, he points out - tells a small gathering of journalists that Xbox One's 300,000 server cloud gives the next-generation console a unique advantage.
It's early on in Ubisoft's new Watch Dogs demo that the action pauses and we see a static camera angle of a leafy Chicago junction. We're watching the game running in real-time on PlayStation 4, on a dev kit that's scurried away under personal guard as soon as the playthrough is finished.
In July 2010, ahead of the release of Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood, one of the key developers behind the game told Eurogamer that the stealth action series needed a "breather".
"I'm not directly managing third-party relations," says Shuhei Yoshida, when I ask him a question that pretty much has nothing to do with the area of Sony Computer Entertainment for which he is responsible.
Back at the start of January, we wrote of our hope that 2012 would bring us more Actual New Games. As much as we like stuff like Diablo 3 (when we can play it), we also want games that "invent new styles and genres", as I said at the time.
It's a funny place we've found ourselves in at this year's E3 - if not necessarily stuck between a rock and a hard place then certainly trapped in an awkward twilight, having old tech repackaged and resold to us while we marvel at a future that's very much here amongst us, even if certain parties refuse to acknowledge it.
Ubisoft has picked the perfect time to take the wraps off Watch Dogs. In an E3 that's provided precious little in the way of innovation or excitement in the action adventure space, its brand new IP has been one of the few freshly announced titles to generate any palpable buzz on the showfloor.
However, under closer inspection in an invite-only broom cupboard tucked away in the publisher's booth, there's plenty of evidence to suggest Ubisoft Montreal's hugely ambitious open world adventure would have grabbed plenty of headlines even during a vintage year for LA's annual gaming expo.
For those who haven't pored over the demo footage shown during the publisher's press conference on Monday, here are the basics. Watch Dogs plays out in a near-future Chicago where all digital devices are linked by an enormous clandestine data network set up to allow private corporations access to every single scrap of data linked to an individual person.