Since it’s unveiling at E3 2012, Watch Dogs has looked like it could be one of the first true next gen open world experiences. Now after a six month delay, it’s finally here. But how impressive is the game we’ve waited so long for? Can Ubisoft deliver on this impressive concept, or is it a let down for those who’ve been eagerly awaiting it’s release?
New IPs in the video game industry are always potential disasters, but Watch Dogs has always looked like it could be the next triple A title in Ubisoft’s vast library of games. After the success of their other open world franchises such as Assassins Creed and Far Cry, Ubisoft Montreal have gone in a new direction. In a world where personal lives are no longer private and the internet is king, Watch Dogs offers you the chance to become an elite hacker, with a powerful smart phone as your primary means of connecting with the world. From hacking security cameras and listening in on phone conversations all the way to using your phone to disable police helicopters and cause city wide blackouts, in Watch Dogs, everything is connected.
You play as former criminal hacker Aiden Pearce, who’s illegal lifestyle gets him and his family noticed by the wrong people. After an incident involving his niece in the opening scene, Aiden is fixated on finding the people behind the attack in an attempt at seeking vengence, as well as dishing out some street justice as a newly recognised vigilante of Chicago. It’s nice to have meaning behind all the thug bashing, giving gravel-voiced protagonist Aiden a caring, human side to him, however I found it hard to connect with the characters in what was an overall uninteresting story. There are some highlights, in particular I thought the character Jordi was a fun contrast to Aiden’s serious personality and characters like T-Bone were interesting enough, but unfortunately the rest wasn’t as engrossing as it could have been.
People point, shout and take pictures of Aiden like he’s some sort of tech-savvy superhero as you roam the large open world. Chicago definitely feels alive and the complaints I had heard about the city feeling empty don’t seem entirely accurate From the downtown district, to the more rural areas like Pawnee (unfortunately not home to Ron Swanson) the city is diverse and interesting. Graphically though the game has too few standout moments. Some character models look odd especially the faces from some of the pictures shown when identifying people, which look like they’re in pain or shock. The city of Chicago itself looks lovely though, especially at the night time when it’s raining. It’s not the next gen wow factor we saw in the reveal gameplay trailer back in 2012 and it certainly doesn’t look as beautiful as InFamous: Second Son, but considering it’s also been developed for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 too, it’s forgivable.
The gameplay within Watch Dogs is your basic third person shooter with a twist. You have one button tied to your phone, which you use to perform the hacks within the world (of which there are a good number, with more unlockable via the upgrade system) as well as a free run mechanic similar to that of Assassins Creed, although you won’t be scaling buildings quite like Ezio and co. although the running animation does look incredibly similar… Melee takedowns are preformed at the push of a button and the cover system works well, with a button prompt indicating where you will move between cover spots. It’s enjoyable stealth and I preferred it more to just shooting my way through missions, although the ranged combat works well with a robust selection of pistols, SMGs, assaults rifles, shotguns and sniper rifles at your disposal.
It’s also worth a quick comparison to Grand Theft Auto V, with GTA’s driving physics being very polished, with each car feeling slightly different. In Watch Dogs however, the driving feels more arcade like, yet still not quite as easy as a game like Saint’s Row. I’ll say this. It’s not the poorest car handling I’ve seen in an open world game, far from it, it just needs some work. Maybe I’ve been spoilt by GTA’s fantastic damage system to both car chassis and handling alike, but smashing into an oncoming car just to have your cars back end bounce up like two Hot Wheels cars smashing into each other takes away from this rather immersive world. One final point to make about the driving in Watch Dogs is that you don’t have the ability to fire a weapon whilst driving. I didn’t find this much of an issue however due to the variety of ways to take out cars, including helpful prompts to time things like switching traffic lights to cause a crash, followed by a nice little slow motion effect if you’re successful in disabling a car.
Aiden’s phone is his best friend in this tech fueled world and works as the games menu screen. Within it you can order cars to be delivered close to you omitting the need for a garage system, you can jump into an online game, check your stats and a large host of other things. But one of my personal favourite things to do in Watch Dogs, something I knew nothing of until approximately a week before release, was digital trips. These are essentially mini-games that you can trigger in the world or straight from your phone take you out of the reality of Chicago and throw you into a virtual play ground. One of these trips has you playing as a giant mechanical spider, with the goal being to cause as much damage as possible within a time limit. Another, known as the “Psychedelic trip” has you bouncing between giant flowers on an obstacle course like race. They’re something that give the game a lot of variety and having them as these digital, mind altering mini games works perfectly in with the narrative and digital nature the game has.
With the press of a button, Aiden can use his phone to look up the information of any character within the world. Information on what’s happening in their life, their name, age, job title and yearly income. It gives a strange human element to these nobodies, when you learn that one woman has recently been diagnosed with Cancer, or what somebody enjoys searching on the internet (A lot of Chicago seems to be heavily into S&M!). Eventually you’re bound to run into repeat descriptions, but there was still a huge variety of them. I found it odd that I stopped myself stealing from people who’s descriptions made me not want to take money from them. I can’t hack into a video game enthusiasts bank account!
Something I really liked about the game was the variety of ways to complete a mission. My personal favourite way to play was to cause as much damage using just my hacking abilities, before sneaking in and mopping up any remaining enemies with stealth take downs. Of course you can chose whatever way you see fit, with no real benefit such as more XP if you choose to stick to stealth. That being said, there is actually little variety to mission types other than wipe out enemy group/race here/evade pursuers. It’s good that the gameplay and upgrades keep this fresh, constantly giving you new tools and hacking abilities, but some more variation in the types of missions would have been nice.
Side activities and mini games are also added into the game, missions like distracting the police or wiping out a gang hideout. These are similar, but less diverse than the main missions and serve as a nice distraction from the story line. I already spoke of the digital trip mini games, but these are more simple things, like chess, drinking games and poker. Now I’m a rather poor poker player, but the ability to hack into cameras to look at opponents cards monitor their stress levels made it very easy to liberate them from their cash.
As of writing this review, I did not have a good experience with the online. I found it difficult to get into any online sessions, but I did manage to try the games main multiplayer mode, in which you infiltrate another players game and try to hack into their network whilst remaining undetected. You must stay close to the player trying to hunt you down and kill you, but try and blend into any NPCs or find a good hiding spot. However you may find yourself the victim of a potential hack forcing you on the offensive. In one particular tense hack I found myself desperately looking for someone who had infiltrated my game, only to find him with 15 seconds to spare on a roof of a train station. It was a frantic experience, yet it’s also something completely new and original. Online free roam, races and a game modes called decryption and tailing are also on offer which sound interesting, with decryption being a team vs team capture and hold type objective and tailing having you follow a player and remain undetected. It would have been nice to be able to play these modes, but as stated, the online is definitely having issues around launch time.
Watch Dogs is a good first outing for this new series, one which I hope to see again,. Everyone remembers how much better Assassins Creed II was over it’s predecessor, so who’s to say Ubisoft couldn’t do it again? That being said, Watch Dogs is an excellently crafted sand box world, rich with life and interesting enough to invest your time in.
[tabgroup][tab title=”The Good“]A lot to see and do
Chicago is fun to play in
[/tab][tab title=”The Bad“]Uninteresting story.
Driving could be a little better
Poor physics system