Watch_Dogs burst onto the scene at E3 way back in June 2012 and immediately became the poster child for PS4/XBox One games. With stunning graphics and some clever gameplay ideas, gamers marked it as a must buy purchase.
Unfortunately because the specs for PS4/XBox One weren’t finalised at the time, the trailer ended up showcasing a graphical fidelity that wasn’t possible to run in an open world environment. This led to lots of focus on how the game didn’t look as good as that demo. As it’s been such a big talking point I wanted to address this first – Watch_Dogs is a great looking game with some excellent animation. Does it look as good as that E3 trailer? No. But I rarely experienced any drop in performance when playing hectic sections so for me it’s a trade off I’m willing to accept.
The story focuses on Aiden Pearce and his desperate search for the people that murdered his niece while targeting him. While it was definitely nice to see a story like this from a slightly different perspective (it’s his family in danger but not his own wife/children) I still felt the damsel in distress trope didn’t need another airing at this stage. It probably didn’t help that it felt like each time the developers started crafting an interesting relationship for Aiden, the other character would then just disappear for ages. Nicky and Jordi were either underused or wasted and sadly most of the other characters were either a cliche or not that interesting (Aiden included). My favourite character in the game was probably T-Bone and that brings me onto the music of Watch_Dogs.
Aside from one great moment involving T-Bone and a junkyard (I’ll say no more) that had a killer soundtrack, the rest of the game just felt… disjointed is probably the best word for it. There are no radio stations, just tracks, which means you never know what you’ll get next. While that works in a way, the good thing about the radio station mechanic games usually use is that you can at least tailor the vibe of music you’ll get to suit your mood. I also thought the selection was a bit too eclectic and could’ve done with some more focus.
A strange issue I had with Watch_Dogs was the fact that you can’t move doors once they are open! So if I ran into somewhere to evade an enemy the door to the room would just stay wide open and no amount of running into it/frantic button presses would have an effect. A master hacker/vigilante who can’t shut the door behind him?! It’s not a big issue but it definitely broke the immersion for me at times.
Something I did have a big problem with was the driving in this game – cars shoot away at the smallest hint of pressure on the accelerator and general control of vehicles is poor. This led to several ridiculous moments of (great) intense chases being ruined by my vehicle massively over/understeering (usually into a wall). Admittedly each vehicle did have a slightly different feel but for me personally none of them felt reliably comfortable, or fun, to drive.
One of the good things Watch_Dogs does is give you control of the city’s huge technological infrastructure, allowing you to hack into security cameras (for a better view and also to hack other objects not in your line of sight), change traffic lights, burst steam pipes, explode electrical outlets and generally cause chaos. This can be done while driving or on foot, which lends chases and firefights a tactical edge. My only issue with this is that sometimes the game gives you the illusion of variety when really it just wants you to complete a mission in a very specific way. When the illusion works though it’s pretty damn cool. As well as hacking things to gain an advantage on the battlefield you’ll also be tasked with accessing computer software for information on targets and the like. This involves a fairly fun (and usually quite simple) mini game where you direct power to cells by turning corners in the mainframe to make the stream flow where you need it to.
Along with the single player component there is also a full multiplayer suite of options though aside from the ‘Invasion’ none of these were of real interest to me. Invasion basically involves the stopping of your single player game (not in mission) because you are being hacked by another (real life) player. They need to stay close enough to you to download your data and you need to track them down and stop them/take them out. It’s a fun mechanic and if you find it annoying it’s optional so you can just switch it off. There is also plenty of side mission stuff and random crime occurrences to keep you busy. I really enjoyed the side missions involving shutting down a human trafficking ring and discovering a crime was occurring in the vicinity and taking down the offender was pretty good fun.
Watch_Dogs has some genuine moments of great gameplay throughout it’s (quite long) campaign. Unfortunately it shoots itself in the foot by making escaping from the police a chore that is only made worse by some really wonky checkpointing. Making me restart the mission from the beginning every time rather than just checkpointing from the moment I complete the objective and have to escape the cops became soul destroying towards the end of the game. It’s not just escaping from the cops either, several times I had to restart a lengthy firefight from the beginning, which is bad enough but to restart me *before* unskippable dialogue is almost unforgivable.
My experience with Watch_Dogs was equal parts fun and frustration. I’m glad it sold so well because I’m genuinely excited to see what Ubisoft come up with for the next Watch_Dogs title. I hope they can iron out the kinks and make the same kind of leap they did from Assassin’s Creed to Assassin’s Creed II. Watch_Dogs doesn’t live up to the hype but it’s a solid, entertaining game with some messy flaws.