Watch Dogs Review
Yeah, yeah I am quite late with this review and by now everyone is playing this game, but still I wanted to share my thoughts on the game. I want to start by saying that Watch Dogs is a great game, although not as great as I was expecting it to be. The game is big, like really big, packed with tons of stuff to do and see, but at the end of the day it all felt like a giant chore.
The main campaign is a mix bag of ideas that aren’t really that well executed. You play as Aiden Pearce, a hacker who will stop at nothing to achieve his goal, find out who ordered the hit on him that resulted in his niece’s death. So basically it’s a revenge story and although I was hoping for it to evolve into something bigger given what happens in the story, it simply didn’t. There were long periods of time where I wasn’t engaged which causes confusion and further disconnect later. Everything that happens is predictable, from the start you know who’s the bad guy, who will die, who will betray you and how it will end. And once you reach the end, the whole reason behind everything that happened is explained and I have to say that it’s kinda laughable how minuscule this reason is in contrast with the bigger picture. I mean they had eyes and ears on every damn corner of the city surveying over everyone collecting all sorts of information that could be used for all kinds of purposes and they only use it for… nope I am not going to spoil it for you, don’t worry.
I wanted Aiden to be a mix between Jack Bauer from 24 and John Reese from Person of Interest and although I found bits of both during some of the dialogue and cut-scenes, Aiden was still a boring and lifeless character who meets, apart from one or two interesting characters, equally lackluster counterparts. The story told in the game with the whole smart surveillance big brother type of systems is pretty much a reality in the today’s world, with PRISM and all that creepy surveying stuff, I expected so much more from it. I wanted some sweet juicy twisted details ala Assassin’s Creed since the two universes are the same. I wanted that Ubisoft touch, that makes you question what you think you know. I want those beautifully crafted conspiracies, god damn it!
However I still wanted to play the missions, see what the devs had in store for me. “Hacking is your weapon” was the tagline for the game and what a weapon that is. The whole city is your playground. If something is connected to a power source let alone the internet could be hacked and used for your advantage. Even though hacking element is very basic as it boils down to just holding square, hacking cameras, communication devices, electricity boxes etc. provided a vast range of things you could do to overcome a difficult situation. Are you chasing someone on foot? Blow a generator or power source to knock him down. Are you being chased by fixers or the police? Easy, raise blockers on the street, switch the traffic lights to cause a jam or just blow up a steam pipe to destroy everything around. Or if you wanna go all stealth, hack the cameras to plan your movement, distract the enemies or just cause a massive blackout just so you can pass undetected. Yes, the world of Watch Dogs is filled with possibilities like this, making each encounter/mission a satisfying experience.
Another cool part of the whole hacking is the Profiler. While on foot, Aiden can bring out his phone and by moving the crosshair over the random pedestrians on the streets he can profile them and if they are a person of interest, hack them to steal money, view their messages, hear conversations, uncover secrets etc. It’s a unique feature and the results you get from it can make you laugh out loud or might make you feel bad for something you are about to do. You see someone on the street that can be hacked so you can steal his/her cash, but you also read on the Profiler that he/her has cancer or that has lost his child, will you still do it?
But what happens when hacking fails? Well, Aiden packs a full arsenal. He has access to all sorts of stuff from simple pistols to high powered military grade heavy machine guns and grenade launchers. All the weapons felt good when fired, but if you play anything close like me, the only weapons you’ll use are the silenced pistol to score headshots and when that failed it was the grenade launcher time. Blowing people and cars up was a lot of fun and I have to say that made the game quite easy. Since most of the missions and side missions require you to kill someone or blow someone’s car up, the 10 grenades are more than enough to finish the job and if anyone managed to survive, the 75 bullets pouring out from the HMG would do the trick. Yeah, overall Watch Dogs was an easy game to complete, but that doesn’t mean that I didn’t die. On some of the missions you are required to take down an enemy in order to get information from him and since most of the time he is surrounded by armed thugs, running straight at him will result in your death. So planning and hacking before going all Rambo is highly advised.
The other big part of Watch Dogs apart from the gunplay and hacking is getting around the massive city. Now sure you can run around on foot and parkour over stuff, but most of the time you’ll end up driving a car, motorbike or a boat. Driving around in a wannabe Ferrari on the streets of Chicago while listening to Alice Cooper should be a nice experience, right? Well, if the driving mechanic was good that might have been the case, but it’s not. The driving physics are bad and feel bad. It’s super arcade-y, the cars slide a lot, it’s hard to keep them on the road and they feel literally weightless when you crash into them. Sure you can use the train or the fast travel to go around quickly, but still you’ll have to do an awful lot of awful driving and you’ll end up killing a ton of innocent pedestrians.
Killing them raises your reputation as a menace and if you build up enough bad reputation the general population will start to recognize you and report your whereabouts to the police. If you are caught by the ctOS scanners, depending on your heat level, police cars, SUVs, SWAT vans and choppers will pursuit you. You can either run away by using your hacking abilities or you can stand and fight which will mostly result in your death. Now I don’t really know what happens when you have a full “hero” reputation since it was difficult to achieve that so I cannot give any specific details about that. All I know is that by preventing crimes, saving innocents and completing “hero tasks” will increase your reputation.
During these moments I felt a Person of Interest vibe, where a random crime would appear near you and it was your choice to prevent it or not. It needed more unique instances like those, not just the same “crime in an alley” or “sabotage” over and over again. The same can be said for the side missions or fixer missions as they are called in the game. So you have to either stop a convoy before reaching its destination, quickly deliver cars to random spots, clear an outpost or enemy base or race through checkpoints. Yes, for the first couple of tries they were cool, but that coolness was quickly lost and it became more like a chore. Like something you were forced to do in order to level up and get new abilities.
Watch Dogs features a skill tree divided into driving, combat, hacking and crafting. Level up and you get skill points which you can use to unlock new abilities or upgrade the current ones. Yes, Watch Dogs also has a The Last of Us style crafting system where you can craft grenades, IED and other hacking related gear. It’s cool… I guess.
As for the multiplayer, Watch Dogs tries something new. Singleplayer and multiplayer are kinda fused into one meaning that to start a multiplayer match, you don’t have to go through a lobby, wait for matchmaking and all of that annoying stuff, but it’s not that “seamlessly” as they sold it. Yeah sure, you can join a multiplayer match event by just selecting it over in your phone or if you hack a person of interest on the street, but still you have to wait for a crazy long loading screen which some times didn’t even go anywhere. As for the modes themselves, there is the standard objective based team deathmatch, races to compete in (which are still fun), a Free Roam mode, a capture the flag sorta mode and also the Dark Souls style invade type where someone can hack you and try to steal your information or viceversa. These are cool modes that work perfectly, I only wish that the player count would have been bigger.
Watch Dogs is the first big budget game I played on my PS4 and I have to say that it looks beautiful. But how beautiful? Well, I have not played inFamous: Second Son so I can’t compare the two. However one game that I can compare it to is GTAV running on old gen and I have to say that in some directions GTAV looks better. The vehicle and environment design in Watch Dogs is commendable (at its best when it is raining) and the character design is mostly pretty good, but I still think GTAV looked better. The lighting in GTAV was absolutely stunning, the world had more details and vibrant colors that gave Los Santos a personality and made exploration a joy. Here, Chicago sure might be big, but it’s bland and boring, a lifeless city even though its streets are filled with unique pedestrians. I mean, I put like close to 80 hours into GTAV, I explored every nook and cranny of Los Santos, I found all of the hidden easter egss, saw pretty much everything there was to see and collected everything. I was compelled to complete my journey to 100% and enjoyed every second of it. But in Watch Dogs, exploring the city, the five regions, collecting stuff, hacking every ctOS box, running across the rooftops to find the access panel etc. all felt like a boring chore you had to do.
The game has a lot to offer and will feed your crazy completionists hunger for quite a while. The main story and the characters are not really that interesting or intriguing. Everything happens for a stupid reason that in the end, will leave you a bad taste in the mouth. Also the great conspiracies, the secret and intriguing twists that Ubisoft likes to throw in, are nowhere to be found. Sure some of the audiofiles you find, offer some tiny clues to the bigger picture, but as I said, tiny. The gameplay is interesting and solid with satisfying gunplay and parkour although the driving could have been way way better. In the end, this is my opinion. I liked the game for the most part, however it wasn’t really that mindblowing experience I was expecting it to be so lower your expectations before buying it. But who am I kidding? You already own Watch Dogs and if you don’t, what is wrong with you? Oh, also get it for PS4, XOne or PC, don’t even consider the old gen!
Thanks for reading!