Watch Dogs is a game developed by Ubisoft for Xbox 360, Xbox One, PS3, PS4, and PC. The game takes place in the city of Chicago which in the game world has become a hub of technology. The emphasis for Watch Dogs is on the technology around you and your ability to hack, as Aiden Pearce, the lives of everyone around you for the soul purpose of bringing the sweet hammer of justice down on those that wrong the innocent. Oh, you’re also working your way through the criminal underworld to find those responsible for the death of a family member.
I saw a demo for this game at PAX Prime 2013 and was super stoked for it. It felt like this game would be a new step in the evolution of sandbox shooter games. The ability to hack the world you were in to exploit those around you was cool, but more compelling were the decisions you would have to make. The game doesn’t utilize a decision system like Mass Effect or Dragon Age where you know if something is directly good, bad or neutral. More than anything, I was excited for the utilization of the app for iOS or Android that would allow you to challenge your friends and other players. They made this feature seem really unique in their presentation.
The lesson I’ve learned is not to get my expectations high if I can’t get a hands on with a game. This hasn’t always been the case, but it seems to happen more often than not. It’s not at all that Watch Dogs is a bad game, it’s not. It’s engaging, but nothing that feels different from playing GTA or Saint’s Row. Watch Dogs utilizes some unique features, but nothing ground breaking in the industry of sandbox games.
Let’s start with the look and feel of Watch Dogs; it looks and feels very clean. Almost too clean. I’ve never been to Chicago so I don’t actually know how clean the city is, but I wouldn’t expect it to look as nice as this version does. When we consider that this is a guy who used to be a great hacker and notorious criminal, he’s the only thing that stands out as criminalesque in the world. What saddens me is this, while the game world of Watch Dogs runs at 1080p and 60 fps, it came with a sacrifice to the some of the features shown at E3 2012 and multiple expos. Undoubtedly, the game performs well, without loss in resolution or slow down in frames, but it would have been nice to play in the world that had captivated the interest of so many.
The mechanics of gameplay in Watch Dogs can be awkward at times. It was sometimes frustrating trying to run-and-gun enemies while profiling them with your phone. Admittedly, you should do some ground work before engaging a group of enemies by hacking camera’s from a distance. The purpose is to get an understanding of who can call back up, who could pose the biggest threat, and who you don’t want to kill. That’s another part of Watch Dogs that was frustrating–a premise of having more grey area in whether a drug dealer should be put down permanently or just broken for ICU treatment. That doesn’t exist for any of the missions I played. Watch Dogs will force you to either kill the target outright or bring down the target just to stop them.
Watch Dogs shares many of the same qualities in side missions that you’ve likely experienced if you ever played a GTA or Saint’s Row game. You can bust criminals that pose a threat to society by using ctOS to profile them. You can profile everyone in the game and on occasion have the option to hack them for cars, money, or music. The amount or level of hacking you perform isn’t based on any definitive skill tree. You can hack and profile every one from the get-go. This was a disappointing feature as it felt like a large piece of challenge was taken out of the game from the beginning. After all, this is a major hacker/criminal that has fallen from grace and is driven on revenge.
Watch Dogs is made somewhat challenging by the world around you. It depends on the situation you are currently dealing with and actions you take. Citizens of the environment respond to you and your actions. Running a mission that requires you to steal a car? After you throw the npc out of their car, they can call the cops from their cell phone. This is truly unique as no other sandbox game does this. It can either increase the difficulty of a mission drastically or create a minor nuisance for you, the player, to deal with.
You have access to a skill wheel that allows you to unlock different devices you can hack, weapon skills, and driving skills. These all felt superfluous and lacking in their effects on the player. You can pick up the guns of your enemies, which are usually better than anything you have. There was never a need to purchase weapons or ammo. Even if there was a reason to do so, money is basically unlimited with the number of bank accounts you can hack. You do earn positive reputation for just taking down body guards with non-lethal moves; you can equally earn negative reputation for killing the innocent.
The online infrastructure with other players in Watch Dogs is one of the few engaging points of the game. On occasion, when you hack an npc in the world, the npc can report you to ctOS which goes out to other players that are online. Those players then have the option to hack you directly. If a player chooses to participate, you are tasked with attempting to find the player before they can finish the hack and eliminate them. There are 3 other modes that you can participate in that allow you to interact with other players in a fashion. They don’t drive the game any further, but are optional if you get bored with mini-games etc.
The story that Watch Dogs tells is great. It feels very Liam Neeson in Taken, if Liam Neeson exacted justice not only at the end of a gun, but also through a smart phone. Aiden Pearce is driven by his need to protect his family from those that would hurt them, yet continues to do things that would put them in harms way. An unending cycle of violence potentially, but our anti-hero presses ever forward through it all.
At the end of the day, Watch Dogs has a driving story that will push you through the game if you want nothing more than a great story experience. The online features are dynamic, but unnecessary for a full experience. The look and feel of the game is captivating if a little too simple for the hardware it plays on. This works well for the Xbox 360 and PS3, but falls short of the performance desired on Xbox One or PS4.
On the overall rating, I’d give Watch Dogs a 7.5/10. The story is engaging and you gain legitimate sympathy for Aiden and his plight. The graphics are clean and striking, but it would have been better to have the product we were shown. The mechanics could definitely be smoother with gunplay and profiling npc’s. A few improvements would make this game a lot of fun, but there wasn’t much to be impressed by. This dog needed a few more tricks to compare with the competition.