Watch Dogs is about the story of Aiden Pearce and, to a lesser extent, the city of Chicago itself. Almost immediately after beginning Watch Dogs you witness a tragedy that took place in the past which serves as one of Aiden’s motivation throughout the campaign. Watch Dogs is a story about revenge as well as redemption. The story begins with Aiden going after those responsible for the aforementioned tragedy and not really caring what he has to do to achieve that goal. One of the core gameplay elements is hacking the city of Chicago itself and using it to your advantage. That could be while you are being chased by police and you set up a roadblock the instant you pass it so the police can’t follow you or hacking a train so it can stop to let you get on and then start back up. There are a number of different items throughout the city that are subject to hacking and I had a lot of fun utilizing them all.
The storyline for Watch Dogs is really nothing we haven’t seen before but I don’t have a problem with that. It is a story that I enjoyed that had a couple of twists and turns, one I saw coming and the other I didn’t. Aiden Pearce is somewhat living a double life with him trying to track down the people involved in that tragedy while at the same time trying to protect his family and shield them from the realities of what he must do to accomplish his goal. As you progress through the campaign you make some new friends as well as some new enemies. The city is your playground so, much like other similar open world games, you can run up and steal a car whenever you want or have one delivered right to you by using the “Cars on Demand” app on your in-game smartphone. If you need a vehicle for story related purposes though you are often given one so you don’t have to search around a whole lot. For me the story as a whole was enjoyable and had a satisfying conclusion, while at the same time keeping the door open just a little bit for the inevitable sequel.
The city of Chicago is also one of the main characters in Watch Dogs. With the single push of a button you can have it behaving how you want. If you want to cause a traffic accident in an intersection all you have to do is hack the red light to turn it green and then everyone will be going at once and will get into a big pile up. You can hack a steam pipe which will cause it to explode and a bunch of water will shoot into the air as if it was a geyser. There are also garage doors to hack so you can drive out a vehicle at night, as well as raise spikes in the road which will cause tire damage to anyone who drives over it. You can use your hacking skills defensively as well. Whenever I was involved in a police chase and they sent a helicopter after me I would hack the helicopter which would incapacitate it for 15 or 30 seconds which was usually long enough for me to put some distance between me and that chopper. You can also hack the citizens of Chicago by using the profiler on your phone. Simply walk around with the profiler on and you will get personal details about whomever you walk by. You will walk by a group of people where you might be told one is a teacher, another guy attends gaming tournaments, another guy is cheating on his wife and much more. There will also be citizens that you can hack which allows you to take some money out of their bank account. Once you do that you can go to any ATM and withdraw the money from the accounts you just took the money from. It is actually a really nice feature and makes the city of Chicago feel much more alive instead of being in a shallow vacuum with faceless, nameless citizens.
Of course not all of these abilities are available to you in the beginning. You will gain XP for completing missions, doing side quests, helping out a citizen in trouble and doing various other things. Once you have acquired enough XP you will gain skill points which you can use in the skill tree to either upgrade your hacking, combat, driving or crafted items. As you level up more and more your skills become better and you will eventually be able to overload transformers instead of a small electrical box, for example.
Watch Dogs also has a really unique multiplayer component that does seamlessly blend in with the single player portion of the game. There were times when I was roaming around the city of Chicago and all of a sudden I saw that someone else was in my game trying to hack me. When that happens you are given small area to explore and as you get closer to your target the search area shrinks, narrowing your search. It can be hard to find the hacker though as he could be above you on the train tracks, hiding in a vehicle or in any number of places. I found one hacker hiding in a stairwell and, fortunately, I was able to eliminate him before he knew what happened. As the hacker you need to initiate the hack and then try and stay close to your potential victim while at the same time staying out sight until your hack is done. If you get spotted then you’ll have to run and try to escape while the other guy is now hunting you. It is a fascinating game of cat and mouse that works really well that can simultaneously be frustrating (if you are having a hard time finding the hacker) or exhilarating (if you are the one about to pull off a successful hack). There is a risk/reward system in place to and your odds are given to you before you begin. If you complete the hack successfully you will gain some notoriety and experience but if you lose than you might lose some of that experience you already have so you have to be careful with what you are doing.
There are different types of online contracts that you can take out. There is the hacking contract where you need to hack someone’s phone, install a backdoor, steal the data and then escape. There are online race contracts which should be self explanatory. Decryption contracts are also available where you need to download a file before anyone else and then decrypt it. There is also Tailing contracts where you must observe your target, tail them and take note of their actions and then escape without them knowing you were ever there. There is also the online free roam where everyone is looking out for themselves. This is where you can invite friends, hunt down enemy fixers and explore Chicago in the process. Out of all of these I think I had the most fun with the hacking contracts as it felt like a breath of fresh air to me. It isn’t the type of multiplayer experience I have had in a long time (if ever) and I enjoyed the cat and mouse type of gameplay it creates. The other modes were a lot of fun to but for some reason the hacking contracts stood out the most to me, even if I am not very good at it.
The time I spend with the multiplayer portion of Watch Dogs went off without a hitch though. I didn’t have any lag and everything seemed to work like it should. There were a few times when it took the game a minute or two to find an online contract for me to accept but that should change as more people pick up this game. If you don’t want to deal with the MP portion of Watch Dogs you can elect to turn it off, however, you won’t be able to get any notoriety skills and any you might have unlocked will be lost. You really aren’t getting the full experience without the MP though and really isn’t too intrusive. There were many times where the game prompted me to accept a contract and I simply ignored it and was left alone to continue the game. It should also be noted that you won’t get any MP distractions while on campaign missions so you won’t have any big storyline moments that get screwed up or anything.
I briefly mentioned side quests earlier in the review and they are in abundance with Watch Dogs. There are criminal convoys where you have to kill or knock down a target(s) that is in a moving convoy. There are fixer contracts where you serve as a decoy by racing through specified monitoring points and you can not get caught by the police. There are also gang hideouts where you must intimidate a target or targets through non-lethal means. Then there are other “games” to play throughout the city such as Cash Run, which is a free parkour AR phone game. You have to essentially collect the gold coins as fast as possible while avoiding the red skulls. There are city hot spots that you need to check in to (similar to how the real-life Foursquare app works) where you can become “mayor” after so many check-ins, collect any gifts that are there, get a brief history about that location and so on. There are also investigations where you need to deal with a human trafficking ring by finding and hacking suspicious buyers and so much more. As you go around the city you will also find CTOS towers that you need to unlock. By unlocking these towers you unlock extra hideouts, investiagations, invasion points and more in that area. It is a similar mechanic to Assassin’s Creed leap of faith where you climb to the top of an object and then synchronize the world around you to get a clearer picture of the surrounding area. In case you haven’t figured it out, there is a ton of additional content outside of the main campaign which already is a decent length itself.
Going through the game I didn’t have very many complaints but there are a few. When you first start up the game the loading time is a bit much, however, after that, there isn’t much loading at all which is a tradeoff I will happily take. Another complaint is the inability to skip an enemy’s speech. There was one particular instance in a boss battle where I got taken out a few times before I figured out how to do it. The problem was that every time I had to restart that section I always had to listen to some long winded speech by the “boss” of that area and there was no way to skip it. In my opinion it is a big gaming sin to not allow your players to skip those segments after they have initially gone through it.
Graphically speaking Watch Dogs is a very pretty game but it isn’t the best looking game on the current generation consoles. This most likely has to do with the fact that the game also needed to be able to run on the Xbox 360 and PS3 so they couldn’t really build this game exclusively for Xbox One and PS4 to really take advantage of the power those consoles have to offer. That said though the weather effects are very nice, if you stop and stare at the grass you can see an impressive amount of details and Aiden’s jacket flows and reacts realistically to the wind in the game. The sound in the game is also well done with a nice soundtrack as well as some good performances from the voice actors. Overall it is a really nice package.
Watch Dogs has been a heavily anticipated title ever since its debut almost two years ago at the 2012 Ubisoft E3 press conference. It did suffer a delay before coming out but Watch Dogs was worth the wait. It is an immensely fun game where you will spend a tremendous amount of hours in Chicago if you are the type of person who likes to do everything in a game. For those who like to get all of the achievements and/or trophies in a game, Watch Dogs is a game where that is fairly easy to do as long as you are willing to take the time to do it. Watch Dogs does just enough to separate itself from others in the open world genre and I am excited to play the inevitable sequel.
Originally posted on Gaming Target