Developer: Ubisoft Montreal (2014)
Reviewed by V1
Watch Dogs is a third-person open world stealth action game (lol these game descriptions are getting ridiculous). It’s basically GTA with hacking, but to call it that would do the gameplay of Watch Dogs a disservice. This is because the hacking mechanic is a genuinely cool, game changing feature that allows for Watch Dogs to be played in so many different ways. Using his smartphone Aiden is able to hack cameras, lifts, portable cover, electrical appliances, set off car alarms, raise spikes/bollards, blow up steam pipes, set off grenades, disable communication devices & cause a massive blackout in his immediate vicinity. All of these abilities (& many more) enable you to ghost your way through missions in many ways, or take out everyone. It is possible to complete certain missions without even entering the target site. I found this to be a very gratifying experience.
You know what else was gratifying? Doing the same mission without using any hacking! Watch Dogs is a very apt third-person cover shooter that’s about as good as anything else out there. But it’s when you use your guns & your phone together that game really finds its stride. Using your phone to distract enemies long enough to line up that headshot is so much fun. It’s very empowering & as you level up you become even more powerful. However it must be said that melee combat is very disappointing. It consists of pressing circle to automatically take down foes. Definitely something that needs to be improved for any sequels.
Apart from the main story mode there a wealth of other ways to keep busy (so this is where the extra six months went). There are cTos towers to be unlocked, similar to the towers in Far Cry 3 & Assassins Creed. I really enjoyed the puzzle aspect to these missions. There are also hundreds of other activities to complete including: fixer missions, criminal convoys, gang hideouts (the standout of the bunch), locations to discover, crimes in progress, murder mysteries to solve, human trafficking crimes, drug busts, burner phones to track & I’m sure I’m forgetting more. Most of these are fun, but not fun enough to make we want to do them 40 times each. So while there are lots of things to do in Chicago, but most of it seems to be padding instead of adding real substance.
There are also fun mini-games to complete throughout Chicago, including AR Games. These are mostly filler, except for the amazing Spider Tank mini game. This is so much fun you could easily get a few hours out of this alone. In fact it’s so good that I hope Ubisoft develop a standalone game with the spider tank.
You play as Aiden Pearce, super-hacker thief-murderer fella. After a botched job with former partner Damien, Aiden gets noticed by the dangerous underbelly of Chicago. A hit is placed on Aiden & a hitman attempts to take him out while he driving his car. Unfortunately Aiden’s niece Lena is in his car at the time & is killed. Aiden becomes obsessed with discovering who placed the hit on his life & killing them (while being completely oblivious to the fact that it was his actions that led to Lena’s death!). So Aiden must infiltrate some of Chicago’s worst gangs & mob organisations, all while trying to keep his remaining family safe (Sister & nephew) & trying not to lose himself to vengeance.
Watch Dogs tells a pretty bog standard story. A man out for revenge because he thinks it will fix everything in his life, despite everything in his life being shit because of his obsession with revenge. What’s even worse is that the main protagonist is possibly the least interesting character in the entire story. Aiden is very bland. He’s one of the worst main characters in a game I can remember (he’s even less exciting than Franklin from GTAV, but not as bad as Connor from ACIII), his motivations are very black & white – he has no interesting character traits at all. Even when interacting with the games more interesting characters Aiden still dry & boring.
Luckily the game is littered with far more interesting characters. Aiden’s “fixer” Jordi is easily the highlight of the bunch, a sociopathic contract killer with a sick sense of humour is something more games could with. DedSec member Clara, a hot French-Canadian hacker, & former cTos employee T-Dog (another sociopathic lad, this fella is a genius engineer). On the bad side we have Iraq, (gang leader & hacker with military background), Damien (Aiden’s former partner turned shitebag) & Big bad Dermot “Lucky” Quinn (hotel owner, mob boss & human trafficker). Luckily the supporting cast do such a great job (especially Jordi, Damien & Lucky) that they raise this average story well up into the decent range. Over the course of the game there are some very memorable set pieces including breaking into prison, hacking your way into Blume HQ & a great scene in T-Dogs playground. However the story of Watch Dogs is not something that will stick with you long after you’ve completed the game.
Right, I’m gonna get this out of the way before I get into the presentation of Watch Dogs. The final product might not look as amazing as the first reveal back at E3 2012, but it is up to the standard seen in every other piece of media released since then. The original footage was a target render they couldn’t quite meet, but it’s not like they lied right until the games release. Why so many games sites ran with this non-story absolutely boggles my mind!
But hey guess what? Watch Dogs is still gorgeous anyway! Chicago is a huge area that features many gorgeous sections. Fantastic cityscapes, gorgeous forest areas, dingy industrial sites & jaw dropping coastal regions all look very impressive running at a generally solid 30fps (there is some slowdown, but it’s rare). Much like infamous, everything looks particularly beautiful in the rain & during morning hours when the sun is low in the sky. It’s not the best looking game on the next gen systems, but it’s still very impressive considering the size of the map & the amount of content in the game.
Character models are a mixed bag though. Main characters look absolutely fantastic, are well animated & acted (only Jordi really stand out here). Some secondary characters can look very dated, especially when featured in scenes with main characters. In particular, Aiden’s sister looks dreadful when compared with Aiden. Why they took such little care with her model beggars belief considering she’s featured numerous time throughout.
The games soundtrack features some great original tracks during cutscenes & missions. These electronic tracks, while not to my taste, are very well suited to the overall tone of the game. Some of them are fantastic & really add to the overall experience of the game. The same can’t be said to the selection of licenced tracks used in the games driving sections. There are 23 mediocre tracks in the game, but you only start out with nine. The rest are earned during the game. So unless you actively hunt out the remaining songs, you’re stuck with 9 shitty pop & punk songs. The in car music selection is possibly the weakest aspect of the entire game.
• Great looking game
• Fun to play as action game or stealth game
• Hacking mechanic is great tool
• Lots of content
• Spider tank is awesome
• Poor main protagonist
• Some character models look dodgy
• Lots of repetition
• Awful in-car music
Overall: Watch Dogs is really fun. The hacking mechanic is genuinely great & adds a lot of ways to tackle each mission. But a poor main protagonist, some performance dips & repetitive side missions keep this from being a great game. A solid start for the series, hopefully the sequel can fix these issues & raise this franchise to GTA levels & above.