Watch Dogs – Review

Watch Dogs is the first of a new series of games from Ubisoft, who have been pushing Assassin’s Creed on us for a few years now. Like Assassin’s Creed, Watch Dogs is an open-world sandbox, third person action adventure game. And like most Ubisoft games, it is set in a real world place, in the case of Watch Dogs it is Chicago. It’s a futuristic Chicago, which is pretty to look at, and scaled down a bit so it does not take you ages to get around.

Aiden, the protagonist of the game, is self-styled hacker whiz and all-round dab hand with guns – essentially a criminal in most respects. The game takes place in this stylised Chicago of the not-so-distant future. The city has connected pretty much most technology to a network and has it all running the Central Operating System (ctOS). With ctOS on everything, hackers abound and try to take advantage of flaws for all sorts of nefarious purposes. Aiden has the ability to hack people’s phones, control-systems for steam pipes, along with electrical boxes, city barriers, traffic lights, trains and security cameras. There is also the odd server hack available at various points during story missions. All of this lets you use the city to your advantage, financially and destructively. Hack people’s phones for money from their bank accounts or raise barriers and change traffic lights to cause accidents when escaping from the law or being chased by criminals in cars.

Aiden’s hacking abilities, along with his driving and weapons handling, are upgradeable options that you can unlock by gaining experience points by completing segments of main missions and side quests. The skills you unlock allow you to do more in relation to firearms handling, driving and being able to hack more systems that are connected to ctOS. The main missions follow a story that sees Aiden tracking down bad guys who have caused the death of his niece. Although the story was full of overused, often clichéd story plots, it definitely sets the scene to expand the Watch Dogs universe and give us something else other than Assassin’s Creed to play each year. The side quests are really just about Aiden’s vigilante status within the city. Taking down criminals on the street in a non-lethal way means that the citizens react more favourably towards you, where as they are more likely to call the police when you do something criminal, if you decide all criminals in the side quests must die by chemically-propelled metal shards of death. Given that Chicago is still large in this game, you have a fairly good choice of transportation, from bikes to trucks and trains as well as boats. And believe me, getting round by boat can lead to you taking screenshots of the games sunset’s over Chicago, it’s very pretty. Given Chicago’s size, your phone doubles as your GPS/map which finally fits the setting in an action game like this from Ubisoft.

The overall gameplay mechanics are fairly solid. A great driving mechanic will see you being able to easily handle all vehicles without over compensating and mowing down innocent civilians. The shooting and cover system is really great, and for an action game to get that right means plenty of replay value. Aiden can swim too if you so want, but traversing by boat is great fun, and the handling of each boat is brilliant. The game’s exceptional graphics only add to the experience. Assassin’s Creed IV Black Flag looked gorgeous, but Watch Dogs just blows that one away. Seeing the puddles on the street after it has rained, seeing the sun set over Chicago is amazing, and the way the water works for the sea is just brilliant, it reacts to obstacles in a way that just looks right.

I had fun wandering around and perving on people’s private details by looking at what info popped up from their phones. I loved hunting down people in the business district who had large bank accounts for me to empty. Nice to see nods to the Assassin’s Creed universe in the game too, which lends to what I heard about this game being set in the same universe as the Abstergo components of the Assassin’s Creed games. I stole a cop car at one stage and drove at high-speed through that bit of Chicago, and yes “It’s got cop tires, cop suspension, cop shocks.”. If you’re logged in to the online component of the game, then other Watch Dogs players can infiltrate your game and take you out for cash rewards, or you can do the same to them. You can also work together as a team in the Online Decryption, which is a three-on-three “capture the flag”, or in this case decrypt the data, style mission. By far, the most common intrusion I saw was fixer contracts being placed on me and other players looking to take me down, which does tend to get annoying when all you really want to do is play the game.

There are some issues; things the developers must have thought long and hard about, as Watch Dogs was delayed at launch of the new consoles last year. The facial animation on Aiden just never sits right throughout the entire game and he always looks very wooden, whereas the others seemed to be just fine. The hacking mini-game, what was Ubisoft thinking with this? There really is no need for this mini-game to be in Watch Dogs as it was just a real drag on the flow of gameplay at key points. Watch Dogs seems to have this funny slow down bug, at least on the PS4, and it only every showed if you started moving while the game was processing and displaying mission complete data on the screen. I’m sure it will be fixed with a patch but it just annoyed me as it kind of disrupted gameplay flow. Hair was a let down in this game too, we saw what Assassin’s Creed IV could do with hair, so why was this game such a let down with the texturing of hair? And the last annoying bug I found was the constant frame skipping animations of the other boats on the water. If the game is pulling off the details well in all the other animations, then why is this skipping frames boat animation an issue? It’s quite in-your-face on the PS4 – I can’t say if it shows on Xbox or PC as I haven’t played those versions. One final annoyance, and that is the characters didn’t really fit the so-called skill set with technology that they had. They just seemed a bad fit in terms of their looks and the attitudes.

Overall the game is a great first part to a new series from Ubisoft and it is definitely worth having a copy of this in your game library if you like action games and/or the Assassin’s Creed games.

Watch Dogs is available now on PC, PS3, PS4, Xbox One, Xbox 360 and is soon to be released on Wii U.

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