Watch Dogs Review
+ Support cast is excellent
+ Plenty of side missions
+ Hacking the city is fun
+ Gunplay is tight, and presents multiple approaches
- Multiplayer is underdeveloped
- Lousy driving and chase sequences
We’ve been waiting for a proper open-world game on our new consoles, and Ubisoft has finally delivered with Watch Dogs. Taking place in a digitally connected Chicago, we’re treated to an almost dystopian society where your personal information can easily be accessed by hackers and those in power. Thanks to the new gameplay ideas, unique setting, stealthy game play, and interesting story, Watch Dogs is definitely a title you should experience.
Watch Dogs stars Aiden Pearce, a hacker who is out for revenge after his niece was murdered. After discovering that a hit was placed on him, Aiden blames himself for his niece’s death, and becomes obsessed with revenge. As Aiden makes his way through Chicago and its surrounding areas, he discovers the political secrets that lead him to the Chicago underworld, political spectrum, and even beyond. It’s this variety and exploration into contemporary technology that makes Watch Dogs so intriguing, and at moments, questions our reliance on our digital spectrum and the devices in our pockets.
Aiden’s journey throughout Chicago is one of the most engaging plot lines of 2014, and as an added bonus it is also relevant to hot-button issues that you might hear on the news. While playing through and “hacking” into the lives of other people, it occurred to me that Watch Dogs has the potential to become the reality someday, with our personal information plastered on a billboard for everyone to gawk at. This is something Aiden has to confront as the story progresses, as old friends resurface and loyalties are questioned.
The supporting cast and antagonists are extremely memorable from a character standpoint. Jordi Chin, a sociopath and sell-sword, just might be one of my favorites. Unfortunately, some of the side characters are dropped early on or don’t make much of an appearance throughout the game. This is disappointing because without the personal interactions, Aiden’s personality falls flat and emotionless. He doesn’t exactly progress as a character over the course of the adventure, and his motivations never go beyond revenge. Aiden has the morality of a stale piece of bread, and you’re never treated to how he became a hacker.
Watch Dogs takes place in a digital Chicago. Skyscrapers tower over the horizon, and there are plenty of NPCs, shops, tunnels, cars, and perhaps most importantly, cameras. Aiden, being the hacker that he is, uses his phone to leech into the ctOS, or the digital infrastructure that controls and runs the city. Aiden is able to change traffic lights to cause crashes, operate bridges, cause city-wide blackouts, and generally cause havoc. You’ll be doing a lot of camera surfing in Watch Dogs, or remotely tapping into camera feeds and accessing computers, phones, and voice recordings.
In many missions, the camera feeds themselves present you with a choice: go in violently, or try to access what you need through cameras, well-timed traps, and interacting with the environment. Don’t get me wrong, Aiden certainly knows how to use a gun (and he has a wide arsenal of standard weaponry) but the option to choose how to approach is much appreciated. It’s hard to describe the joy of remotely setting off a guard’s grenade, or having nearby pipe burst when he walks by. One of the most useful items is called a Blackout, which causes all the lights in your area to go dark. After the lights go out, you’ll get to choose between silently taking out the guards or attempting to bypass them altogether.
I’ve never personally been to Chicago, but it feels like I have after playing through Watch Dogs. The city is beautifully animated and rendered, with some impressive landmarks. Due to licensing reasons, certain landmarks have been left out and replaced with similar structures, but the Willis Tower (formerly the Sears Tower) does make an appeareance. Among the small side streets are an abundance of activities that will keep the average player busy for dozens of hours. There are gang hideouts, invesitgation missions, multiplayer battles, and several mini-games throughout the six sizable areas of the Chicago area. Needless to say, there is a lot of content to experience.
Seeing as how Chicago is a big place and there are a variety of environments, it makes sense that you’ll have to drive around to get to places. Unfortunately, operating a car in this digitized Chicago feels underdeveloped and jarring. With the exception of very large trucks and motorcycles, many of the cars look and feel the exact same. There’s a very “arcade” feeling to the driving as well, such as turning on a dime, quick stops, and whacky physics. While the arcade mechanics aren’t necessarily bad, they kind of clash with the supposed realism of everything else. There are also vehicle chases that require you to take down another vehicle; these can be frustrating because the only way you can decommission a vehicle is to either run into it at high speeds or use your hacking abilities and make them crash on their own. Aiden isn’t able to shoot while driving for some reason, so you’re forced to wait until you are close to a traffic light or steam pipe to take down your target. Compared to the freedom of on-foot missions, nearly everything involving a vehicle in Watch Dogs is a disappointment.
Watch Dogs does have a multiplayer mode, but not a typical multiplayer lobby system or menu. Rather, Watch Dogs allows you to “invade” other worlds much like Dark Souls. Rather than killing the host, the invader has to stay out of combat and hidden for a certain amount of time. It’s fun for the first couple times, but it grows old when you just want to get to the next mission in the story but are forced to play a quick round of cat and mouse because someone invades you. Other multiplayer modes include racing, decryption (King of the Hill), and a free roam (only available on PC, Playstation 4, and Xbox One). Unfortunately, the free roam is lacking in things to do with other people and feels empty.
Buy, Try, or Avoid?
Watch Dogs is Ubisoft’s newest IP, and also one of the first major releases of the current generation of consoles. Luckily for us consumers, Ubisoft Montreal is well-versed in making quality games and Watch Dogs is no exception. Nearly everything about Watch Dogs leads to an enjoyable experience, and the novelty of hacking bridges, traffic lights, and cameras has not worn off in the 20 hours that I’ve spent in Chicago. If you are a fan of Assassin’s Creed, stealth-action games, or even regular third person action games, you will definitely want to play Watch Dogs.