After a lengthy delay Watch Dogs finally arrives. It’s possibly one of the most anticipated games of the year, if not the single most anticipated, so does Watch Dogs live up to its next generation promises and reach the lofty heights of the e3 demo that gamers fell in love with nearly 2 years ago?
In the interests of full disclosure and before I proceed further it is worth mentioning that I played a PS4 retail copy of Watch Dogs. There have been widespread and high profile reports of issues with Watch Dogs and uPlay, particularly on PC. During my extensive play through I did not run into any server connection, uPlay or save file issues and as such cannot take this into account for this Watch Dogs review.
So back to the down low on Watch Dogs and the first thing to address are the much discussed graphics. Watch Dogs is a beautiful game, character models are well detailed, non playable characters are varied and the digital in-game version of Chicago is so richly detailed it can genuinely be considered one of the most captivating and engrossing video game cities, if not the most detailed (so far). Watch Dogs is beautiful in the same way as Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag – compared to many of its peers it looks impressive but fails to take that next step forward, although at this stage of cross generation game development this was much to be expected.
While Watch Dogs is beautiful to look at, it doesn’t reach the lofty heights of the infamous e3 demo although any expectations that it would were hugely unrealistic – Watch Dogs is still a cross generation game meaning that the PS4 & Xbox One versions are held back somewhat by limitations to the last generation consoles. The textures are a higher resolution and there’s much more going on at any given time but the next generation versions of the game don’t honestly reach any new levels. There are some minor technical issues, such as frame rate drops when the game is trying to stream and auto save at the same time, often at the end of a mission but these are minor frustrations rather than issues enough to pull you out of the experience entirely.
At its core, Watch Dogs is an open world sandbox 3rd person shooter. It’s a crowded marketplace to be in, particularly with the release of heavyweight Grand Theft Auto V less than a year ago in the same space, but Watch Dogs confidently holds its own against other similar games. The world is one of the most detailed you’ll find in the genre, with an insane amount of side quests varying from stealth attacks on gang hideouts, taking down vehicles in a traffic convoy and even small investigations which tell their own story and lead to a final conclusion mission. There’s so much to do in Watch Dogs, there’s no way to possible list them all in one review but as a quick list there are also privacy invasions, chess games and puzzles, virtual reality games and challenge parkour runs.
Ubisoft did a great job of revealing information relating to characters before the launch of Watch Dogs without giving much of the story away and it works in favour of the main campaign removing any predictability. You play as Aiden Pearce, vigilante and hacker, looking to right wrongs that have occurred in a quest for vengeance following a family murder. It offers little new in terms of video game storytelling nor does it challenge the stellar storytelling of The Last of Us, but it does a good job of keeping the game moving forward and although some of the characters are interesting, they’re unfortunately under developed but do manage to differentiate themselves from the over-exaggerated stereotypes often found in games of the same genre. Some of the best moments in the game come during the campaign missions where scripted and generally well-designed set pieces up the ante and excitement and give you ample opportunities to make use of the games hacking.
I went through a range of emotions in relation to Watch Dogs’ hacking – at first, given it’s one of the key gameplay mechanics for the game, it does feel somewhat underwhelming and gimmicky. However, as you progress through the game and unlock new powers and hacking abilities, its relevance and usefulness become apparent. Well designed levels mean almost all missions have multiple hacking instances to exploit, for example exploding an electrical box next to enemies to take them down or, more commonly, hacking into and hopping between cameras to scope out and tag enemies before you proceed into a mission area.
For the most part, it’s possible to keep Aiden hidden, hack into a camera and strategically figure out the lay of the land, hacking opportunities you can exploit and work your way through the level taking out enemies without ever exposing or even moving Aiden. It definitely adds an interesting and refreshing take on stealth-based gameplay and, aside from a few stealth-only missions; players always have the option of heading straight into a fire fight with a good variety of weaponry and explosive options.
Watch Dogs also has some interesting and fresh options for online play. Decryption mode sees two teams battle for possession of a file to decrypt that plays out as a game of digital capture the flag and there are standard online races, varying from street racing sports cars to off-road dirt bike tracks. The two most interesting options are Hacking and Tailing; the former requires players to hack another player without being identified, whilst tailing works very similarly but requires players to simply observe their opponent without being seen or losing the other player.
Watch Dogs keeps the online play areas small enough to keep the games short but interesting and with a variety of options of blending in with the world, can provide an interesting challenge. Players with an iOS/Android tablet or smartphone can also play an online challenge map with Watch Dogs players, where they try to lead police forces to capture the player. Whether or not these modes will last past the initial novelty is impossible to say; only time will tell but it’s refreshing that Watch Dogs has at least tried to offer something new for the multiplayer domain.
Overall, Watch Dogs is a fantastic game. Leave behind any lofty expectations based on the e3 demo and allow yourself to be sucked into its world and you can easily lose yourself for a huge numbers of hours completing the various side quests or simply exploring the world using the hacking profiler to learn tidbits of information about people and see who is cheating on their partner or involved in illegal activities. It’s fairly safe to say that Ubisoft will franchise and annualise Watch Dogs now given the huge investment in this game and that’s no bad thing, Watch Dogs is an exceptional foundation to build upon and for that may be the first time ever I found myself mulling over the potential of Watch Dogs being annualised like Assassin’s Creed with excitement, the game is that good. If you own a platform that you can play Watch Dogs on, you need to play Watch Dogs – it really is that simple!