You play as Aiden Pearce, a brilliant hacker and former thug, whose criminal past led to a violent family tragedy. While seeking justice for those events, you'll monitor and hack those around you by manipulating the ctOS from the palm of your hand. You'll access omnipresent security cameras, download personal information to locate a target, control traffic lights and public transportation to stop the enemy... and more.
The city is your weapon.
Watch Dogs has been a highly anticipated title from Ubisoft Montreal (creators of the always fantastic Assassin’s Creed series) for quite a while now. Unveiled at E3 in 2012 and then in 2013 in a full demo, it immediately sparked the eventual fires of anticipation and gamers worldwide couldn’t wait to get hold of this hot next-gen game, which was billed as a flagship release for the new Xbox One and Playstation 4. Gamers were left salivating for a title that took advantage of the increased processing power and something that was a leap forward in graphics.
Unfortunately, instead of launching with the next-gen in November, Watch Dogs was pushed back until May but now its finally here and it’s far from disappointing. In short, its an excellent entry into next-gen, with a lot of broad ideas and fun ways to navigate, but how does it play? Does it live up to the hype that it was built up to? Let’s take a close look at Ubisoft‘s long in development blockbuster title.
Watch Dogs takes place in Chicago, a city that is controlled by a network known as the Central Operating System, which controls all of the city’s technology and information, including details on the citizens of Chicago. The character that you are playing as is Aiden Pearce; he is a hacker and is known to the public as The Vigilante or The Fox. Aiden has suffered a violent family tragedy that was influenced by his criminal past and he’s is seeking justice for those events.
Watch Dogs is a large open world game similar to Sleeping Dogs as its close in third person view of your character and similar in scope. The actual campaign gameplay clocks in around 30 hours to work your way through double dealings, criminals, and extortionists in Chicago’s hacking and information technology scene. However, on top of that there are dozens of side missions that will take you away from the main storyline with investigations and mini-games that can easily double the amount of time played with this title. With missions and other available options, you will find that you will get your money’s worth for this game.
The cast and overall script is great as it really feels more like you are playing in a serialized TV show with a serious edge. There is none of the goofiness or childishness that can be found in other open-world games like Grand Theft Auto or Saints Row (not to say that’s a bad thing). The way the story is laid out and the mission that Aiden is on, it would feel out of place for humour to be interjected. The game feels like an homage to the thriller genre as it hits all the same beats with chase scenes, blackmail, and tasks that can seem almost impossible to accomplish. Some may not particularly like Pearce and his stone cold killer attitude, capable of playing just as dirty as his enemies, but the player has to remember that he’s just seeking revenge and is willing to do anything. Still, there are some moments throughout that evoke a feeling that these are real people and not caricatures; some characters would have been nice to see more though, like Jordi Chin who has some great one liners.
The in-game moments can be both incredibly fun and very frustrating at the same time. While in a car chase with the police, you can activate street lights to change and induce a traffic accident to block your pursuers, or race down alleys and activate things like gas lines to cause explosions or open gates to continue to run. On the other hand, the driving mechanics just seem overly responsive where it is far too touchy and can mean the difference between a getaway and death.
Outside of the slight problems with the car, the game is a blast to play as Aiden works his way through the city. Once you take out his cell phone called The Profiler, the game goes to another level, where you can hack citizens phones and learn all you need to know about those around you. Some of the side missions involve stopping crime before it happens which is quite a bit of fun as you hack the locals cell phones looking for anyone intent on crime and then use the Profiler to find more details. From there you can move in to prevent the crime from happening, which depending on the route you take, you will earn points such as taking a non-violent approach and having the suspect arrested.
When it comes to going online and taking on others in multiplayer, Ubisoft has done a nice job in working in some interesting modes into this sandbox. There are no basic gunplay modes so if you are looking for a deathmatch type of mode, look elsewhere. Frankly, deathmatch has been done enough and this is not a first person shooter, so something fresh and new is needed. Players can essentially invade other players games (if the mode is not turned off on the other players end). To enter this mode everything is fairly straight forward and the matchmaking will find you a match in quick order. The standard job type online is Online Hacking, which sees you enter an opponents world as an NPC. The objective as the invader is to get close to your opponent, hack their phone and download data. The next portion is to escape the area to win the round. The trick though is not getting caught as you look like a regular NPC to each other so you need to walk slowly and not draw attention to get away, which makes for some very tense gameplay. To accomplish the hacking it can require a lot of creativity which ups the fun factor. As you play, you earn new skills and bonuses that can be used online, which will easily up the ante.
The most fun that can be had in PVP mode is Online Decryption, which is very close to Team Deathmatch, as eight players battle for control of a decrypted file. The longer you hold the file, the more it decrypts and once it hits 100%, the round is finished. This game is complete chaos as you have eight players desperately attempting to hold onto the file the longest. However, if a rival is in the area and you are holding the file, it will not decrypt so you have to get away and move while not being seen, while at the same time defending your prize. There are a lot of crazy on the fly tactics that get used in this mode so you’ll have to use your creativity in order to take the upper hand. There are a few load outs offered for this mode as well, which feels a little like The Last of Us and its multiplayer. Once the mayhem is over, you are offered to vote on a new location or back out.
Online Tailing is another mode where the invader keeps the target in sight until the gauge is filled and there are also online race modes for up to eight players to keep you busy if you need a break from Decryption mode. There is a lot going on online with this game, and it’s nice to see Ubisoft taking a different tact than just tossing in Deathmatch and the old token guard of multiplayer that we have seen time and again.
Graphically speaking, Watch Dogs is a bit of step back from entries we have seen earlier this year, from the lush colours of Child of Light or the futuristic war playground of Titanfall. Watch Dogs should be pushing the processors further, not stepping back. With the game taking quite a delay to hit shelves, the graphics should be far more polished than they are. The landscapes do look great and the weather effects are pretty cool as you traverse the city, but the character effects like facial expressions look like something we’d see on a previous-gen console than something that is debuting six months into the current generation of gaming. We have seen graphical powerhouses from Ubisoft before in the Assassin’s Creed franchise and in Splinter Cell; this just feels like the focus was elsewhere. If you are looking for something to blow you away graphically, Watch Dogs is not that game. That being said, it has everything else going for it though.
Picking up the controls is an easy feat to accomplish as they seem very similar to that of Assassin’s Creed. Taking cover and moving through cover to escape a foe is as simple as just holding the A button. Or, if you need to vault a fence or leap over cover to get to an objective, a simple push of the B button will get you there with ease. Hacking is a simple one button press to unleash the power of The Profiler, just find the electronics you need to hack and hold the X button and you are in, whether it be surveillance cameras or traffic lights to get you to your goals, it is easy and allows you to focus on other things going on rather than finding the right button to push at the right time. However, as I mentioned earlier, the driving controls can be quite difficult as they are touchy and can sidetrack a mission quite quickly.
When it comes to sound quality, simply put, it’s fantastic. Ubisoft has always delivered on sound when it comes to their titles and Watch Dogs is no different. The sound is crisp and solid as it should be, from the police radio chatter to the character interplay in the cut scenes. The soundtrack in car is pretty good and the music sounds great. Explosions and gun fire are well done and sound great over a pair of Turtle Beaches. Ubisoft has delivered once again with excellent sound quality.
If you are looking for a great open world game with an excellent over arching story, Watch Dogs is the game for you and it deserves your attention.
+ Deep single player mode
+ Very fun multiplayer
+ Hacking is new and inventive
+ Controls are easy to pick up
- Graphics are a downgrade from other current-gen offerings
- Driving is a challenge to navigate