When Ubisoft revealed Watch_ Dogs
at the end of their 2012 E3 conference
, the gaming world went a little bit bonkers at the thought of being able to hack through the open-world Chicago setting. Since then the game has been expertly marketed, resulting in one of the most hyped releases in recent memory - confirmed by the announcement earlier this week that with four million sales, Watch_Dogs
is the best-selling new IP ever, as well as enjoying the best first week sales of any Ubisoft release.Watch_Dogs
promises to offers a unique take on the popular open-world genre, but does it live up to the hype?
You play Aiden Pearce, a contractor for hire that will steal anything he is paid to. During a failed heist fleecing some of Chicago’s rich and famous; Aiden’s hacking partner begins to reveal a secret that powerful forces are willing to keep hidden by any means necessary. In a failed attempt to take Aiden’s life, his niece Lena is killed and Aiden’s story of revenge begins. Unsatisfied with stopping with the man that pulled the trigger, he becomes drawn into a larger conspiracy involving ctOS, the city management and surveillance network that connects all of Chicago and its inhabitants.
The main story is quite dark, and Aiden certainly isn’t the all American protagonist that one might expect. Instead his journey to self-styled vigilante hacker often sees him question his actions as they lead to the people he loves getting into trouble. This does result in Aiden being quite serious and withdrawn as a character, but thankfully the diverse cast of side characters are interesting enough to make up for it.
The basic premise for the story may sound all too familiar, but the gameplay on offer is a brilliantly reimagined take on the popular open-world mechanics that gamers have grown used to from big game franchises like Grand Theft Auto
and Saints Row
Unless you've lived under a rock for the past two years, you know that Watch_Dogs
centers around hacking, and its inclusion plays a major part in the way Aiden conducts his business. Using his smartphone, Aiden is able to hack an array of electronic devices and machinery throughout the map, allowing him to tap into ctOS’s all-encompassing surveillance systems - which makes for a more thought out approach to missions than the usual run and gun methods other games have featured in the past.
Through hacking Aiden is able to gain access to security cameras by line of sight, manipulate the environment to cause distractions, reach new areas that were otherwise locked off and stop enemy vehicles from pursuing him. The map is literally full of interactive items that can all be triggered at the touch of a button.
NPCs can also be hacked which adds a new level of detail that has not been seen before. Using his smartphone, Aiden can profile each person he meets and see small pieces of information about their lives. When NPCs have their phone in hand, Aiden can hack them to steal money and spy on their phone and text conversations to open up new side missions. This also adds to the feeling of crossing the line between right and wrong. On more than one occasion I was left questioning myself after emptying the bank account of someone that had recently been diagnosed with a terminal illness.
Main story missions (and a good number of side missions) normally work on the premise of needing to enter a guarded location to pick up an item such as a confiscated vehicle, hack a computer/server or seek out a specific enemy or two for intel. It does become a little bit predictable the game progresses, but thankfully there are enough other activities throughout the stunningly recreated world of Chicago to keep the game from becoming monotonous.
Initially the game gives the illusion that you can choose how you wish to complete each mission, but try to go in guns blazing and you’ll quite often find that you’ll shoot the wrong person without knowing it - which results in an instant fail. Similarly, a quick mission that should have taken a few minutes can turn in to a large scale gun fight and a car chase half way across the map. Instead the best approach involves using hacking skills to scout out the area to reveal enemy positions, potential weaknesses and to find objectives in advance before sneaking in with a silenced weapon to cause minimal attention.
Numerous missions involve a simple puzzle of switching from camera to camera and moving objects to open up new paths or hacking into the system with a Pipe Mania
style mini game that is thankfully never too difficult to annoy, but do take a little bit of thought.
Visually the game is one of the best next-gen releases yet with both strong character and environment design. This is especially noticeably when the weather takes a turn for the worse or as the sun begins to set over the city. The game also runs extremely smoothly for the most part – there were a couple of times that the frame rate dropped sharply when multiple things appeared on screen – and with barely any loading times aside from the excessively long one when you first start the game. The only slight annoyance in terms of visuals is the draw distances when driving, as breakable objects such as street lights and traffic on the road can be seen popping in which isn’t game breaking but can cause distraction.
The control scheme for the game is very intuitive, especially when on foot. The use of a weapon wheel allows for the quick switching between the large array guns, explosives and hacking devices available and the cover system is as fluid as we’ve seen for a long time. Free running is very similar to that seen in Assassin’s Creed
allowing for the quick traversal over obstacles in your way, but on a far lesser vertical scale.
The driving may be one of the game’s biggest drawbacks. Despite the large array of vehicles on offer, they all feel the same and are very heavy to handle; the only exceptions being motorcycles and the more high powered sports cars which have a much greater arcade feel to them.
Gunplay is also well done, with a focus system which allows the slow down of time to assist when necessary. There’s a large array of weapons on offer, but to be honest there really isn’t any need for the vast majority of them. A silenced pistol and/or assault rifle is more than enough to make light work most of the enemies you will come across.
Like any good open-world game developed by Ubisoft, there are a host of side missions, collectibles and mini-games to play should you want to take a break from the story or have already completed it and want to spend more time with the game. Many do take on a similar, easier feel in comparison to the main story missions, but some such as the Spider Tank game offer something completely different.
Multiplayer in the game is well executed and can be slightly addictive as you try to figure out new, creative ways to hack and tail your opponents. The capture the flag style Decryption game, which tasks one player with evading the rest, can be very tense, and races where you have to try and avoid traps that other players can trigger to slow your progress are fun and action packed.
When you’re on the receiving end of someone entering your game, it can be annoying if all you want to do is start the next mission, but there is the option to turn off the multiplayer section of the game if it does get too much for you.
The game’s achievements should be straightforward for most people to obtain, with a good mix of achievements that are story based, completing specific in-game actions, for collecting X amount of this collectible and doing X amount of this task. It makes for an easy-ish 1000G if you are willing to put in the fifty or so hours it could take you to do everything.Watch_Dogs
is a very well put together game that feels like a perfect hybrid of many of Ubisoft’s best known franchises rolled into one. The graphics are some of the best the Xbox One has seen to date, and the gameplay is extremely smooth, though it does suffer slightly when driving. The stealth orientated gameplay gives a fresh feel to the usual, guns blazing open-world setting, and the hacking is unique feature that adds a new level of interaction with the environment and NPC characters.
Compared to other open-world games there isn’t as much to do outside of missions and side quests, which will stop many from coming back for more once they’ve worked their way through the story, side missions and collectibles, but with fifty-plus hours of gameplay to be had, it’s still a good investment to make.
Ultimately, if you’re coming into the game filled with hype, you may feel a little bit disappointed that it isn’t all that you hoped for, but that doesn’t make Watch_Dogs
a bad game. It’s a solid experience throughout, but just misses "must-play".
The reviewer spent approximately 25 hours hacking his way through the game's story, side missions and multiplayer modes, unlocking 11 out of the game's 38 achievements. The Xbox One copy of the game was provided courtesy of the publisher.