GAME NAME: Watch Dogs
DEVELOPER(S): Ubisoft Montreal
PLATFORM(S): PS4, PS3, PC, Xbox One, Xbox 360
GENRE(S): 3rd Person Shooter, Action, Open world
RELEASE DATE(S): May 27th, 2014
Imagine you could hack anything or anyone. What would you do? Well, Ubisoft Montreal set out to answer that question when building Watch Dogs. In Watch Dogs, you take on the role of Aiden Pearce, family man and vigilante hacker extraordinaire in his spare time. During a routine job, Aiden saw something he shouldn’t have and sparked the interest of those with power. They ordered a hit on his family to send a message, but little did they know that they chose the wrong guy to mess with. The story premise seems straightforward enough but gets a whole heck of a lot more intriguing as it goes on, and I wouldn’t want to spoil anything specific so I’ll leave that to the players to find out.
Watch Dogs is a 3rd Person shooter, open-world game much like Grand Theft Auto and Saints Row. In fact, all 3 of these games share a lot of similarities between them. So what sets Watch Dogs apart from the others? First and foremost, it’s the hacking. Aiden can hack almost anything in the game. From traffic lights to children’s toys, the world of Chicago is your playground. All of this is made possible by his cellphone and his ability to access the ctOS network the city uses. What is ctOS, you ask ? ctOS is Blume Corporation’s baby. It’s a remarkable Central Operating System that regulates all manner of electronic devices within the city. Everything is connected to ctOS. What it also does, unbeknownst to the average citizen, is store every part of a person’s life and in turn figures out how someone might think and what they’re most likely to do next. Aiden soon discovers this as he learns more about ctOS and hones his hacker skills.
Speaking of hacker skills, something I was pleasantly surprised to see in the game was the inclusion of a skill tree. Having avoided gameplay trailers and announcements for a long time paid off because I literally went wide eyed and said, “Awww yeah” when I saw the skill tree and level up system for the first time. The skills themselves are rather interesting, some aren’t but that’s okay, and it definitely provides something needed to Watch Dogs.
The controls in Watch Dogs are actually incredibly simple and the game handles unbelievably well. Movement is controlled by the left analog stick and the camera by the right; it’s all very standard. Hacking is simplified to a simple press and hold of the Square button. Certain hackable objects will trigger a hacking mini-game that is actually pretty fun and challenging at times. This mini-game sees the player trying to align the correct pathway for his blue hacking signal to take and reach the ultimate goal. Various locks and rotatable circuit switches need to be traversed in this mode to allow the blue signal through. This is often accompanied by a time limit of sorts which counts down until you are discovered by the system and locked out. It’s all pretty stressful stuff in the heat of the moment! But we need to get back to the other controls.
Pressing the X button will make Aiden take cover behind an object, Triangle interacts with or picks up specific objects and Circle is used to vault over or climb up objects in the environment. Aiden also has access to a form of parkour very similar to what we’ve seen from other games produced by Ubisoft (Assassin’s Creed is a good example of that). Pressing and holding R2 allows you to sprint and in combination with Circle lets you free run. Which, if I might add, is actually really satisfying to do when you’re chasing down a criminal or fleeing from the police since it adds to the realism factor. L2 is used to aim and utilising the L1 button allows you to bring up a weapon wheel. Here Aiden’s weaponry is stored and can be easily accessed when needed. Shotguns, Pistols, Assault Rifles, Sniper rifles and Grenade launchers are just some of the weapons you’ll have access to throughout the game. In addition to this, Aiden is also able to craft items to assist him. Examples of these items are Proximity Mines, Communication Jammers and Lures. These are not to be overlooked since they can prove to be invaluable in certain situations in the game. These items are used by pressing R1.
What you might also find interesting, and rather useful, is that pressing R3 makes Aiden enter a slow motion “Focus” mode. This mode provides magnificent results since the entire world slows down and allows you take aim faster and more precisely or to hack something in the heat of a moment to assist you. It allows you to take control of any situation and turn it to your advantage in the blink of an eye. The “Focus” mode is almost like Aiden’s superpower above and beyond his hacking skills.
Missions in Watch Dogs are divided into various categories. Main Story missions are marked with a yellow objective marker on your map while “Fixer” (really just a fancy word for hired gun or driver) missions are marked blue. These blue marked missions make up the majority of Watch Dogs. Car deliveries, gang hideout raids, criminal convoy takedowns, police chases and interceptions abound. In addition to these, as your grip on the ctOS network increases, remote profiling triggers notifications of crimes that are in progress or that are about to happen and that need investigating. This is where Aiden’s true vigilante nature can be put to use. Players can decide to take down criminals in a non-violent manner that includes a very satisfying beat down of the enemy or to just put a bullet in them and call it a day. This same system applies to almost every enemy in the game. You can either take them out non-violently or with brute force. The latter, of course, being way less stealthy and a lot riskier.
Stealth is also something that needs to be discussed here. Watch Dogs makes absolute brilliant use of stealth as a weapon against your enemies. Hacking the ctOS system means that Aiden can make use of the tremendous amount of cameras installed all over Chicago. These cameras can be used to profile civilians and enemies as well as detect vulnerabilities and flaws in the environment’s electronic systems. Players can choose to hack electronic circuitry to explode, subsequently taking out enemies or providing a distraction. Or they can deploy protective cover by opening vents or rotating solar panels. The cameras are a hacker’s best friend and provide the means to hack a vast variety of objects to the Aiden’s advantage.
Being an open world game, Aiden and the player has free reign to decide what to do. I actually spent a good few hours just walking around the city exploring things and profiling civilians. Hacking civilians leads to monetary rewards based on their bank account status as indicated by the ctOS system. Civilians that have something worth hacking such as a system key or investigatory information are highlighted with a blue diamond while others remain marked with a neutral white colour. Hacking also leads to some of the game’s most candid conversations and text messages. Many of these are NOT SAFE FOR WORK and it makes one wonder about the conversations people have in real life too. It’s quite a nice touch from the developers to do something like this, epsecially considering that ctOS is supposed to represent an invasion of privacy in a world where everything and everyone is connected. A bit of social commentary too perhaps ? I’d like to think so.
Of course, getting around a rather large city requires something a little more efficient than walking and riving in Watch Dogs is fairly simple. Different cars handle differently, as expected, but overall the experience is fun. Should you want to just go cruising around the city causing mayhem, you’re free to do so. However, what I found particularly awesome were the bikes in the game. So much so that I almost exclusively utilized bikes as my preferred mode of transport. They are just so much fun to ride! Combined that with the focus mode and you have the potential for some really awesome screenshot material. My only gripe with the driving is that you can’t shoot while driving a car or riding a bike. It does sort of make real life sense why you shouldn’t be able to but it’s 2014. We’ve seen games like Grand Theft Auto allow you to shoot while driving; it’s a bit of a letdown that Ubisoft doesn’t let you do so in Watch Dogs.
In addition to all the normal story missions, “Fixer” contracts and free roam criminal activities that you can deal with, Aiden can play a variety of mini-games. Some of these mini-games would put some full retail releases to shame in terms of fun and value. Drinking, Chess, Poker and Shell games are some of the smaller mini-games. But these aren’t the ones that truly stand out. Games like NVZN (Invasion) where Aiden battles against metroid-like creatures are super fun. Another is Cash Run, which mimics an 8-bit game of collect the coin, that turns the environment into a free run challenge. However, the biggest and best of these mini-games are the Digital Trips. Being described in-game as an “Audio sensation that makes your brainwaves explode“, one would expect something legitimately amazing and boy oh boy did Ubisoft deliver on that promise.
Spider Tank, Psychedelic, Alone and Madness await. Psychedelic sees the player bounce from giant flower to giant flower, all to the tune of some psychedelic electro music. Madness is reminiscent of Carmageddon and allows you to drive a possessed vehicle in a hellish version of Chicago and run over demon police. Spider Tank lets you rampage around the city doing whatever a Spider Tank does. Alone, my personal favourite digital trip, turns the world into pure darkness and populates it with ctOS robots that seek to destroy you with radiant waves. Alone is by far the best of the mini-games out there in my opinion because it’s not only incredibly stealth driven but also satisfyingly long enough and well thought out.
Watch Dogs also features a lot of online gameplay that involves various modes. 1 Versus 1 hacking is fun and satisfying and sees the player trying to install a backdoor virus onto another player’s cellphone to steal their data. Online Tailing requires the player to stay within a specific area, avoid detection and follow another player around until a profiler meter is filled to 100%. Online racing puts your driving skills to the test against other players. Online Decryption sees the player compete with other players trying to hunt down a file hidden somewhere in the city to be the first person to find it and claim the reward.
Online Free Roaming lets you join with up to 7 other players to take down rival fixers or each other. And my personal favourite, the ctOS Mobile Challenge, which allows you to face off against another player on a mobile device that has the ctOS app installed. This mode involves you fleeing while the other player controls the Chicago Police department and tries to hunt you down.
In addition to the superb gameplay of Watch Dogs, the graphics engine is spectacular. Particle effects are top notch and the game looks and feels great. The game really shines when it rains or when it enters night time. Compared to day time, it’s like the game becomes a whole lot more beautiful when there’s rain falling or when the light effects come into play at night.
Overall, Watch Dogs delivers a captivating take on the world of hacking and underground criminal activity. Important as that is, however, Watch Dogs knows that it’s supposed to be fun and so doesn’t take itself too seriously. The player is always encouraged to have fun and do what they feel like in the massive open-world area of Chicago and its surroundings. While having some minor flaws and issues here and there in game, Watch Dogs is definitely worth a play through and will provide at least a minimum of 20 hours of gameplay, if not more, depending on what the player would like to accomplish. Having bought this on Day 1, I don’t regret my decision at all since it’s most certainly worth the price tag.
Given the general level of interest over Watch Dogs, we thought it necessary to write a second review/opinion, albeit a little shorter. The primary goal of this review is to cover the game from a PC gamer’s perspective. In the interest of fairness, it’s important to divulge the specifications of the machine on which the game was reviewed. This is especially true with a game like Watch Dogs, its visuals being a point of contention. Here are my specs:
- Intel Core i7-3770k
- Gigabyte G1.Sniper M3
- MSI GTX 780 Gaming OC Edition
- G.Skill DDR3-2133 16GB kit
- Corsair Neutron GTX 240GB SSD
- The game was run on ultra at a resolution of 2560×1440.
With those details in mind, it’s worth addressing the graphics portion of the game first. As Sahil mentioned in his review, Watch Dogs is visually impressive, but its true beauty is shown off best on the PC platform due to the limited capabilities of both the PS4 as well as Xbox One. While the PS4 version is limited to 900P there is no such limitation on the PC. But this in itself presents a problem, the PS4 and Xbox One versions of the game have been configured to run on those fixed hardware configurations. On the PC, the game encounters a few issues, chief of which is an intermittent frame rate lag which mainly affects the game during driving. This bug doesn’t make the game unplayable, but it does let the wind out of one’s sails when you think about how much money you’ve spent on your gaming rig.
Ubisoft has stated that there is a patch coming out soon that addresses this issue and frankly it can’t come soon enough. The rest of the game is visual treat. Moreover, while it might not be in the same league as some first person shooters, it does push current-gen hardware to its limit and shows off the benefits of spending that extra few grand on a high-end GPU. The sprawling city looks beautiful during both day and night, water looks great and gets even better when you are flying over it in a boat, but it’s the little touches like the explosion effects that really make the game a treat for the eyes.
One specific issue that Sahil did not address is the somewhat easy nature of the game when played on normal. Spend a bit of time hacking the personal bank accounts of a few dozen citizens and you can afford an arsenal that would allow you to take over a small country. Grab yourself an LMG and a pump-action grenade launcher and you won’t find an enemy capable of stopping you, with the exception of the police. GTA’s cops can’t stand up to those in Watch Dogs, who believe that sending out the chopper the moment you take out your rifle is an appropriate course of action. Furthermore, they also seem to prescribe to the philosophy that putting a bullet in your skull is the ideal thing to do before lunch. In fact, the cops are so good at killing you that it becomes preferable to not engage them at all. Talk about crime deterrence.
Speaking of deterrence, Watch Dogs is only going to fly as a PC port if the controls and the way it plays is any good. In this regard, the PC version of the game is adequate, but it’s probably best to just stick with a gamepad. Once a controller is plugged in, Watch Dogs offers some easy aiming options making it a little easier to engage in combat. As has been mentioned elsewhere on the internet, there are lots of graphics options which makes it very clear that Watch Dogs is not a straight port and effort has been put in to making the PC experience just as enjoyable in its own right. I’m talking more than just the visuals mind you.
Beyond the basics, the hacking in Watch Dogs might be its bread and butter, but its story line is what makes it compelling. Others might argue that the premise is contrived and clichéd, and to be honest they’re right. It’s a mission of revenge; to go after the men that caused the death of Aiden Pearce’s isn’t exactly an original premise. But as you get into the story, it takes twists and turns that you don’t see coming. Soon you are face to face with one of the creators of CtOS and that’s after you’ve met some very interesting characters. The campaign missions are also not useless escort missions either; there is a general purpose to all of them and there is no evident padding of content to make the game longer. The fixer missions are completely optional and have no bearing on the campaign, so those who want to finish the story can solely focus on the campaign missions and ignore all of the fluff.
Like Sahil, I too got Watch Dogs on Day one (I even pre-ordered the Special Editon) as well as the Season Pass, and I can comfortably say that Watch Dogs is just that good and well worth the money.