- Release Date: May 27, 2014
- Publisher: Ubisoft
- Developer: Ubisoft Montreal
- Genre: Action-Adventure
- Platforms: Xbox 360, Xbox One, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, PC
- Platform Chosen by Reviewer: PlayStation 4
Watch Dogs follows the story of Aiden Pearce, a computer hacker who is seeking answers about a job that went sideways which lead to a hit being put out on his head, resulting in the death of his 6-year-old niece Lena Pearce. The game takes place in the year 2013 in the city of Chicago, Illinois. After a major blackout caused by the now notorious hacker Raymond Kenney the Blume corporation created the ctOS (central Operating System) in order to connect everyone in the city to everything with the goal of ultimate safety. While Blume assures the public that this is the best plan and that their personal information is secure, the ctOS has only made it easier for hackers like Aiden to access anything at any time. Known to the public as “The Vigilante”, Aiden must find the answers he seeks using the ctOS and his newly acquired hacker friends while struggling with the guilt he feels over his niece’s death. The question is: how far is Aiden Pearce willing to go to find these answers and who will get caught in the crossfire?
The game features a sub-par reputation system which allows you to be on the positive side or the negative side depending on what you choose to do with the citizen of Chicago (ie saving them from crimes or going on mass murdering sprees). What makes it sub-par is that it doesn’t hold much weight on the game as a whole or anything that happens in it, the only thing that your reputation effects is the way the NPC citizens view you. There are no pros or cons, other than citizens calling the police on you more quickly if you are in the negative zone, and other than changing the way you personally do things outside of missions (which is arguable) it is meaningless. Due to the fact that it has no point or affect it seems to be a rather useless feature of the game and proves to be more an annoyance than a benefit, if you find yourself being anything other than apathetic about it that is.
The story itself begins a bit weak but picks up about half way through the game and finishes with a bang. Watch Dogs is about 18 hours long if you choose to only play through the main campaign, but there are plenty of side objectives and exploration opportunities to make the game last up to 50 hours. On top of all that, it’s an open world environment so even if you complete the campaign and all side missions you can still drive around and have fun in the city for as long as you’d like. There is also a multiplayer portion of the game which allows you to hack or challenge random players as well as play with your friends in a free roam mode. The game itself is jam-packed with content which keeps you busy and interested from a narrative standpoint as well as a content standpoint.
Watch Dogs is played in the third person and incorporates action/adventure and shooter genre elements. The main unique quality of the game is the use of the ctOS and the ability to hack people and objects. This allows you to see personal things about everyone you pass on the street, such as the fact that they recently defaulted on a loan or that they are pro-choice activists, as well as hack into their conversations and bank accounts without their knowledge. You can also use the hacking ability to shift the odds in your favor during combat or while escaping enemies in car chases. Pretty much every aspect of the game bends around the hacking ability, it’s used in almost every situation you come across for various reasons. This feature sets Watch Dogs apart from other games with similar gameplay such as the Grand Theft Auto series, if feels unique while still including key features that the genre thrives on.
Watch Dogs features a vast set of side missions which lead into upgrade unlocks as well as new equipment while expanding on the story line. The side missions make the world of Watch Dogs feel more whole and fully realized rather than tightened up or closed off. They are of course optional, but there are some really great benefits to them. You are allowed to play the game however you like as far as combat goes. You can kill all enemies or go the nonlethal route at your leisure, there are also options that allow for you to take out enemies through the ctOS system without ever setting foot in the enemies controlled area.
There are a few missions in which you are not given a choice and must either kill or knock out your objective enemy, but for the most part you are allowed to choose for yourself. You have access to an in-game phone which allows you to view your game progression stats, upgrade your skills, manage your music playlist, etc. It’s an all-inclusive menu of all you will need to know and view in the game.
Driving throughout the game’s open world setting has its ups and downs. On the up side the city loads up beautifully regardless of how fast you are driving or which turns you choose to take. There are various cars ranging from cheaper budget vehicles to high-powered performance cars, all of which you may steal off the street, from citizens while they are driving, or have delivered to you via the car delivery app on your in-game phone. On the down side the actual driving can be sloppy and flawed, though it’s nothing game-breaking and is more of a general annoyance than anything else. You can run through fences and shrubbery at ease but your car will be destroyed if you cruise into a lopsided pile of bricks. NPC drivers seem to want you to run into them as they refuse to take your presence into consideration at all when if comes to making driving decisions. They have no qualms about turning in front of you slowly as you race towards them at full speed. These annoyances can muck up the gameplay and even cause you to fail certain missions, making them more than simply a minor issue though they don’t necessarily ruin the game.
Watch Dogs is a visually spectacular achievement for Ubisoft, textures and graphical quality as a whole are as smooth as it gets for a game that spans both new and last gen. Characters have clean movements and facial animations as well as unique qualities; I was impressed by the diversity of NPC’s considering how many there are and how massive the environment is. I noticed very few glitches or bugs in the game, there was nothing game-breaking or overly irritating other than a mission that refused to progress until I restarted the game. Otherwise, Watch Dogs ran brilliantly for me. I found the game to be relatively well written, the story is slow going at first but it really picks up as you progress. The dialog is notable, all the characters feel real and you can embrace their human flaws rather than reject them for being atypical, since they are relatable. Voice acting is well done as well, everyone brings a certain quality and personality to the characters they voice thanks to talent and good writing.
All in all I found playing through Watch Dogs to be a very positive experience. It brought a new vibe to the stale open-world/sandbox market and did an excellent job at keeping you interested in playing it. It looks and plays great, with few errors, and hosts a well written narrative. Gameplay is enough like other games to give you a familiar experience yet different enough that you don’t feel like you are playing a game you have played before. Watch Dogs is fun, entertaining and unique. I would recommend this game to most gamers, regardless of your specific tastes when it comes to game genres. I typically don’t care much for the Grand Theft Auto style sandbox games myself, but I enjoyed playing through Watch Dogs. As I said before, it’s a very entertaining experience and one that shouldn’t be missed out on by the up-to-date gamer.