Watch dogs was a game that had me incredibly excited since the moment I first saw it at E3 almost a year ago. It looked amazing: a game with a heavy emphasis on hacking, stealth, and open worded gameplay? How could I not be excited? It set the bar incredibly high, with a lot of promise – especially for those of us looking to play it on a PC or a next generation console. Would it be able to deliver? That was the question I found myself asking in recent weeks.
Initially Watch Dogs got off to a strong start with a nice, showy beginning. Watch Dogs did however, manage to lose a bit of steam once I got further into it. The gameplay is great, and I found the different modes and story to be enjoyable – but Watch Dogs did not meet all of my expectations in the end.
Graphics – 7.5:
The graphics overall are really good, but fall just short of great. The lighting effects are top notch, with practically everything reflecting light in some way, and the bloom works magnificently. Once during an online hacking session, I recall trying to hide under an overpass with the lights from the city in the background, making the entire area darkened and therefor nearly impossible to see me. Using a blackout and getting rid of those lights actually made it easier to spot me down there. Another nice touch was when it rains, which is randomized but adds a lot of visual flair. The sleek roads bounce light off of them in realistic fashion. They textures look great most of the time, and I never noticed anything with low poly textures. There are two issues I have seen with it so far that are worth noting. One is that the tall grass is done lazily, with it simply being a low resolution 2d image flowing about. The other occurs in multiplayer, where character models look odd because your character looks like any average citizen, with Aiden’s motion capture tacked on. It creates a strange effect.
Overall I love the lighting and the textures, and maybe this is nitpicking, but the models and grass irked me.
Sound & Music – 9:
The sound design in the game is excellent. One of the most interesting aspects is the way sounds increase and decrease in volume based on distance from the source of the sound. With a good surround system helping to distribute the audio, the environment really comes alive. If Aiden is listening in on a conversation between two people and a car drives by, it’s gonna make the conversation quieter as it as it becomes lost in the ambient noise. The sounds of people talking are very fluid sounding and natural as they create a realistic din all around. There are a ton of different voices for the civilians that Aiden will overhear, which is far better than titles that only seem to use a handful of actors and scrub their voices in pitch and tone to make them seem different, even though it is clear they are not.
The various automobiles have powerful sounding engines that sound quite different if you are riding a motorcycle as opposed to a large truck. If a wheel wheel blows, it is very noticeable because of the distinctive sound where the hiss of the air leaking out tips you off shortly before the scrape of metal once the rubber is completely gone. Once you hear that, you know it is time to ditch the car and find a new ride. The guns sound pretty much how they would handle in reality, and I especially love how the 1911 is treated. It is a pistol, but instead of making it weak and quiet like so many other games might, in Watch Dogs it is a pretty potent gun with a nice boom to it that feels authentic.. None of that peashooter popping noise, but instead a gun that is made to sound like it would in real life.
Still, not all of the audio is perfect. As impressed as I was, there are a few glitches and weird spots with it here and there, but these were the exceptions and not the rule – they did not detract from the overall experience of the game.
Gameplay – 8:
The gameplay has been considered something akin GTA, but I cannot truly make that comparison as I’ve never played played that series myself. From what I have seen, it does look very similar GTA and if that is your kind of game, I suspect Watch Dogs will be a comfortable title for you. Even with that familiarity it seems as if Watch Dogs is bringing something very new to the table with its emphasis on hacking and advanced technology. Yes, there are guns and you can drive about a huge city, but there is a good deal more taking place in Watch Dog’s version of Chicago. Almost every mission has an element of hacking to it, whether it be tripping an alarm on a car to distract someone or blowing up a transformer to black out a section of the city, there is an intelligent undertone to all of Aiden’s activities.
One of the primary objectives is to take over ctOS control points in each district. These are vital to Aiden’s success, because without them, he does not have access to the citizen profiles, cameras and a few other necessary things throughout the primary storyline, plus it locks you out of the option side quests in that zone. These require you to get through a heavily armed area with multiple entrances and routes to get to a control panel, which you then must hack and subsequently complete a puzzle to unlock access. There are multiple ways you can go about gaining these vital access points. The first, and probably mid range difficulty would be trying to just go guns blazing in and take everyone out that way. While this is a possibility, it is sometimes difficult later on in the game and frankly became somewhat boring to me. Another method, and my personal preference, is to go stealthy. This is just killing or otherwise disabling the guards one at a time in order to reach the control panel, using your hacking tools to keep your presence a secret. You can blow a fuse to kill someone, or distract them with a lure and then knock them out from behind. Or you can just lead them somewhere and use an I.E.D. to blow them up, getting most of the other guards looking and inspecting that location. The last option is even more about the technology but completely passive towards the guards.It is probably the most difficult one to deal with, because you are trying to trick and lure the guards, but not killing them. This can be either dropping shipping crates on their heads (apparently they have thick heads as they are disabled, not dead), using a car alarm and slipping by unseen. The flexibility of these systems really does allow you to play Aiden a variety of ways that are all completely viable despite a handful of times when the going can become somewhat frustrating because of the physics engine or how other mechanics work that might get in the way.
Intangibles – 7:
The story had its ups and downs, and for the most part it works as a revenge tale about a family member who was killed on accident when Aiden had been the target. This sets him up as a sort of anti-hero vigilante as Aiden attempts to settle a score with the person or people behind his loss.
The replay value in this game is pretty good, but not infinite. There are many, many side missions you can unlock and complete, and of course the related trophies and items to unlock doing them. The multiplayer is also enjoyable for a good long while, and while I am still enjoying it, I can see where it might grow stale somewhat sooner than later. The multiplayer is a bit of an enigma, as the modes feel familiar, yet there are some new wrinkles thrown in to try and put a twist on more traditional methods of online play. The one that most people seem to like is the Online Decryption. In the early stages plenty of people have been playing it and speaking fondly of it, though personally it is not my favorite. It is most similar to the overly familiar death match mode found in most shooting games, though here the objective is to hold a file for a certain amount of time. My least favorite mode, and that of others I have read from and talked to, is the race mode. Watch Dogs has cars in it. It is not a racing game and it shows. It serves as a nice distraction when playing the game itself, but it is not strong enough to build a competitive online mode around.
Easy my favorite of the multiplayer modes is online hacking. You invade another fixer’s world (or the invade yours) and try to install a program into their phone to steal their data, while blending in with the crowd. It provides a nice strategic challenge as the invader attempts to blend into the crowds and remain unnoticed. Trailing, is fairly similar to hacking, except you must keep your target in sight, and unless you do something obvious to give yourself away, you should go unnoticed. Different, so fun in small doses, but the novelty wears off somewhat quickly. Last but not least, there is Free Roam. As the name implies, up to eight player co-op or adversarial free roam the city with no penalties, no missions, just exploration. The most fun occurs either through fights with other adversarial players or cop chases. It feels like this should have been better, but it grew repetitive far too quickly for my tastes. There is one more, but I was unable to try it as it required the mobile app, which was not out prior to the release.
Overall – 7.5:
Watch Dogs is a very good game with a lot of things done right and a handful of blemishes that only slightly diminish the gameplay here and there. There is a lot to do, and if the formula appeals to you, there is a ton of gameplay to be had here. The biggest problem for me might be one of anticipation. Watch Dogs is one of the three or four games I was most excited for in 2014 and while it was entertaining, I feel like it fell short of delivering on the expectations I had for it. The premise is entertaining but some of the promise feels unrealized. Certainly worth playing, but not a game that redefines the genre or truly ushers in the new generation in console gaming either.
Review by Chris