Introducing a new I.P. is never easy, but when you have a well established developer such as Ubisoft behind it it’s certainly a solid start. Watch Dogs wowed gamers upon its initial unveiling at E3 2012, showcasing an open-world game with stunning graphics and limitless ways in which to interact with the city and its always-connected mainframe. Since that showing however, it’s no secret the quality has dipped and you shouldn’t expect the high quality footage first shown. On the other hand, it’s astounding to see what the developers have accomplished when it comes to gameplay.
Taking lead as Aiden Pierce, a loveable uncle turned vigilante hacker, you’re given free-roam over the city of Chicago, as well as its suburbs. After getting involved in a hacking job gone wrong, it’s not long until the people you tried to steal from come after you and your family. After a mish-mash of cutscenes portraying the consequences, you learn that Aiden’s niece was murdered, plunging you into a mission for justice.
Throughout the story there aren’t any ‘out-of-this-world’ situations that couldn’t logically be explained by the progression of technology. Sure, the digital trips you can experience might be a bit too far fetched, but virtual reality is certainly something we’re getting into. Watch Dogs is a scary, but ultimately grounded look, towards what our technology could be capable of should a city operate under one computer system. But when a city is controlled by one computing system, what does that mean for the general public and the lives they lead? This is the question that Watch Dogs attempts to answer, alongside Aiden’s quest to find those responsible for his family woes.
You’ll meet many characters that lend themselves well to Chicago’s seedy underground. With the likes of human trafficking and multiple corrupt sectors of the government, there are many people who aim to operate against them, as well as alongside them. While you won’t have the option to affect the story too much, your actions will affect the thoughts of the people around you. If you start killing innocents, expect your status quo to drop and you may end up gaining a bad reputation. In doing so it’ll make people lean more towards calling the police on you, whereas if you try your best to protect the city’s inhabitants, your journey throughout will be a lot easier.
I was a little worried that Chicago wouldn’t provide me with enough tasks to fill out the empty spaces, but with the hyper-connectivity of Watch Dogs’ city coming into its own once you upgrade your abilities, I’m happy to say it was hard to put down. Whether in the middle of missions or simply wanting to cause mayhem, Chicago’s entire infrastructure is accessible via the touch of a button. I never knew raising a bridge or turning traffics lights to green and causing a pileup could be so much fun. Granted, you have limited access to start with, but once you upgrade it makes the wait all the more worthwhile.
Though you can steal cars, go on killing sprees and be overly nasty, you shouldn’t just see this as another GTA clone. With its open structure giving you countless options, how you proceed through missions is entirely up to you. I often prefer games to have a wealth of options available to me before starting missions, and luckily for me the ability to take a stealthy approach was welcomed, as I used camera to survey the area and set off nearby electronic traps, dropping my enemies like flies. Alternatively, I could’ve opened up my extensive inventory, picked an automatic weapon and went out guns blazing. The best thing about your inventory is that everything is available from the weapon wheel and you unlock new items or vehicles by using them. As long as you’re not in a mission, feel free to open up your phone and order a car from the garage, but if you have to pay for it, then there’s an unlimited supply of cash available for those who don’t care about their fellow NPC.
This has to be the first game in which I actually care about the computer controlled characters that populate my digital playground. Given that you can hack into anyone’s bank account, you’ll also get detailed information about their occupation and financial status. How would you feel about robbing from someone that has just lost their job? Due to my moral compass, I hardly hacked anyone’s account and actively tried to avoid killing innocent pedestrians. Going one step further, back-stories are filled in if you hack into someone’s phone and hear more about their personal life. I was surprised to see how much it affected me, and it’s got me thinking whether we’ll see a more personal touch implemented in other games’ NPCs.
There’s not much I find wrong with Watch Dogs, only some inclusions that I find lacking when I compare it to GTA. Features such as wildlife would help the suburbs feel more vibrant and it’d be fun to be able to fly helicopters or planes. It would’ve been neat to build on your hacks and gain the ability to learn new information or actions, such as martial arts or how to operate certain equipment; ok, it sounds like I’m going down the route of the ‘Chuck’ tv show, but it might’ve worked. Also some people might find driving a little on the weak side, but it’s ultimately up to which car you choose as to how well it performs, it’s that simple.
If you’re still caught up in the war between whether the PS4 version is better than Xbox One, you won’t see me disagreeing with Sony fanboys. After trying both versions, I saw a clear difference in graphical fidelity, and Sony’s platform offered a more solid frame rate.There’s no doubt that the graphics are beautiful, but I couldn’t help but imagine what might’ve been accomplished should Watch Dogs have been made exclusively for the newer consoles. Looking over its original technical demo, it’s clear that the lighting is key, as the headlamps of cars give out a soft beam of light and puddles of water reflect beautifully on the road
Digital trips are the nearest thing to taking drugs in video games. Find the nearest dealer on the map and select one of his digital trips. Once initiated you’ll dive into an alternate Chicago, with an unrealistic setting or objective. Each trip has its own skill tree and upgrades, making them far more robust than your typical add-on mode. Here are the four trips you can expect to take:
Think the N64 game Armageddon meets Ghost Rider. Given an armoured muscle car, you take to the streets of Chicago and run down ‘Ghost Rider’ like beings, capturing their soul and increasing your combo meter. The game ends when you don’t meet the required combo for the next round. It was fantastic getting to run down people and being rewarded for doing so. Never have I felt so good to be bad!
After the cities operating software ctOS takes over, you’re the only human left against the machines. Move through each district undetected and hack terminals in order to restore the light and kill off any nearby enemies. It’s Watch Dogs meets The Last of Us, kind of.
If you’re of the floral persuasion, then hop into psychedelic. Kitting Aiden out in particularly colourful clothes, you bounce around the city and aim for blooming flowers. Making sure you land on every one in sequence allows you to bounce further and gain more points. It’s a silly mode, but fun nonetheless.
Probably my favourite mode, spider-tank places you in a spider…tank. Restricted to a small portion of the city, you’re able to hop around at will, climbing buildings and destroying everything in your path. Whilst doing so you complete objectives such as destroying satellite dishes, killing police officers, destroying cars and so on and so forth. Absolutely awesome madness.
For its online components, Ubisoft have clearly learnt a lot from their time with Assassin’s Creed. Along with familiar modes such as online races or free roam, in Watch Dogs you get 1V1 online Hacking, Tailing or a variation of Capture the Flag – in this case, data! In Hacking you get given the opportunity to invade another player’s world, taking the role of an unknown hacker or ‘fixer’ aiming to find them and hack them, whilst remaining undetected. For Tailing it’s as you’d expect, having to tail a target without being seen, observing their activities and using stealth tactics to your advantage. Replacing Capture the Flag you have online decryption, whereby your objective is to obtain a certain piece of intel and hack it. If another player manages to grab it, it’s your job to get it back and continue the hack.
- + Hacking into your surroundings is awesome
- + Digital trips
- + Varied missions
- - Not quite that E3 2012 demo though
- - Driving may have people divided