• Review: Watch Dogs

    Single Issue XXIV (Written by Gen. Chris)

    Watch_Dogs (2014)

    Watch Dogs A year ago, Aiden Pearce attempted to commit electronic robbery at a fancy hotel in the heart of Chicago. His attempt was discovered, but he escaped, and decided to leave the city for a while and go on a family trip with his niece and nephew. Two hired hitmen, under orders from an unknown entity, track down Aidenís route and fires a single shot, causing Aiden to crash, and leaving his young niece dead. Knowing the blood is partially on his own hands, Aiden must find out who is responsible, and will use any means necessary to do so. With his phone and his skills, Aiden Pearce will bring the criminal underworld of Chicago to its knees.
    Watch Dogs brings the player to Ubisoftís vision of Chicago, a city torn by crime and corruption. But recently a new system, known as ctOS, has been established in the city. The system is designed to connect everyone to everything, including security cameras, personal information, traffic lights and barriers, and much more. As an open world game, Watch Dogs features a nicely sized world that consists of the high rises of downtown Chicago to the docks and slums of the city to the suburbs and a small amount of countryside. Within this open world, Chicago becomes the playground of Aiden. With everything together the map is quite large, and on PS4 it is quite beautiful. While I am well aware of the performance issues on other systems, I had no problem wandering around the beautifully rendered world complete with weather effects and many other things that contribute towards making the world feel very real.
    The main draw of Watch Dogs, and the thing that Ubisoft marketed the game on, is the ability to hack. Aiden is able to hack into many things, notably cameras, computers, cell phones, and other electronic devices. But where his abilities are truly at their greatest is his ability to hack into the city itself The system known as ctOS may have made it easier for the city government to keep the crime low, but it also made the city and its systems vulnerable to Aiden and other hackers. And the hack ability is both fun and incredibly practical, leading Aiden to be able to disrupt communications, aid his escape by disabling vehicles with blockers or blowing up steam pipes underneath roads, disable helicopters, and many other things. Its usefulness cannot be overstated; hacking must be utilized in order to complete your objectives, especially escaping from the police, because shoot outs with the police only harm your reputation and can give you problems later down the line. The most extreme form of hacking is also the most fun: the blackout. While unfortunately (and obviously) only useful at night, the blackout function spreads confusion among Aidenís enemies, and allows him to either escape unnoticed or take everyone out while they are confused. All of this is accomplished through Aidenís smartphone, which is tied into the city infrastructure. This hacking element is fun, and while perhaps not as revolutionary for some, a refreshing change in open world gameplay that really adds a degree of depth to chases and combat that few games can really compare to.
    There are other aspects of gameplay that are noteworthy as well. Combat is fast and fluid, and comes with a variety of weapons and tools that Aiden can use in his pursuit of answers and vengeance. Most of these weapons can be purchased throughout the map at various stores. In addition to lethal weapons, Aiden also has the use of a collapsible baton that he uses for non-lethal takedowns, a requirement in some cases where lethality is punished with failure. One thing that is frustrating from this is the lack of a long-distance non-lethal weapon option, as that would be perfect in some missions. Driving a variety of cars and other vehicles is also available for travel, and that will be discussed later.
    Where the game also shines, in addition to the hacking, is the missions and other things available to do. The missions are incredibly varied, all relying on Aiden (and the player) to use a variety of hacking, combat, and sometimes stealth in order to achieve the objective. There was not a single mission that felt like it was rehashing a previous mission, which is a nice change of pace from other games. There are also a variety of side activities that are present throughout the game. The best example of this would be the random crimes generator. The program designed by Blume, ctOS, can predict crimes, and with Aiden hacked into the mainframe he gets alerts when street crimes and other criminal activities pop up throughout Chicago and the countryside. These activities are not only fun but help give Aiden valuable experience that can be used in unlocking new hideouts and skills that are necessary for the game. These skill points can aid Aiden in driving, combat, and crafting. Crafting is another interesting element to the gameplay, which allows Aiden to build weapons as well as the necessary hacking tools (such as blackout, which are single uses and he must craft more).
    Another fine element to the gameplay is the enemy AI. Fans of the Assassin's Creed games know that guards in those games can be just plain awful at their jobs of guarding. In Watch Dogs, if Aiden makes enough of a ruckus or leaves a body to be found by other guards, the guards will actively search for intruders. And in combat, the AI will attempt to flank Aiden in order to gain the upper hand. This can be a bit frustrating, but does add a bit of realism to the game. Finally, the game has impressive weather effects; not so much on the PS3, but after observing them on PS4 and PC, I must say I am impressed with the effort that went into making the game have realistic storms and such.
    While this game is incredibly fun and for the most part a well-polished game, there are two major things that should be criticized. For one, the driving mechanic, in my opinion, is a major weakness of the game. It is as if Ubisoft threw car physics out the window, and it is, in my opinion, incredibly annoying. Cars do not behave as they should, especially when hitting obstacles or other cars, and they sometimes act like these obstacles barely even exist when you hit them. Now, it could be because Ubisoft wanted the player to focus on the other aspects of the game, but when it comes to a large game like this realistic driving, I feel, is a must, especially in the age of Grand Theft Auto. Another major thing I should criticize is the graphics. I was originally playing this on PS3, and while I am aware the system is inferior to the new consoles and obviously PC, the game should definitely look better than it does. It still looks nice, but comparing it to the newer consoles makes it clear that the Playstation 3 and possibly the 360 version were given very low priority when it comes to making use of what their hardware is still capable of; this is again in comparison to Grand Theft Auto, whose recent game looked quite stunning even on such old hardware. However, having played the game recently on PS4, these issues are nearly negligible. It still does not look as good as the PS4 version of GTA V or comparable games, but it is still very pretty.
    There are other things as well that are concerning while playing the game. It also occasionally suffers from the occasional shadow glitch that has plagued Assassinís Creed over the past couple of years, which is somewhat disappointing. There is also a very minor amount of performance issues that are not game breaking but still frustrating considering the large delay that Watch Dogs received. There are also a variety of glitches that are present in the game, the most annoying of which is the disappearing civilian glitch, which involves civilians disappearing occasionally when the player moves the camera away from them and then back. This can be frustrating when trying to hack people, but other than that it is not a terrible glitch. One more minor thing is the use of some of the characters: while all of the characters are, in my opinion, incredibly interesting, several of them seem somewhat underused, or pushed to only a minor background role in the game, consisting of mostly interaction through phone calls. The most obvious example of this is Aidenís partner Jordi Chin, who is absolutely hilarious to listen to but is unfortunately only physically present in only a little bit of the game. This is also a problem for other characters, who mostly interact with Aiden through phone calls. This makes Aiden feel as if he is a distant loner, which while appropriate to the atmosphere of the game and the personality presented, makes it difficult to relate to. That does not say that he and the other characters are bad of course, but it is a flaw in the game that should not be completely ignored. Perhaps I am being a bit harsh in comparing this game to Grand Theft Auto V, but coming on the heels of it I feel that the two main problems, or at least the driving mechanics, needs to be heavily improved on if they are to make this into a franchise, which I fully expect they will.
    Overall, I feel like the positives far outweigh the negatives. The game, at least in my opinion, has an amazing story and an amazing cast of characters who are wonderfully voice acted. A lot of the criticism is aimed at Aiden as a character, how he is unlikable and not even close to heroic. In all honesty, it is refreshing to play as a non-heroic character, as that opportunity only comes along rarely. The game is incredibly varied, including profiles of every single NPC you will see, with a large amount of different descriptions, occupations, and even ages that lead to very few ďclonesĒ in the game. The game AI is also pretty good, leading the police and other enemies to try to box Aiden in during chases and enemies attempting to flank or force Aiden out of cover with grenades during shootouts. The soundtrack is also pretty good, if minimal, and really heightens the mood and sense of urgency during key sequences. I have not had a chance to play much of multiplayer, but having been invaded once I will say that it is an absolute thrill trying to find the person hacking you. With everything there is available to do and see, Watch Dogs is certainly a worthy buy. Whereas it may not be everything that people were hoping to see, it is still an incredible game worthy of your time. And its franchise potential is something to look forward to.

    While this game was originally played by me on PS3, having played it again on PS4 I have a newfound appreciation for it. It is even better a second time around, and I feel like it will be a game that I will replay quite a few times, along with other Ubisoft games such as Assassin's Creed.

    Please try out this game. It is a blast.


    Comments 2 Comments
    1. Alwyn's Avatar
      Alwyn -
      A helpful and well-balanced review! It sounds like the features such as hacking, missions and enemy AI are well-executed. I wonder if there are mods for Watch Dogs which respond to any of the negatives (or which add ranged non-lethal weapons).
    1. TheDarkKnight's Avatar
      TheDarkKnight -
      Since I played it on PS3/PS4, mods don't matter. However, having played WD 2 lately, they did answer that prayer.