Ever since its announcement and reveal back at E3 2012, Ubisoft's Watch Dogs has ironically been held under close inspection. A sandbox adventure with a focus on hacking, it's an ambitious game that's chocked full of ideas and mechanics taken from some of the publisher's other properties and various open world titles. If you took Assassin's Creed and mashed it together with Splinter Cell before adding a hefty dollop of Grand Theft Auto, you'd essentially end up with Watch Dogs – but is this Chicago-based romp better or worse than the sum of its parts?
It's admittedly a difficult question to answer. On one hand, protagonist Aiden Pearce's quest for revenge in a city apparently full of criminals is an undeniably excellent experience that's full to the brim with content. However, on the other, nothing that the release does really stands out in what is becoming an increasingly popular genre. Not even our gravelly-voiced lead's magic smartphone provides much excitement, despite the fact that the title's core hacking theme is supposed to be what sets it apart.
In truth, it's safe to say that the game has suffered from media overexposure. Ever since its initial reveal, Ubisoft has drowned the web in trailers of all shapes and sizes, and it's ultimately eliminated most of the surprises that the release throws at you. We've already seen the vast majority of Aiden's hacking powers, from blackouts to road blocks, and traffic light tampering. They look and sound cool, for sure, but the impact of pulling off such well-timed moves will be dulled for anyone who's been keeping up with the release all of this time.
Hacking itself is as simple as aiming your reticule at a vulnerable electronic device and holding square down. When driving, you'll be manipulating the aforementioned traffic systems in order to foil the pursuit of cops or gang members, while on foot there are numerous ways to get an advantage over your foes. You can hack explosives, trigger alarms, or even overload fuse boxes so that they fry anyone who's near. Basically, the hacking mechanic as a concept is an interesting one, but in reality, it amounts to little more than pressing a button when you see the prompt on screen. That's not to say that it doesn't add an enjoyable layer of semi-strategy to the already heaving sandbox gameplay mix, but it's still a surprisingly predictable addition.
Likewise, the title's multiple online components try to shake things up with an intriguing focus on the seamless transition between them and your single player adventure, but even they feel somewhat bland in practice. When it's activated in the options menu, you can be invaded by other players as you go about your business, and they'll attempt to infiltrate your network and steal data. You'll be tasked with finding the intruder, and during the first few confrontations, it creates a tense dynamic as you frantically search for your opponent, and gets even better when the affair turns into a chaotic car chase. Like all of the modes of play, it's well worth a try, but it eventually becomes a little bit tedious – especially when you've unlocked the online-specific skill tree in its entirety.
Meanwhile, online races do exactly what they say on the tin, and the game's obligatory team-based mode doesn't do much to stimulate enthusiasm either – particularly when most players are happy to abuse the open world's systems rather than participate in shootouts. Nevertheless, multiplayer can provide a decent distraction when you're eager to experience a little human intervention, and the next-gen exclusive free roam does have its fun moments when you're up for doing stupid things with friends, but it's hardly a revolution.
So, with a release that sports this much mediocrity, why not just jump back into your favourite PlayStation 3 sandboxes? Well, despite multiple instances of tired gameplay and predictable structure, Watch Dogs actually manages to excel in creating a fantastic game world. Chicago certainly doesn't have the attitude of San Andreas, but it definitely feels like a bustling city, and its various districts are decidedly distinct. The setting is a lot larger than it originally seems, too, and houses plenty of real-life tourist hotspots to find and gawk at. Much of it is meticulously well made, and when coupled with a lavish day-night cycle, as well as some lovely looking weather effects, it's often a joy to simply walk the streets and take in the atmosphere.
The urge to explore is also amplified by dynamic events, which occur frequently. The scenarios generally follow the same structure, but they give a good reason to get involved with the city's inhabitants. With your phone in hand, criminal activity will be marked on your map, and it's up to you whether or not you go and stop it. After scouting out the potential victim or potential assailant, you can either give chase and neutralise the target with non-lethal force, or you can put a bullet between their eyes. It's easy to see how these smaller objectives could become boring, but they thankfully remain engaging due to their impressively dynamic nature. Sometimes, the perpetrator will call for backup and you'll be forced into a gunfight with a gang in the middle of Chicago's business district, or someone will give the police a nudge at the sight of Aiden brandishing a weapon, and you'll have to escape the area.
Indeed, even bigger, named side missions can provide unique, completely unscripted moments where you'll need to adapt to an ever-changing situation. Hunting down criminal convoys and stopping them using any means you see fit feels both liberating and exciting, while shutting down gang hideouts draws comparisons to the Arkham Batman titles' predator sections, where you're free to scare your enemies witless by remotely interacting with different bits of tech strewn around the location. The game's mechanics may not be anything special, but when you're making use of all of its systems in quick succession and tackling missions however you want, the release truly shines.
Perhaps surprisingly, some of the game's best moments are unearthed during the campaign's main story missions. At numerous points, you'll be battling your way through large locales, from apartment block parking lots to abandoned or run down slum housing estates. Taking on entire gangs alone, you'll likely need to take advantage of everything and anything at your disposal, and again, using different tools, weapons, and hacking abilities in tandem with each other makes combat a highlight, even if the gunplay itself isn't anything to write home about.
Unfortunately, the plot that encases these tasks ranges from serviceable to downright generic, and at its worst, it's about as clichéd as you can get without having Bruce Willis appear to finish off a dying terrorist's last words. Aiden is the gruff white male that we've seen countless times before – a blank canvas whose only tangible motive is to take revenge on the people responsible for his niece's death, even if that means mowing down pedestrians and robbing corner shops when he feels like it. It's easy to get lost in the fact that our baseball cap enthusiast's actions during gameplay don't exactly gel with the plot or his personality, but it's not an argument worth bringing up when the story is this unremarkable to begin with.
That said, cutscenes are well shot and well acted, and a couple of relatively strong characters keep the narrative reasonably interesting when it needs to be. For an open world title, the plot is good enough that you'll want to see it through, and you'll no doubt enjoy bringing some of Chicago's most despicable gangsters to their knees, but when you consider the game's core themes of hacking and cyber warfare, it's hard not to think that it's a wasted opportunity.
Luckily, if you're eager to get away from the narrative – which can be a little overly serious – there are plenty of side activities to enjoy that don't force you to gun people down or smash into vehicles until they burst into flames. Alongside calming chess puzzles and the ability to see every citizen's private information just by pointing your phone at them, digital trips represent Saints Row-esque minigames that almost feel like an entirely separate entity due to their ridiculous nature. You can take on the city's defences as the incredibly destructive spider tank, or you can partake in some parkour platforming as you collect virtual coins across various courses.
And it's not like these distractions are pointless either, since your progress in each of them – as well as side missions – contributes to unlocking new perks and abilities. Aiden's skill trees aren't particularly expansive, but they serve as something to work towards, and eventually make the man that pedestrians call 'The Vigilante' a force to be reckoned with – especially when his focus ability allows him to slow time and pop off headshots like he was born with scopes for eyes. As such, it's possible to grow grumpy Aiden into a deadly crusader of justice or an agent of absolute chaos – something that its closest competitor Grand Theft Auto V doesn't allow, with its playable cast of rather realistically vulnerable ne'er-do-wells.
Of course, it's hard not to discuss a PlayStation 4 release without having a huge fall out over its visual fidelity. As you may have guessed, the bottom line is that, no, Watch Dogs doesn't look anywhere near as good as its initial reveal – but it isn't a bad looking game by any stretch of the imagination. As hinted previously, the weather effects can really add a whole new layer of detail to the world, and at night time, the city's illumination is quite captivating. However, if you look close enough, you'll start to pick out graphical flaws that do take some of the sheen off the product, like the lack of dynamic window reflections, and the disappointingly simplistic vehicle models. Thankfully, though, the title retains a stable framerate throughout, and only ever drops during specifically busy situations while the game is autosaving.
Watch Dogs isn't a hack job, but it isn't the next-gen revolution that many were expecting either. It's a game largely made up of mediocre bits and pieces, but is elevated far beyond the sum of its parts by its brilliantly dynamic sandbox and often gripping mission design. You'll want to see Aiden Pearce's tale through to its conclusion despite its flaws, but it's those unpredictable and sometimes spectacular moments of vigilante justice that will keep you connected to Ubisoft's latest open world.
That's pretty much it. Game is fun but it's not next gen.
@ScreamAimFire99 obviously, it's on PS360.
Not the revolutionary game it was made out to be by the hype, I guess. Still sounds better than I was afraid it might be, though.
im loving it!
It seems to be good but not as good as it could have been shame, I'll wait 2 months for it to drop to around £20 like most Ubi games do as I have to many other games to play (Mario Kart 8 occupying a lot of my free time).
Nice one, @ShogunRok. I'd say the review mostly matches my feelings. During the first few hours I was worried that everything was a bit too generic, but once the story picked up and all of the open-world activities became apparent, I started having a great time. Now if only I could pull myself away from Mario Kart 8 long enough to get back to it...
@DRL Thanks, I largely felt the same way. During the first few hours, I was struggling to understand what was making people impressed, but it really does get better as you adapt to each aspect and the world opens up.
It is good enough for me, so far the most interesting title for ps4, while my time is divided for sao vita at the moment
Yep, I'm enjoying it. It's very ubisoft. The sandbox style and maps remind me so much of farcry and assassins creed but also obviously GTA, its pretty much what I expected. Probably the best you'll get out of a ps3 or 360xb, not next gen but still worth a whirl.this might have been a bit rubbish as a 'launch game' but as a time killer it's perfect.
As long as multi platform games are being made to run first and foremost on x360/ps3/low spec pc, then the ps4, xb1, and pc version maxed out, Are always going to suffer.
I like it but not as much as other games. I replay my favorite games at least three times right away. I'm putting this away for months when done with it.
Enjoy the review & think this is an agreeable score.
Absolutely loving this game, but then again I don't expect everything to reinvent the wheel. The story is gripping and I enjoy the characters. Taking my sweet time with Watch Dogs but am already excited for where a sequel will take it.
@ScreamAimFire99 I can't hear that argument anymore seriously. What are you people expecting? Superb graphics - they only go so far, take Infamous for example. It looked much better than Watch_Dogs in my opinion but was so much more shallow and limited in the things you could do. If you're going into this generation of consoles expecting to be "next-gen-wowed" by every title, you're going to be disappointed, games are, always were and always will be either good, bad or somewhere inbetween, "next gen" definitely is not a label you should look for.
@longshot28 Im totally with you!
@longshot28 @Scollurio This.
Good review. Again. You guys could try to mess up once in a while, you know?
Concerning Watch_Dogs: still pumping hours into the game, still PS4s most enjoyable game yet, for me personally. And I am so looking forward to the sequel. I really can't wait where the series goes in the future...and how Ubisoft will crank it up to 11, hopefully.
Great review, Robert - I fully agree. I haven't played too much yet, but I'm definitely liking it, and am eager to dive back in and play more. I like some of the hacking stuff, especially when you need to use multiple cameras to get a view of something that's actually quite far away. Sure, it all amounts merely pushing square, but it's quite an interesting little feature I think.
I got hacked by an online player for the first time last night, too, and that was really fun. Can see how it could get annoying, though.
I think this game is amazing! There are the few downsides but overall it is a very fun and interesting game to play. I haven't really got into the campaign yet but taking down convoys and completing fixer contracts have had me hooked on the game since release day.
@ScreamAimFire99 Ok, I'm tired of hearing that. Can you or anyone on here please tell me what's next gen? What will it take for a game to be next gen game? And don't just tell me "when it's not on PS360". Just curious.
It sounds like the first Assassin's Creed, hugely ambitious but suffers from weak story and some not so well executed gameplay but tons of potential for an amazing sequel.
@adf86 The story isn't weak. The biggest problem with Watch Dogs is over familiarity. But the more you play the better it gets, because of the story and because of the sheer amount, quality and variety in the content.
@ScreamAimFire99 It is next gen. The graphics on the PS4 are incredibly vibrant and sharp. It really adds to the enjoyment of the game IMO.
Seems like a fun game to me. These "next gen" labels gotta go though. The media did a little TOO good a job drilling buzzwords in peoples' heads this time around. Been gaming since the 3rd generation, and this is the first time I've ever heard large masses of people still calling games and consoles "next-gen" well after the new consoles' arrival.
Excellent review, Robert! I think I'll skip out on Watch Dogs for now (I've got so many other games to play), but I'd definitely like to play it someday. Seems worthy enough to check out when it's around $40.
All next gen means is the next generation of consoles. Oi.
WD is the reanimated corpse of the Driver series, when they shoulda just made a fourth (SF doesn't really count, not after 3 was so fun and without "powers"). I'm also bugged that it's nowhere near as pretty as MGS5 which is also cross-gen. I say Ubi' shoulda waited another 6 months to make it "even better" like TLG. I'm in act 2 and it's not a bad first play but I think 2nd time with my giant guide will be much more fulfilling
@JaxonH Not sure you were paying attention last gen. PS3 and 360 were being called next-gen for years after release.
I don't remember it that way. Certainly not to the extent we're seeing today.
During the transition from PS2/Gamecube/Xbox to the new consoles, the media wasn't sputtering on about "next-gen experiences" every other paragraph. So it was never really drilled into peoples heads as a common everyday word. I'm sure there were a few who used the term but not like we're seeing now. Idk, either way, it's like nails on a chalkboard every time I hear it. Because the word adds no real 'value' to the conversation as far as describing something.
Would you say Watch Dogs is better than Infamous Second Son? Cause to me, that was a pretty good game.
Yeah, the initial hype after E3 2012 had this as one of this game-changing type of releases but with subsequent videos and the delay the hype did die down a little bit. I wasn't confident in it but that said I'm glad I kept my pre-order, it's a really good game that like the original Assassin's Creed lays the groundwork for a potentially awesome sequel. I just hope the development team is given some time like the AC 2 team was. If Ubisoft execs look at the sales at start annualizing this IP beginning with a 2015 release, it could go downhill quick.
Know it wasn't directed at me, but I thought I'd try to help you out anyway. Having played both games, I'd say for me something like Watch Dogs is a little better. I like to explore every part of the world and WD seems like it encourages that much more than inFamous: Second Son. It's a longer game, there's more to do, better variety in the sides missions. The only thing I think Second Son did much better was the story, it was shorter but I think maybe that allowed the devs to tell a better one. Watch Dogs is like Saints Row where the story can be fun but it's not one of the game's stronger suits eventhough Ubisoft really hyped that part up.
In the end, it really just comes down to what you're more into. Story or the overall experience. inFamous nails the first, and while its gameplay is great, it's entirely too short and somewhat limited for an 'open world' game. Watch Dogs is a better representation of what the genre is about, imo, even if it doesn't reach the highs of the best like GTA or Assassin's Creed 2 and 4. If you're looking for a new game this summer when you're done with Mario Kart 8, I'd definitely say give Watch Dogs a shot.
@JaxonH Yes, I would say that. And for the record: I absolutely loved playing inFAMOUS, but I think WD is better. inFAMOUS was a beautiful game with slick controls and I love the scenes with Delsin and his brother and such, but there wasn't really that much to do at the end of the day and the open world was rather sterile.
Watch_Dogs has LOTS to do...several different side mission-types from "normal" stuff to mini games and over the top digital drug trips. Plus, the whole world is much more organic and filled with people, there seems to be happening non-scripted stuff all the time and you really get the feeling of being in a real, living, breathing city.
In short: it's one of those games that just sucked me in and didn't let me go. I boot it up to play for a short while and suddenly, five hours are gone...five hours in which I didn't play any campaign mission but just roamed the city, doing random stuff. It has some rough edges, but I absolutely love its atmosphere and gameplay.
@JaxonH There's a lot more to do that's for sure. Though the highs of Second Son might be higher WD is the deeper experience.
I pre-ordered this after the initial E3 reveal. Cancelled it in Jan/Feb this year after some disappointing videos.
A mate bought it last week, and brought it round. Played for about an hour, and it's okay, but I don't think I'll be buying it at full price. Maybe when it comes down a bit, or if I can get a used but as-new copy... maybe buy it off my mate when he's done.
@Wesker I haven't played the game yet, so I'm just going off what some reviews have said. Glad to see that you and some other, like the story, maybe I might be able to get into it.
@adf86 It has the same problem as GTA games. On the one hand you're tasked with doing something very important and emotionally compelling, while on the other, you're being handed a myriad of more trivial distractions that you're being encouraged to engage with, side missions etc. The world doesn't really provide the cohesive gaming experience you might want, but I think the main missions by themselves offer a strong story-line.
It's intriguing for sure. The biggest problem with the story is I don't think Aidan is the strongest protagonist. He's a likeable character, but Ezio for example was just a better crafted character and the story telling in AC 2 seemed to have a tighter focus. Watch Dogs has much more fun side missions though and some of them even have their own little stories which are cool.
I know gameplay is the most important thing for a game but i when i saw the 1st game play video for this game i thought 'it looks nice, but i hope the PS4 version will look even more better' Silly me I will buy it tho but not at over £40 :-/
I am loving this game, just a thing with all hype, and the release of GTA V on the last gen, must of put a lot of pressure on the Ubisoft developters..
Without GTA, this would in my opinion had a bigger WOW impact.. also those poor people at the bus stops what are they waiting for ????
@SteveoKenobi Brilliant point about the bus stops, I was wondering the exact same thing last night while playing!
@SteveoKenobi Ha ha yep, I tried waiting at a bus stop for a while, they get pretty noisey in the rain, some odd sound balancing (on PS3 at least, Ive not played PS4), but a nice effect!
Been playing on PS3 and enjoying the game so far, I went off the gta series after 4, so this is a nice alternative. The game runs ok, bit of screen tearing, water looks flat when youre in a boat, good atmosphere at night though.
I bought Mario Kart 8 instead, and boy I'm glad I did.
Hacking other's games is SO much fun.
@kingandaval I know. I've had a great time with that. Except when one guy disconnected when I was at like 99%. That peeved me a fair bit though that kind of stuff happens in all online games.
@Wesker It does. You'll get that in all games really.
I do find that I find people disconnect a lot less on PS than they done on Xbox, though! The Playstation community seem to be much less petty
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