“Watch_Dogs is a game you should play, there is no doubt about that.”
Watch_Dogs is Ubisoft’s highly anticipated explosion into the next generation of gaming. Being their first major release since Assassins Creed IV Black Flag blew our minds, gamers have had their collective eye on Watch_Dogs since its introduction into our lives back at E3 2013. The game has seen a lot of ups and downs since then, with pushed back release dates, downgrading on several systems for performance purposes, and a somewhat questionable launch which saw networking issues on some platforms and a few upset fans because of it. Despite all of this, however, Watch-Dogs has finally been completed and handed over to the gamers who have drooled over the prospect of it for many, many months
So what is Watch_Dogs all about? Most of the gaming world will already know the answer to that question, but here is a quick rundown for you none the less. Watch-Dogs is a futuristic role-playing adventure in a somewhat dystopian Chicago, where you follow the story of hacker Aiden Pearce. Pearce is far more than just a man sat at his computer; however; he is fast, deadly, witty and intelligent. Nothing makes this man more dangerous, however than his mobile phone. Using this little tool he can find out everything about your life, and should he want to he can even change it. This power is put into your hands, as you follow a dark and thrilling storyline about the troubles which Pearce faces in this disturbed and dangerous city. And that is just a basic overview; there is much more to this game than that!
The game kicks off in a heist a few years into Pearce’s past. Alongside another hacker, Damien, whose role grows as the game goes on, Pearce is staging a robbery, but is forced to abort as things start to go downhill. Jumping forwards a little, an unknown adversary orders an assassin to take Pearce out, but this leads to a series of events which lead instead to the death of Pearce’s niece. This sets up the background to the story you follow in the game, with the main driving point behind your story being identifying and finding the person responsible for this past tragedy in our protagonists life. With a number of twists and turns along the way, this is not as straight forward and usual a story as it may initially sound, and the suspense will certainly keep you wondering who is behind it all.
Deep, interesting and well set up as this story is, however, towards the beginning of the game at least it sometimes seems to drag, and indeed is regularly put on hold due to other events. At some points it almost feels like an American TV series in its sixth season; you know the awesome major plotline is there, but for an inexplicable reason it shoots off into side, filler stories while the characters appear to temporarily forget their goals. On top of this, Aiden Pearce is a protagonist with almost a split personality. Half of the time he is an awe-inspiring badass who you love to play as, while the other half of the time, mostly in cut scenes it seems, he becomes what can only be described as a bit mopey… Thankfully, the vast majority of playtime is taken up by the former of these, and so the overall experience is not sacrificed to the woes of the other Mr Pearce.
The main selling point behind Watch_Dogs however, was a gameplay experience like nothing the gaming world has seen before; or at least that was what was being offered up. Gameplay is indeed the bulk of what Watch_Dogs throws at you, and efforts in this department far outweigh the respective efforts surrounding the game, such as hard driven story. The bulk of this new and unique gameplay focuses around the hacking elements of the game. Using Pearce’s phone, you can hack into any piece of technology in the open world which is linked up to the ctOS network; or the Chicago Police Network if you prefer. The bulk of the city’s electronic equipment is attached to this one network, and through your mobile phone you have the power to control it all. This, it must be said, can be incredibly fun. From changing traffic lights in a car chase to blacking out city blocks when you get into a tight spot, you have a huge wealth of power at your fingertips, and how you use it is (almost) up to you. Sometimes the way to do things can be a little closed off, with only one way to achieve the tasks set before you. For the majority of the game however you are free to complete missions, however you can and wish to, giving you both immense power and the freedom to utilise and enjoy it at your will.
Hacking only forms one element of the Watch_Dogs gameplay, however, and as large an element as it may be, it comes alongside others, most significantly the choice you must make in almost every mission between fighting and stealth. With the world in your hand and an arsenal conveniently fitting into your magical coat of dreams, one way to complete your missions is to simply run and gun. Fortunately, Aiden Pearce appears to be trained to use any weapon you can imagine, and so alongside his life-changing mobile phone powers, you also have life-ending shooty blowy-uppy powers too. This, combined with mad parkour skills and a natural bulletproofness allow you to blast your way through tough situations and take no prisoners. For a game which aims to show you a frightening reality, maybe this seems a little too beyond reality. From an action perspective, however it is certainly high adrenaline stuff.
If you are more of the strong and silent type, then you also have the option of stealth at your disposal. Hack into local security systems, tag your adversaries, use the environment against them and take them down quickly and quietly, one by one. This is certainly where the hacking elements of the game come into their best, allowing you to create distractions, turn the environment into your weapon and see all of your arena from any hiding spot you choose. While the game does not make stealth essential, it certainly offers the option in an incredibly cohesive and well thought out way. Whether you prefer all out warfare or stealth as an approach, the game’s systems are sadly not as unique as they have been sold to be. Indeed, you seem to play out Watch_Dogs in a system that resembles a crossover between Hitman Absolution and the Batman Arkham series; Hitman: Arkham Chicago, if you will. While neither of these games were bad at all, and while both had excellent systems of play, and even while Watch_Dogs combines them beautifully, the Watch_Dogs system is not unique. That is not to say however that it is not still very good indeed.
Watch_Dogs does have some unique elements, however, and these can, for the most part, admired in its build. The progression system in the game is very cohesive and well laid out. You can upgrade several elements surrounding the abilities of Aiden Pearce, from his hacking to his shooting to his crafting to his general being in the world. The options available here all influence your playing of the game too, with no upgrade available being irrelevant or pointless. It is a progression system which truly incorporates and invokes progress. The only criticism which can be made of this system is that some of the upgrades which can have significant effects in the game are available very early on, such as the ability to activate focus shooting (another very notably Hitman Absolution-style element). This can be obtained almost instantly in the game, and makes the combat element far easier without it ever truly testing you. On the plus side, this saves you battling through gruelling stages of progression to get a decent upgrade. On the downside, however, it means that you never have to be fully tested by what the game pits against you.
The online play of Watch_Dogs is another aspect which it holds unique to itself. There are two major aspects to this. In game, online play is very natural, with players being able to challenge you and even hack into your game world at any time and influence your gameplay. If a player is hacking you when you go to play a mission, you will have to oust them from your world before you can start it. This allows other people around the world to actively influence your gameplay experience, which is something which is still a very new and rare concept in gaming as yet. Watch_Dogs incorporates it well, however, it can be a little frustrating if people interrupt your story continuity in this way. The other unique online feature of Watch_Dogs is the ctOS companion app for mobile devices. This allows players on mobile devices to challenge you to one on one races, where they control the Chicago Police Department from their mobile device as you control Aiden Pearce in the game. If you have a friend, then this can be a great way to create your own local multiplayer. For those of you no longer aware of that concept, that means you can play together in the same room. I know, it’s weird and kind of old fashioned, but it’s fun, honest! The companion app is a great addition to the game. In its own right, it does not offer a lot, but in combination with a full copy of Watch_Dogs and a physical friend, it is a great feature to use!
Anything inherently bad about the gameplay I hear you ask? Well, yes, yes, there is; the driving. Driving in Watch_Dogs is about as easy as driving on ice while speaking on the mobile phone that you are using to control the world around you in the game. Ok, so that might be a bit of an overstatement, but it’s sadly pretty awful. If you thought driving in Formula 1 games was hard, and believe me it is, then just wait until you try this. If you can control your car, however, then you are in luck, as anything Aiden Pearce sits in immediately enters Tank Mode and can smash and crash its way through anything else on the road with not but a flesh wound. What’s more, every motorbike in the game has just finished a crate of Red Bull just before you hop on it, and thus will fly anywhere it pleases if you encounter any small bumps or slight hills. It is all good fun for sure, but it is a little too wild for what is not really supposed to be a hilarious game. I am not sure who created the driving for Watch_Dogs, but it seems like they may have been in a different room for the rest of the gameplay building team…
First things first, if you want to get the best of the look of Watch_Dogs then buy it on PC. This is the only system on which the graphics from the game have not been majorly downgraded to boost playability, or rather just to make the game actually work. On the flip side of that comment, however, the graphics on other systems are still very good. Even on the previous generation systems such as the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, the game looks equally as good as any other on the market at present. Unfortunately, this boundary pushing on these systems sacrifices some elements of gameplay, such as limiting the speed of vehicles quite drastically, but it looks good and does not have a game breaking effect on other elements of the game.
On the PC version of the game, there have been some issues with the official release and managing its graphical settings, however a number of unofficial modifications and programs can be used to push the game to its full capacity, as put on display at the E3 announcement last year. Updates have been promised for the official release to fix such issues, but as yet those who wish to stick to purely official software will have to wait to experience the full capabilities of the graphical elements of this game. Even so, the graphics as they stand are very sharp indeed, and are still something to be admired. Chicago may never have looked more beautiful.
Audio in Watch_Dogs does not have a massive effect on the game. It is neither wildly impressive nor shockingly poor; but there are a few things which can be said about this aspect of the game. One is that the voice acting, in general, is pretty good. The only criticism may be that some of this acting can be a little emotionless at times. This is even an issue which affects our main protagonist, who sometimes comes across as disturbingly numb given the predicaments he finds himself in. Some solace can be found however in the fact that his sister does seem to have emotions, so this is at the least not a family trait which we need to worry about.
The music choices in the game, which mainly come into play whilst you drive around the city, have been a little randomly picked too. Every genre seems to have been covered, which from the perspective of pleasing a wide audience is not a bad thing. However, unlike games such as Saints Row or Grand Theft Auto which have a radio system to sort these, Watch_Dogs just bundles everything into one and plays anything it likes to you at random. True enough, you can skip a song if you like, and even turn the music off, but it can be irritating to have to skip through several tracks each time you enter a vehicle.
Other than these aspects, the game seems to have all of the right bleeps, booms, pops, bangs, rings, honks, vrmmms and the like in all of the right places, so there is little to be complained about audio-wise other than what has previously been mentioned. Even those aspects, however, to not break or too-far lessen the experience of the game as a whole.
So what can we finally say about the end product of Watch_Dogs? First of all, a negative point. It is not the game which we were promised at E3 last year. What has been produced, however, is still not a bad game, but it is important to realise that what you may have seen there is not exactly what you are spending your money on now. The premises of the game remain the same, but significant downgrading has occurred in the final product’s best performance.
The final product in itself, however, should be considered in its own right. The main story is interesting and engaging, however, sometimes what is going on the game pulls away from the key issue at hand. This, along with the online feature that other players can interrupt your game, can sometimes break up what could be a nice continuity here. The gameplay of the game is excellent, with the hacking features playing a major and well-forged role alongside a variety of options at hand for you to choose how to complete each mission. The gameplay is not inherently unique, however, and while Watch_Dogs has some unique features much of it can be likened to other titles. The result in itself however is still not a bad one at all.
The look of the game is very good despite downgrading due to graphical issues during development. Again, it is not the game which was shown at E3, but it is still very good. Unofficial software is available to boost the PC release to this level, and PC is undoubtedly your best option if you can run the game and are looking for the best option to provide the greatest experience. Audibly the game is adequate, but is not anything particularly special to be marvelled at. This does not however take away from the overall experience.
As a whole then, Watch_Dogs is a good game, but it is not perfect and it is not what it sets out to be. In its own right, the game has a lot to offer, but does have some issues, some of which affect the overall experience more than others. It is certainly a game worth playing, but it did not hit the top of the hype meter and certainly did not come out as the sparkling new toy we were drawn towards at last year’s E3. All this being said, Watch_Dogs is a game you should play, there is no doubt about that. Do not expect everything from it, but expect a lot, and expect to have some fun there. And if you can play it on PC, then do just that; that is where the true experience lies.
- Interesting, engaging storyline.
- Very strong gameplay.
- A well built, well integrated, open-world Chicago to play around within.
- A great looking game.
- An all round good experience which is worth having a play with.
- The game is not the polished experience which was promised.
- Gameplay is not wholly unique.
- Poor driving mechanics.
- Various story distractions and continuity breaks.
- More limited than expected.
Disclaimer:All scores given within our reviews are based on the artist’s personal opinion; this should in no way impede your decision to purchase the game.