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Watch Dogs

By drcoolio34530-06-2014
BloodyFanGirl (editor)
Watch Dogs

The Defence

Ubisoft Montreal
Action, Adventure
Release Date:

The Prosecution

Intel Core i7 3.5 GHz
AMD FX X8 4.0 GHz
Nvidia Geforce GTX 560Ti
AMD Radeon HD 7850
8 GB
25 GB

The Case

The long awaited Watch Dogs has finally been released after delays, graphical downgrades, and two years of intense hype. Since it was shown off at E3 2012, many gamers have been heralding this game as the bringer of a new generation in gaming, hoping for shinier graphics, more in-depth gameplay, and other innovations. Ubisoft has put years of work into this new IP, and has been promising greatness from it, but can it live up to the high expectations?

The Trial

You play as genius hacker Aiden Pearce eleven months after he and his friend were caught trying to hack into the Merlot hotel. As a result, a hit was ordered on Aiden, which resulted in the death of his niece. Aiden vowed to use his hacking knowledge and arsenal to hunt down whoever ordered that hit, or whoever would want to further harm his family. Along the way he meets companions, enemies, and comes face to face with Chicago's crime syndicate. Playing as a hacker in Chicago may be something new, but unfortunately not much else is. An anti-hero trying to get revenge for a loved one is a plot at least as old as Hamlet, and has been done in many other Ubisoft games. The plot and a great deal of Watch Dogs feels run of the mill and cliché as a result.

See what happens when you don’t look?

See what happens when you don’t look?

Characters are also very run of the mill in Watch Dogs. Most of the allies you gather throughout the game are divided up into archetypes we've all seen before. Jordi plays the psychopathic comic relief, T-Bone takes a double shift as the rough-housing bar brawler and the washed up master, Jackson is the annoying kid character, and you even have a damsel in distress. With the exception of the main villain of the game, every character seems one note, and, at the end of the game, wrapping up their story arcs feels forced and tacked on, especially since Aiden’s is already completed.

Even Aiden comes off as just another anti-hero, and an unbelievable one at that. You would think that Aiden would understand the value of a life more than anyone after losing his niece, but after running people over, stealing cars, and shooting completely innocent people you start to get the feeling that Aiden is just as bad, if not worse than any other criminal littering the streets of Chicago. Even story missions have you kill other characters or otherwise achieve what you want at the expense of other people, making Aiden just as much of a villain as anyone else, even when he's painted as a morally grey hero in cutscenes and dialogue.

One down, loads more to go.

One down, loads more to go.

Combat suffers here too, as it's almost a carbon copy of any cover based shooter. It's as if Ubisoft took the combat of Splinter Cell and just put it in Watch Dogs, but decided to remove the acrobatic aspects and replace them with hacking. Everything from moving from cover to cover, stealth takedowns, to weapon variety is average at best. There is a bullet time mechanic in the form of what the game calls "focus," that feels out of place for Aiden, and only serves to make already easy combat utterly without challenge. The one innovation that Watch Dogs does bring to combat is, of course, hacking. Aiden can cause explosions by overloading something in the environment, or cause a sticky bomb to explode. If you want to take a more stealthy approach, Aiden can hack into surrounding technology with his phone to cause distractions or lure enemies towards where you want them.

Speaking of his phone, the only way to describe that it is magical technology from space. While it can do semi-reasonable things like hack into nearby security cameras, giving Aiden a new line of sight to hack other things, it also does the completely absurd like automatically regenerate battery power, summons vehicles, bursts steam pipes, and hacks into anything vaguely electronic within seconds. And that’s on top of being able to identify everyone in Chicago. Realism aside, it's fun to use and while there aren't as many things to hack into as you would think there would, it gets the job done. Hacking is one of the few things that separates Watch Dogs from other open world games but it’s also something that it could use a lot more of.

Invasion of privacy.

Invasion of privacy.

Thank God for that open world too, because while Watch Dogs only has a sub-par story and easy combat, it has one hell of an open world. Grand Theft Auto has been modeling their settings after real places for years now, but Watch Dog's version of Chicago feels much more lived in than any city featured in a GTA game. Everything from monuments, to ghettos, to specific streets are all there, and what's most impressive is the amount of people around every corner. This dense population can be profiled too, as every single character that you encounter in game will have a name, an income, and a quirk that you can look up in Aiden's "profile mode," making otherwise lifeless NPCs have some of what Aiden doesn't.

Of course along with that huge, open setting comes a few issues. The most noticeable one is the police, or rather the lack of them. While playing Watch Dogs, I never once saw an active police car patrolling the street. It's hard to tell if this is a design choice allowing the player to have more freedom to do whatever they want without repercussions, but for a game that plays it so straight in a real life setting it doesn't feel like an accurate portrayal of Chicago. The only time the police come chasing after Aiden is if you start shooting people in the streets or if you steal a car, but if you so much as nudge the person calling the police the 911 call is canceled. Even when the police start chasing after you (or if you’re being chased by anyone for that matter), it's easy enough to escape in the world's floatiest cars, and if that doesn't work, just jump into the water, since nobody in Chicago is able to swim. Besides that there are more minor issues like textures popping in and out, writing hovering in front of the signs they're supposed to be on, reflections of a parallel world instead of what's actually in front of it, people and objects flying 50 feet into the air when they're hit with a car, people staring at walls, and issues that don't actually affect gameplay much but do ruin a lot of the realism that Watch Dogs wants to envelop you in.

Let the fun begin.

Let the fun begin.

Since the AI isn't great, it's all down to the multiplayer to make Watch Dogs more of an interesting game, and for the most part it does. There are a total of six multiplayer modes from racing, to tailing, to capture the flag. The one stand out mode though is a cat and mouse type game, where one player can invade another player's world Dark Souls style and try to last about two minutes without killing him or being killed. It's unfortunate that there isn't much co-op, with only one of the game modes being team based, but it does make sense, given the story of Watch Dogs, to exclude it.

Oddly enough though, the best segments of the game don't make sense. Mini-games make up the most fun bits of Watch Dog since you can feel the programmers saying "screw Aiden, screw the story, let's just have fun with it". The most obvious example is the spider tank mini-game, where Aiden has to fight a giant mechanized spider tank rampaging through the city. It doesn't make sense and it has no place in the game, but I'll be damned if it’s not fun. Other side missions like the crimes and gang hideouts can be fun, but you're never appropriately rewarded for doing them, and they're so short that it takes longer to get to the location than to actually do the mission.

The Verdict

All in all, Watch Dogs isn't a bad game, just a very average one. When people started calling it Grand Theft Auto with hacking they were 100% correct, just dead wrong about believing in all the hype it received. It's not as good as some other open world games like GTA V, Saint's Row 4, but if you're truly starved for an open world game and can justify spending $60 for a mediocre game, Watch Dogs will do alright by you.

Case Review

  • Hacking: Technology brings something unique to Watch Dogs.
  • Chicago: Ubisoft's version of Chicago feels alive and mostly realistic.
  • Average: Barely any innovations from the typical sandbox formula.
  • Not a Looker: Graphics may not be what was shown at E3, but aren’t awful by any measure.
  • Dull Combat: Fights boil down to rinse and repeat cover based shooting.
  • What do I get?: Unrewarding side missions.
  • Aiden and Gang: Boring story filled with flat personalities.
  • Driving Me Mad: Driving around Chicago is painful, with floaty cars and destructible objects that are as light as paper.
Score: 3/5
A lesser Grand Theft Auto with hacking.
Comments (17)
You must be to post a comment.
Posts: 223

"There could be more"...There could be any! There's nothing at all. No mention of the visuals in the review at all.

Posts: 1548

The review is to help people to decide if it's worth getting (or just get entertained reading it). Most off the people who are looking into getting a game are already under a hype train for the game like WD, hence it is very fair to tell people if their expectations are being met.

As for lack of detail about visuals, yeah, it could be more.

Posts: 3290

Now you have a point there Ruby. That really should have been explained in more detail

Posts: 223

Also, I've noticed the visuals aren't even mentioned in the review, I don't get how you can put a comparison to the e3 reveal in the case review and not even explain the visual downgrades or whatever in the full review. Shody work guys

Posts: 223

Hype and sales have no place in a review. A review is designed to inform the reader of the quality of a finished product and give and insight into how it performs and it's features. A game that's getting reviewed should be judged on its current state at time of reviewing and not what was shown several years ago. It doesn't give a fair representation of the final product.

Posts: 1548

I disagree. If not for the initial reveal the hype would have been much lower and so would the sales.

Posts: 3290

True dat

Posts: 223

@Bob, I actually think that console gamers and pc gamers (some, not all) are just as bad as each other when it comes to graphics obsession. You look at any youtube video for any game on pc and console and you will see comment after comment from pc gamers belittling the console versions for being graphically inferior. I think you guys here know I'm a pc gamer and a console gamer, graphics don't make a game, it's how it plays that matters.

Posts: 39

Well, that's also discounting the fact the fact that Colonial Marines was total garbage whether or not that the footage came beforehand.

I do agree with Ruby though that the review itself should display what is being offered at that very moment. If, of course, the game could change in between when the review comes out and when the game is released, for early reviews, then something needs to be said. If anything, I like Polygon's attitude towards this, including notes in the sidebar that are more discursive than anything.

Posts: 3290

PC gaming master race!

Console gamers obsess over graphics. We're above that. Right?