Ubisoft’s Watch Dogs is certainly one of the biggest game releases of this year, and for many a title they are hoping will help define the next generation. There’s been a huge roller-coaster of hype surrounding the titles release, everything from leaked footage to concerns over visual downgrades which Ubisoft were quick to deny. But the big question is, now that the game is here is it as good as we’d hoped and does it live up to the excitement surrounding the title?
Watch Dogs places you in control of Aidan Pearce, whose back story unfolds over the course of the game (including dream sequences where you’ll see the odd glimpse of the ‘accident’ which claimed his niece, Lena Pearce). So when you start off, your mission is clear – payback. A simple but effective motive. Fortunately things get far more complicated fast, including an early run in with a prank caller who is targeting your Sister. All of this leading back to the main games plot. I’ll stop providing more information on the story – it’s one of the main reasons you’ll want to buy the game, and I personally found it compelling.
Presentation of the direction of the cutscenes, voice acting and dialogue are as strong as you’d expect from a Triple A release – and honestly wouldn’t be out of place on the big screen. Characters convey emotions and expressions through subtle body gestures, slight pauses and even stutters as required. It all helps to provide the extra dash of realism and intensity that we expected of Watch Dogs.
Let’s discuss the gameplay and controls of Watch Dogs. Firstly, despite my usual preference to control everything with mouse and keyboard I personally found it a little more clumsy than I’d have liked. After an hour or so of struggling (particularly with the weapons wheel) I decided to give the Xbox 360 controller a try and found it a more comfortable experience – the weapons wheel and navigation between cover felt more natural. That’s not to say that Keyboard and Mouse were bad, but personally I find the game lends itself better to pad.
Cover works pretty fantastically. A simple press of a button (‘C’ on the keyboard, or ‘A’ on the 360 pad) will pull you into cover. But you’re not ‘stuck’ against it like in say Gears of War, instead Aiden is able to freely move away from the cover in a smooth motion. Being at a corner allows you to press the cover button again to switch around the side of the corner. The moment I tried out the cover system in Watch Dogs, was the moment I fell in love with cover systems again. Ubisoft have a great track record with cover, and it somewhat reminded me of a more refined version of Splinter Cell Conviction.
Aiden is agile, and much like the infamous Assassin’s Creed titles (also of course from Ubisoft) Watch Dogs makes great use of the free running element. Holding the run button allows Aiden to spring at a fairly healthy pace (and fortunately he’s obviously a fan of doing cardio at the gym as he doesn’t get tired after five footsteps). Pressing the free run button allows Aiden to spring over fences, fault over cars and climb up walls and more. It you’ve played Assassins Creed you’ll feel right at home here.
The biggest attraction feature of Watch Dogs is the hacking – and let me say that it’s brilliantly fun, but can be a little frustrating. Hacking in the game is done via the either the “E” key or “X” on the pad. You can hack cameras, mobile phones, ATMs, and even overload say a power grid. Although using hacking is fairly simple, at the start it can be a little frustrating – mostly because ‘scanning’ is the same button as hacking and so a few times I’d accidentally managed to set off an alarm via that. There’s also a small other problem – if you’re not paying attention it’s pretty easy to accidentally blow up a wall panel instead of hack a camera if they’re both in similar line of sight. It’s not the games fault necessarily – but does force you to be a bit more careful than you might be at the start.
Early on your hacking skills are fairly limited, and many of the cool abilities (such as being able to say raise a bridge as you’re driving) isn’t unlocked. This can lead to some difficulty avoiding the cops early on if you happen to do something naughty and get seen by a member of the public. With all of that said, it doesn’t take long to begin to unlock very fun abilities, and more become available as the game progresses. You can detonate weaponry on the enemy, disable their communications and even black out helicopters if required.
In some instances hacks require a little more work than simply a tap of a button (fortunately this isn’t for bridges and other pieces of equipment while you’re in combat). Instead, it’s usually focused around network connections you’ll need to hack for Watch Dog’s story, or possibly a laptop and the like. Hacking in these cases is fairly straight forward in concept but can provide a small challenge in the more complicated puzzles. One example would be the circuit puzzles require you to access a certain node which is locked down. To access it you may need several points of contact and to do that you’ll need to adjust the flow of data throughout the network. Manipulating this data flow is easy in concept, simply turning either 90-degree corner sections, straight sections or various other shapes to connect up the ‘pipes’ in the circuit. You’ll get immediate feedback of the data flow.
The first of these puzzles you’ll find scattered throughout Watch Dogs (particularly the ones mandatory for the games story line) are amazingly easy. They serve as nothing more than a gentle introduction to the basic concepts.
Other uses of hacking are cameras, and hacking cameras can lead to a rather strange realization – you can hack other cameras and electronics as long as they’re visible to a camera. This means you could hack camera A which has view of Camera B, which in turn has view of a laptop or a bad guy. Then you can say hack the computer terminal to steal data, or disable the guards communications. It’s worth noting that while dealing with people not all of their equipment is vulnerable, so you don’t really get a choice in terms of “hack communications” it’s more “this guard is out of luck and his will go boom” while another guard or enemy might simply have their radio jammed for a moment.
I suppose now would be a great time to go over the combat of Watch Dogs – but I’mm going to go out on a limb and say that it’s going to also be pretty familiar. Aiden can’t take much damage, and as a general rule you’ll want to avoid the Rambo human tank approach. Aiden’s health does auto regenerate but if you’re in a corner trapped and get attacked from all sides it’ll do you little good. Instead, the focus is on movement – using the environment around you to create distracts so you can pop out and shoot the enemy.
This part is the most similar to other games. Press a button to aim, another to shoot – aim for the head for a bonus (well, the enemy to die faster). As you go through the game and unlock skill points you become more proficient with the various weapons, such as the usual assortment of pistols and SMG’s. Early on your shots aren’t super accurate, and trying to take out an enemy long range with a pistol can be a little frustrating. Fortunately the game is rather fast in dumping points on you which you can spend to your hearts content (but some of the skill tree is locked off until you’ve played up until a certain point in Watch Dog’s main campaign).
Graphically – was there a downgrade? Watch Dogs does look great – there’s few who’d deny it. I admit there are a few “meh” parts, for example dead bodies clipping through a wall or doorway have happened to me a couple of times. Or a pedestrian flying a little too high when I mowed them over while trying to evade the police, but overall these are minor problems. Lighting is impressive, and there are few textures or areas where it was clear the designer had just done the minimal amount of work as they didn’t feel people would explore those areas. I’ll leave the major parts of the graphics out of this review however as we’ll be running through a graphics analysis soon. We’re review the PC version here, which you can pickup from Amazon. Watch Dogs Deluxe Edition
Finally, let’s discuss the city as a whole – it’s huge. Though it suffers the same problem most open world games do – lack of ability to enter many buildings, you can enter more than most titles. The city of Chicago has everything you’d expect, slums, water ways, large city parks, huge sky scrapers and more. In terms of population it’s densely packed, with more cars on the road and people on the streets than say GTA5. There are things to do pretty much all over the city, including little mini games to collect cash by running an obstacle course, to saving people / stopping crimes by getting keeping an eye on the happenings around you. Oh and just in case you’re wondering – Aiden can swim!
Watch Dogs isn’t without its faults – at times it can be damn frustrating early on if you annoy the police as it’s hard to get away. The hacking system you feel could have benefited from another button to give a little more options in combat. But don’t let these minor complaints cloud over the game – generally speaking it’s absorbing, engaging and fun. The story doesn’t start out to be anything super unique, but is told in an interesting and top notch way.
Overall, Watch Dogs is a great purchase – it doesn’t quite get everything right, but it’s certainly one of the top games released this year.
Please note the above Amazon link is an affiliate link, but it’d help us out a lot if you buy the game through it!