The sales for the new consoles have been staggering, but the software so far has been meek. One of the biggest launch window games for both the Xbox One and Playstation 4 was set to be Ubisoft’s Watch Dogs. However a month before the new consoles hit store shelves, Ubisoft delayed the game making gamers wait an additional six months to hack into Chicago. Now that the arduous wait is over, players can jump into the game. But was it worth the wait?
Leading up to the release we’ve seen a ton of Watch Dogs – especially after its initial reveal at Ubisoft’s press conference at E3 in 2012. However even with all of the screenshots, trailers, and previews we only gotten glimpses into the Watch Dogs story, which centers around Aiden Pierce. Aiden, who sports a very deep dramatic voice (akin to Christian Bale in The Dark Knight trilogy), is a very troubled soul. After the death of his niece he is on the path of vengeance. Soon after his plans are quickly dismantled and Aiden is left to pick up the pieces and yet still try to avenge his niece. Luckily Aiden has a particular set of skills that are perfect to do just that. The game takes place in Chicago, the first smart city, meaning it utilizes CtOS (CenTral Operating System) to fully network the entire city. Lucky for us Aiden has a device that can hack into anything in the city and thus the fun begins.
The game’s story has an extremely slow start but picks up in the later acts. Without giving too much away the very mundane brooding Aiden does grow into a deeper more complex character later in the game as the story develops around him. This isn’t Academy Award level storytelling but it keeps the campaign moving. Moreover, the fully networked city (with a small minority having the ability to watch your very move) never became less troubling throughout the game. The NSA scandals withstanding, the potentially grim future in which the game paints is frightening.
Because Aiden has access (and continues to gain more) to the CtOS, it means he has a lot of abilities that come in handy on his vengeance quest. Much of the main story campaign involves going to a certain location, find a way to get to an item and either shoot your way out or escape in a car. How you do all of that is almost always completely up to you and is where the game truly shines. Watch Dogs is at its best when it leaves you in control. I truly enjoyed trying to use the environment around me to distract guards while either knocking them out cold with my baton or avoiding them altogether. I also found that the silenced pistol was crucial later in the game where enemy numbers continue to grow and the stakes for each mission rise.
As you progress, you will level up and earn experience points that can be put into skills like hacking and combat. My initial push was to completely upgrade my hacking abilities. This allowed me to have even more options on how to take out enemies whether it was blowing a transformer and cutting the power or just to screw around with fork lifts and have them wonder what is going on. However, there are times when hacking won’t be enough to get you out of a bad situation and that’s where the games stellar gun-play comes in. Watch Dogs is a cover based shooter. You’re going to move Aiden from one piece of cover to the next while trying to manipulate the environment to give him the upper hand. One of my favorite aspects of Watch Dogs is that Aiden is not a bullet sponge similar to Nathan Drake of the Uncharted franchise. He can only take a small amount of punishment and so it becomes imperative to stay in cover and quickly take out enemies. The shooting mechanics are some of the best I’ve seen in an open-world third person action game and truly make it a joy switching from hacking to shooting, to driving away and escaping.
Speaking of driving, Ubisoft did a great job with it. Another aspect of the game they touted was the ability to hack while driving. You can’t shoot while driving, or at least from what I could decipher from the controls/menus, so you’re left with hacking. Hacking while driving is as hard as it should be. It’s completely timing based. So if you want to raise a bridge or turn all the traffic lights green, you’re going to want to time it just right or it will back fire and land you in the water or a major accident. However, even when you fail ten times, the one time you pull it off perfectly and lose your pursuers it’s extremely satisfying.
Ubisoft is also known for their side missions. My favorite parts of both the Assassin’s Creed and Far Cry franchises are the small side quests that generally turn into the most memorable moments. Watch Dogs is jam packed with stuff to do. In fact, just like in Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag there might be too much side content to pursue. As you’re driving to the next mission or even just cruising the streets of Chicago you will get notifications of crimes and activities available to you. By pressing the up arrow on the D-pad you will then accept the notification and begin pursuing the crime or job you’ve just accepted. Not to mention when walking around Chicago and hacking individuals phones it becomes very apparent that Chicago has a major crime problem as a crime will usually pop in every couple of minutes.
At first I would accept them all and pursue all suspects but I quickly realized that I may never finish the game using that method and began forcing myself to try and stay on track. However even though I think the game over inundates you with other things to keep you busy, 98% of the side content is a lot of fun. There are missions where you have to take down an enemy without killing them, or bring a luxury car to a certain location without damaging it. Where things get truly out of control is when you start getting online notifications. I’m reviewing the game before it’s been released so the number of people playing right now is obviously limited.
Along with the side mission notifications you also get multiplayer notifications. The integration of the multiplayer is actually spot on. For example I was driving to a mission and was asked if I wanted to join a race, I hit the up arrow on the d-pad and a couple seconds later I was in a race. I completed and won the race and when it was over I was back in my single player game right at the finish line with the other people out of my world. It’s the type of hop-in and hop-out sort of multiplayer that truly works in this type of game. The most intense multiplayer action I had in Watch Dogs was the 1 vs. 1 hacking. In this mode one person is the hacker and the other is being hacked and trying to find the hacker. It’s similar to the Assassin’s Creed multiplayer but the fact that it’s just a quick click away and only takes a couple minutes before your back into your own single player world makes it far more appealing. Although later in the game I still preferred to main line the story missions, the ability to jump in and out of multiplayer to me was more interesting then other open-world offerings in the past.
Watch Dogs does draw a lot of its inspiration from both its Ubisoft brothers (Assassin’s Creed and Far Cry) as well as its competition in Grand Theft Auto. However the one thing I think it does better then those games is in its city development. Utilizing the power of the new consoles, Ubisoft was able to make the city of Chicago feel more alive then any other open-world city I’ve experienced. There are people everywhere. In the more metropolitan areas of Chicago you will have swarms of people that make the game feel alive. Just walking around Chicago with your CtOS open and peering into the lives of its inhabitants is both creepy and enjoyable. Ubisoft truly did a remarkable job of creating a truly diverse and fully realized city. Not to mention the visuals, which are absolutely gorgeous. The city of Chicago looks amazing and is complimented nicely by an amazing weather engine. The weather is constantly changing while your playing the game and it not only looks great but adds nicely to the immersion.
One of the games biggest hurdles was separating itself from the rest of the pack. Hacking withstanding, this is still a third person open-world action game that follows a lot of the conventions that we’ve come to feel comfortable with since the release of Grand Theft Auto III in 2001. That’s not a bad thing by any stretch but the promises of a “next-gen” open-world experience might have been a bit premature. Your still going to get missions marked on the map and you will drive from one place to the next, stealing cars, and killing innocent citizens along the way. The game also falls into the trap of having so much to do that it messes with the pacing of the game’s story which only further disenchants you with our heroine, Aiden.
Watch Dogs is far and away the best game to released for the new consoles. It’s overflowing with incredible content to be enjoyed and the beautiful city of Chicago to explore. This game could be the start of a truly incredible franchise.