Every year, there’s always one game that explodes onto the shelves from a swirling vortex of hype. It seems like it’s going to be innovative, exciting, and immensely fun, but ends up letting me down in nearly every aspect. Last year’s let down was “The Last of Us” and I’d rather not relive that.

This year’s? Well, looks like it’s “Watch Dogs”.

Let me preface this by saying that I don’t think “Watch Dogs” is a bad game. It’s not. It has interesting ideas and a lot of content. If you’re the type of person that values the illusion of innovation and likes a LOT of stuff to do – even if that stuff isn’t very fun – then “Watch Dogs” will please you.

Me? I’m not like that.

Ubisoft promised a lot of things with the initial reveal of the game. The graphics, the protagonist, the world; none of it delivered on the level it should have. I don’t really want to get into any of that.

Instead, my two major complaints are the shallow hacking mechanics and the mediocre sandbox gameplay.

Hacking was supposed to be the game’s core mechanic, and on the surface, it is. However, nothing interesting is done with it. Sure, you can hack money from people’s bank accounts, which is like pickpocketing in other games. You can look at security cameras, change traffic lights, raise bridges and barriers, and unlock doors. It seems like it’s all cool and futuristic, but it’s not.

It’s all fluff. Little things you could do in one way or another in other games, but gussied up in a cool hacker skin. It certainly sounds original, until you actually start playing with the mechanic and realize just how superficial it all is.

There have been plenty of games that let you view camera feeds, but not like “Watch Dogs” does. All you have to do is look at a camera and you can hack it. Convenient!

But, take, for example, a game like “Second Sight”. A mediocre game in its own right, but one that allows you to “hack” enemy minds and control their bodies. A mechanic that not only fits with the theme of the protagonist’s psychic powers, but also presents itself as an extremely useful tool.

The only things you can do with the cameras in “Watch Dogs” is survey an area and hack things from a greater distance. Basically, the latter function is their greatest asset. Like being able to shoot a gun around a corner, you can unlock something from a little further away.

The game’s other hacking tools are just as light, like the ability to distract guards or the ability to raise forklifts. Gimmicky, for sure. Instead of throwing a rock, you distract a guard with your phone. Instead of pressing a button on the lift, you do it from your phone.

Oh sure, you can also use your phone to raise metal barriers out of the ground to use for cover, but that cover would already be there in other games. “Watch Dogs”, makes you work for your cover. And that’s great, when you’re in the middle of a fire fight and you have to hack something just to be able to protect yourself from a hail of gunfire. Really wonderful design.

It gets to the point where you recognize the areas you’re going to have to go up against enemies, so you raise all of the cover before the event triggers. Imagine if you had to do that in any other cover based shooter. You’d hate it.

Alright, but what about the most powerful use of hacking, controlling the city’s infrastructure while driving? By changing traffic lights, raising bridges, or having barriers shoot up from the ground, you can put a stop to the police chasing you.

That doesn’t really work all that well, either.

Obviously, just DRIVING is a huge issue in the game. The car controls are terrible. They make escaping more difficult than it needs to be. The police chases are also heavily unbalanced. Apparently, Chicago has nothing but supercops who are inescapable through normal means. Even when you manage to shake them, you have to avoid vast patches of “yellow” surveillance circles that randomly pop up on your map. You could be hiding in a parking garage, COMPLETELY hidden from view and no one saw you go in there, but if you’re in a yellow patch, the chase is going to continue in a few seconds.

The original “Need for Speed: Most Wanted” had better police chases than this game. Not only is it a RACING game, but it’s also nearly a decade older than “Watch Dogs”. Pathetic.