Watch Dogs Review

Can we hack the action in Chicago?

Review by Darren Cartledge
Published 14th September 2014

Watch Dogs

  • Developer: Ubisoft
  • Publisher: Ubisoft
  • Release Date: 27th May 2014

Watch Dogs is a game I followed closely during it's development and one game I had high hopes for. It's combination of third-person based action and the ability to manipulate the game world through hacking seemed like a really interesting concept. Now that I've played Watch Dogs and experienced how well the hacking manipulation works, I'm left wondering why the game hasn't quite lived up to my expectations.

In Watch Dogs players assume the role of Aiden Pearce, a thug turned hacker who uses his electronics and computer know how to commit crimes. After an electronic attack on a bank goes wrong, he and his accomplice are identified by an unknown adversary and as a result Aiden suffers a family tragedy. In response, Aiden turns vigilante and sets out on the path of revenge in order to bring down those responsible for his pain. Which, if I'm honest is a little hard to relate to due to the poor character design of the lead role. Voice acting behind Aiden seems uninspired and facial animation does little other then to portray a blank and cold expression.

Watch Dogs' story is fairly slow paced and is filled with conspiracies and paranoid characters. If I'm honest it's a little hard to follow largely due to the shallow lead character and the countless distractions you'll encounter on the streets of Chicago. The open-world setting is filled with side-missions, mini-games, investigations and random events for you to undertake. The amount of content on offer in the game really is exceptional and will provide hours of playing time. But despite this mainly being a positive, it does come with one major negative. It distracts from what is already a weak main story, ultimately stopping Watch Dogs providing a truly engrossing playing experience I was hoping for.

As you walk through the streets of Chicago. You can scan your local area for hacking targets using Aiden's smartphone. This allows you to easily access the residents personal details, steal money from their bank accounts, snoop on text messages and even listen in on their phone calls. Whilst this may seem like a gimmick and purely for player entertainment, it can be be the source of some very useful information. It often reveals the location of hidden stashes of cash and other useful items. It can also provide leads of potential crimes in the city, giving you the chance to improve your reputation amongst the public by stopping crimes before they happen or catching the culprit as they make their get away.

Reputation is an interesting aspect of Watch Dogs and one you may not pay much attention to as it's not particularly prominent. A positive reputation will have the public admiring Aiden as a protector of the city and less likely to report his actions to the police when he is seen dispensing justice. Whereas a negative reputation results in residents seeing him as a menace and more likely to report him. With a negative reputation police will also respond more readily to the public's calls and arrive in larger numbers in an attempt to apprehend you. To many players it will be nothing more then a second thought, but pay it it due attention and it can make you think twice about how you approach a mission.

Action wise Watch Dogs combines several different elements driving, shooting, stealth and of course hacking. Hacking is by far the most enjoyable aspect of Watch Dogs, and in some missions it's possible to complete objectives and eliminate the majority of enemies purely through hacking into the various security systems and cameras you'll encounter. Security systems allow you to get an oversight of the mission area, cause distractions, attract the attention of guards and then eliminate them by exploding transformers, junction boxes and steam pipes.

Combat in the game is handled in two different ways. You can use stealth and sneak up on enemies performing non-fatal take downs or you can go in guns blazing. If you choose the more aggressive approach, Watch Dogs features a solid cover system that allows Aiden to closely stick to walls and barriers. It also makes it very easy to move from position to position and around corners. It's a great system that works very well. The shooter action does exactly what it needs to. There's only a small variety of weapons to choose from made up of the usual pistols, sub-machine guns, shotguns and assault rifles, all of which are accurate and highly usable.

The driving aspect of Watch Dogs for me is the games weakest area, it just doesn't feel right. Which is a shame as it makes up such a large portion of the game. Sometimes vehicles seemed a little sluggish to respond and other times cars felt too twitchy. It's hard to nail down why it's not right or what exactly is wrong with the driving aspect of Watch Dogs, but in general I simply didn't feel as if I was in full control of the vehicles.

Hacking when in a vehicle also has its flaws. It allows you to activate traffic lights, bridges, spikes and barriers in order to stop the enemy and law enforcement vehicles from giving chase. But it simply doesn't work very well! Taking down vehicles by hacking and activating the various obstacles requires precise timing and waiting for icons to change colour . However, because of how aggressively the A.I drivers come after you they are either to far in front or to busy trading paint that pulling off these hacks is overly difficult. Despite this, I did manage it a few times and on occasions it worked well and was even fun. Several times when I hacked the traffic lights system in order to take out an enemy vehicle there were none of the necessary oncoming vehicles to cause a crash so he simply drove into a stationary vehicle? Yeah, that's really impressive! Even more strangely, this kamikaze crashing no matter how minor was enough to permanently disable enemy vehicles on a number of occasions.

Mission play requires you to extensively travel the game world, and this is one aspect that manages to slow down story progression substantially. Not because of the time involved in travelling but due to the number of distractions that pop-up during your journey to mission locations. The sheer number of side-missions, crimes in progress and leads on hidden goodies is to hard to ignore all the time and can prove to be so much of a distraction, you simply forget where you were in the game. Combine this with the fact that online players can hack into your game at any time to challenge you. It's plain to see how story progression can easily play second fiddle. Missions themselves are fairly standard and see you having to infiltrate areas, steal information or eliminate a specific target. It's all fairly standard stuff for the genre, but does let you make use of the unique hacking abilities in the game.

Away from the main game, Watch Dogs gives players the opportunity to get away from the “norm” in the form of Digital Trips. Fancy getting behind the controls of a giant armoured mechanical spider, with built-in machine guns and rocket launchers? Or maybe bouncing through the city skyline on giant flowers? Digital Trips offer a radical change to the standard mission-based play and undertaking these challenges is extremely, if not unusual fun.

In addition to the hacking challenges online play also offers, a tailing, decryption and ctOS Mobile game mode. Each game mode pits you against other players in a battle of wits. CtOS Mobile game mode is especially addictive. In addition to these game modes, Watch Dogs also offers the more standard race and free roam online play modes. Free roam allows you to team up with other players, explore Chicago and complete contracts.

Watch Dogs biggest let down stems from it's weak story and the sheer amount of additional content that distracts players from it. I found it really difficult to immerse myself fully in the campaign due to all the side-missions, multiplayer hack attempts and random crimes that kept me occupied. It's a solid and original game that with a little more focus on the main campaign and story could have been exceptional.

Review Score: 7/10

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