Review: Watch Dogs
A new license is usually a risky experience for a developer, as it can become a meteoric crash. Between the rather excessive ambitions, numerous release reschedules, complex and grueling PR communication, is Watch_Dogs the most anticipated title of 2014? Well, the wait was worth it and I was not disappointed, even if this new Ubisoft open world creation, centered on piracy, is far from perfect.
Introduced with a blast back when I was at the 2012 edition of the E3 Expo, the idea of Watch_Dogs (yes, there’s an underscore in the title) impressed me: with a highly action-packed gameplay sequence and something we could not believe back then could be done on the previous generation consoles. After the launch of both the Xbox One and the PlayStation 4, it made sense in my mind technically, but the game was surely running at the time on an overcloked computer. So are the next-gen consoles versions true to what most of us saw back in 2012? Make no mistake, Ubisoft Montreal didn’t pull off the same quality, but they managed a feat.
In an open world game, the complexity of the game lies in the ability to create a coherent universe and to propose an interesting story, on top to be able to do all sort of tricks. The details of this world are deep within the engine, making simple NPC and a city traffic credible, and of course a lot of mayhem effects like destructible elements. With this said, Ubisoft kept its promise in Chicago – cut in sectors, Assassin ‘s Creed style – and the Windy City is full of details and interactive.
The Windy City is full of details and interactive
In short, you’ll all understand once you try the game: it’s beautiful, sometimes very beautiful, and the overall record is close to excellent, although considering the 2012 promises, is not entirely valid on a PlayStation 4, and will probably be only seen on a well-equipped PC.
The Chicago universe is as credible as living with all these road loops and a lot of buildings to visit, even if you cannot get into each place. The best part in my opinion is that all NPC characters in the streets, can be analyzed with Aiden’s highly specialized device, the Profiler, a smartphone taped into the ctOS of Chicago. It able our protagonist to extract information, get side missions, play music and steal money. This device is also used to hack everything in the city, Aiden’s main weapon.
Another key point in an open world game: the storyline, or more precisely how the story keeps you in suspense from the beginning to the end of the adventure despite a bunch of side activities. That again, is not homogeneous in quality. Some scenes caught my attention, while others could be skipped, sometimes even feeling rushed in the adventure. The thing is, although there are many twists and turns, we must recognize that the story loses a bit of punch with obscure hacks, scriptwriting traps and mysterious stakeholders.
So what about this protagonist, a man called Aiden Pearce (Irish I would assume)? Well here’s the thing. With other open world games, a lot of the effort is put on the main character(s), such as GTA V’s Trevor, or even Assassin’s Creed Ezio, Aiden lacks of charisma, emotionless facial expressions, too soft to get attached to throughout the adventure. Nevertheless, you should know that Aiden’s mind is set on the death of his niece, which lead him to become a so called hacking vigilante.
There is so much to do though in Chicago, with an ample list of sidequests, from escort, hacking, investigations, collecting items to smartphones’ mini-games history. The main story, last I checked, is cut in five acts, dissected into 39 different missions and online contracts. All these missions and sidequest show the true power of Aiden – to sum it all – a hacker who uses the Profiler, to hack everything within his reach, but it is also a man who excels in close combat with his baton, and numerous fire weapons.
There is so much to do though in Chicago, with an ample list of sidequests
If that was not enough, Aiden is also an outstanding handyman, capable of producing powerful high-tech tools, to use during the infiltration and action parts. Speaking of action, it’s funny to see that Watch_Dogs remains a game where you can easily tackle all missions with force, weapons in hand, instead of opting for hacking and stealth. Though through good hacking and infiltration, there’s a sense of accomplishment, a feast for the eyes and your own ego. Especially since a lot of the stealth system is highly efficient, with a cover system close to Splinter Cell: Conviction, and a high-octane rush with the ability to use dozens of vehicles available.
It safe to claim that it is great to see the skills Ubisoft Montreal managed to show, by designing sequences that give the players the option to approach a mission in several ways, with class. You can easily plan your infiltration strategy by hacking surveillance cameras, and at any moment, change your tactic if the scheme does not go as you want. The level design of the game are very good, and thankfully enemies are not grouped together and you can fool around with them by luring them around, observing through surveillance camera before blowing up some generators or piping system.
Watch_Dogs offers many opportunities, and the overall gameplay is good no matter what your style of play is. Ultimately, that’s the true essence of the title: you are given a big arsenal, often pleasurable to work with, and allow you to play around in missions, undercover or not.
Concluding this overview of Watch_Dogs, I’m going to focus on its multiplayer part, which we were promised to be seamlessly integrated into the single player campaing. On this point, the promise was kept. At any time during the solo part, and if you allow it, you can see another player “landing” in your game, disguised a simple NPC. The thing is, he will be like you, a hacker, and will aim to observe you or hack your phone for data. Is up to you to spot him once he starts his criminal activities.
In this part, you have to be patient and use the Profiler, your mobile phone that allows you to interact with the elements of the city and its people, to scan every passerby and find one that tries to hack you. If you succeed, you must kill him and escape. If you fail to do so within a time limit, he will win the game and returns to his own party.
There’s also other way to intrude the online gameplay, like participating in a street races, or other modes. Sadly, I haven’t had the chance to get that deep into it during my playtest, but you should know that like in most other activities in Watch_Dogs, you unlock skills, vehicles, weapons whether you are playing solo or in multiplayer modes.
With Watch_Dogs, Ubisoft nevertheless shows its very good experience for open-world games. Despite a somewhat slow start, the gameplay gets better, offering more opportunities for players throughout his long adventure. But there are quite a few downsides such as a poor storyline, poor artificial intelligence, and a lack of enforcing the hacking mechanism as a main gameplay style.
Watch_Dogs was reviewed using a PlayStation 4 review copy provided by Ubisoft and its regional distributor in the Middle East, Red Entertainment. We don’t discuss review scores with publishers or developers prior to the review being published.
• The density of Chicago and its contents.
• The online game immersed within the single player campaign.
• The multileveled skills of Aiden.
• The mix between piracy, infiltration and action.
• The original online game
• Very poor scenario and storyline.
• Enemy’s AI is quite undeveloped.
• The music is bland.
• Rush action and shooting sometimes pay more than infiltration and piracy.
• Aiden lacks charisma in comparison to other games main characters.
If Rockstar Games’ Grand Theft Auto is the ultimate experience of open-world games, the Watch_Dogs franchise seems to be on the right track to become a wonderful series, and Ubisoft managed to distinguish itself in comparison to its numerous competitors, with quite an original approach.