XXL’s Game Corner: Watch Dogs Review: Big Brother
Developer: Ubisoft Montreal
Platforms: WIN, 360, PS3, WII U, PS4, Xbox One
Release date: May 27th 2014
Watch Dogs was more hyped than Lebron James was when he was still in high school. After being announced a bit less than two years ago the biggest question surrounding Ubisoft’s title was, would it meet the enormous expectations placed upon it? Now that it has finally emerged to grace the next generation consoles, Watch Dogs, while it’s not the chosen one many expected it still is a fundamentally well-made game.
Watch Dogs is an often gorgeous and efficiently structured game that blends an open-world sandbox, with part third-person shooter that morphs into a part stealth game. To its credit it has managed to run through those familiar gameplay motifs rather effortlessly. You play as Aiden Pearce, a non-smiling character who has the ability to hack into just about anything electronic. The story opens up with things immediately going awry for our Mr. Pearce as he loses his niece in a car crash. Predictably as you would expect, people are going to pay for taking someone so close to him. In a Chicago of the very near future, ctOS – a Central Operating System - connects almost everything from utilities, ATM machines and CCTV cameras to public transport, webcams and even smartphones. Data from all these devices flows through a number of nerve centers spread across the city, where much of it is also stored. Aiden is able to exploit weaknesses in ctOS' security and use his smartphone to hack and interact with anything that is connected to it. Simply standing on a street corner can yield interesting results. Passers-by can be scanned and sometimes hacked so that Aiden can hear their conversations, read their texts or even steal money from their bank accounts. Sometimes interesting information can be gleaned, which can be acted upon or stored for later use. With so much going on, it would’ve been nice if the characters were fleshed out more but unfortunately they’re not. Even Aiden who you might feel a bit of empathy for when the story opens up, is under developed and won’t leave a lasting impression as some of the more iconic characters we have seen in video game lore before. Poor character development aside, Watch Dogs still has some pretty nice elements going for it.
The virtual rendition of Chicago is great, offering up multiple themes (downtown, suburbia, and rural areas), all of which are packed with secrets and detail. Aiden has the ability to scan random citizens which will inform you of their salary, as well as a small nugget about their life (like if they're involved in an affair, or what their career is). It doesn't really have any impact on anything, but it's a novel departure from the faceless crowds in other games and hearing random people say “watch it buddy,” when you bump into them. In fact, the world is really alive filled with lots of interesting characters and random dialogue that Aiden can overhear. If NPCs get into a car accident with each other they will argue and if you happen to block traffic they will express their displeasure through a range of different reactions. Elements like this make Watch Dogs’ Chicago a convincing, breathing city that’s alive with activity.
Overall hacking while not as revolutionary as it was built up to be, it still is fun. Once you unlock everything, the world is your oyster. If you're caught up in a high-speed chase and want to raise a bridge manually to escape -- you can do that. You can change traffic signs, billboards, or raise road blocks to smash unsuspecting victims; just about anything can be done to cause havoc in the streets. Hacking a CCTV camera enables Aiden to cast his field of hacking “view” even wider, and he can even jump from camera to camera to cover a wider area and perhaps locate other targets to hack. The worse feature of Watch Dogs is when you get behind the wheel of a car. It came across more like an arcade racer as even the smallest of cars will be able to break heavier objects that would normally reduce it to a pile of scrap. It doesn’t help matters that when you get your wanted level boosted the cops are unrelenting and it’s tough to escape them by driving strategically. Your best bet is to hide inside a parking garage, and trust the AI to forget you're there, or hop on a train and let it speed you past the perimeter where all crimes are forgotten.
One of the areas where Watch Dogs really shines was the extra activities they allow you to veer off into. The main campaign is just the tip of the iceberg as there are a ton of things you can do in the city of Chitown. There are a few narrative side-quests revolving around a serial killer, arms dealers and human trafficking, as well as simpler minigames like Chess.
Although my time with multiplayer was limited, it also has its share of highlights like online races and you’re allowed to free roam and cause all sorts of mayhem. Probably the dopest feature is the ability to invade other players games in the CtOS Mobile mode. Here, players can invade each other’s games and steal data by following their opponent while trying to avoid being spotted. The invasions tap into that paranoia that any person feels when the subject of identity theft comes up which makes it so compelling. These "invasions" can happen while you're playing the campaign, unless you switch them off. Doing so cuts off access to a smaller skill tree of multiplayer-specific upgrades.
The XXL Endgame
Watch Dogs is a solid offering and while it didn’t live up to the lofty expectations the hype beast generated, it’s still an entertaining title. Between the deep levels of customization, the generous progression system and a plethora of activities in the city, there's no shortage of things to do.—written by DJRhude (@DJRhude)
XXL Rating L (Good)
This review is based on a retail copy of the PS4 version of Watch Dogs, provided by Ubisoft.