Watch_Dogs has been a long anticipated game, ever since it’s incredible surprise reveal at E3 2012, 2 whole years ago, we’ve been dripfed only small amounts of information on it. Over those 2 years, dramatic changes were made, the graphics were downgraded, and the game was delayed multiple times, a trend we hopefully won’t see when ‘The Division’ eventually comes out (announced E3 2013).
Watch Dogs is a sandbox action game following hacker Aiden Pearce in a long and twisting tale filled with drama, troubled history, and plenty of murder. The story at it’s core is Aiden trying to find out the reasons behind the death of his niece, a probing which naturally escalates and escalates and gets hilariously out of control in a way which only sandbox videogames do, it’ll lead you around a fairly large map (supposedly 7 minutes drive end to end from what I hear) across around 4 islands, a mixture of high rise business, suburban city, industrial area, and countryside. To my surprise, I found myself quite heavily invested in the story, which is something that rarely happens, the characters are written well and Aiden as a character is quite easy to sympathize with (despite the hilarious amount of murder). I would find myself playing for a few hours at a time every time I started up the game, fueled mostly by the desire to see how the story plays out.
The main gameplay hooks that distinguish this game from others such as GTA or Sleeping Dogs is the hacking, a fact you probably already knew as it’s more or less all they have been marketing – and for good reason, the hacking system does a fantastic job of distinguishing watch dogs from its kin, even if the way’s in which it is used can start to become somewhat laborious towards the end of the games 15-20 hour campaign. Hacking can be used in a bunch of ways, the most common way is to use it to infiltrate camera systems, letting you get an advantage over guards (so you can sneak or kill easier). You can also use it during combat or driving to interact with the environment and allow you to escape pursuers or gain easy kills. There are also some hacking minigames used to gain entry to areas or to progress the story. It all sounds somewhat bland on paper but in practice it makes for some great gameplay, cutting off a swarm of police by raising a bridge as you jump over it while it ascends is an incredible feeling, triggering a blackout before sneaking or shooting your way through a room full of guards is even better. I should add also that the blackout hack is one of the coolest ‘weapons’ we’ve had in a videogame for a long time, even if it essentially acts like a cloak, the visual spectacle of a whole city shutting down around you is incredible.
Driving is pretty solid, the former being slightly slippery compared to similar games in genre however you will adapt eventually, bikes are still my go-to, as usual, a note however to PC users on keyboard, leave your mouse alone when driving, as touching the mouse will force a manual camera which often results in a headache.
Shooting feels good, with weapons having a significant amount of power to them – and a surprising amount of kick, expect to have to reposition your crosshairs after each shot or burst. Headshot detection is pretty solid, which is always a good thing for anything involving crosshairs. There felt like somewhat of a lack of weaponry, this is perhaps untrue in a theoretical sense, with the game having maybe 10 types of pistols, however there always seems to be 1 weapon best for the job, a fact not helped by a star rating system shown next to all of your guns – why would you ever consider using something rated 1 to 3 stars, when there are 4 and 5 star weapons available virtually from the start of the game? (via shop).
Mission variety is about the standard for a sandbox game, a mixture of infiltrations, assassinations, police escapes and escorts. There is one new type of mission, an escort where you aren’t around, essentially having to use the camera feeds and hacking to help an ally move around an environment without being spotted – it’s a novel concept, though not the most exciting, and in one of the two missions it is presented it results in an instant game over, which can be frustrating. Other than the campaign, there are a bunch of gang clearout missions, convoy disruption missions, races and so on, as well as CTOS tower sidequests which function similar to the lookout towers in assassins creed. Completion of the sidequests and collectibles is awarded with an extra mission which is tied to that collectible/quest, which is a neat feature and nice incentive for replay value.
Graphically the game is pretty, maybe not quite as next gen as we would have hoped going by the initial reveal footage. but personally I think the game looks great, and runs surprisingly well, I did however have some issues with framerate consistency – where the game would stutter despite being at 60 frames, this issue was mostly fixed by restarting the game every hour or two. The lighting in this game is top notch, with some great lighting effects which react to the environment appropriately, the darks are dark and lit areas are properly lit, which sounds like a no brainer but really makes a huge difference in building an atmosphere – especially when you can turn of all the lights at will by hacking. The game also does some interesting ‘tricks’ on occasion which were kind of neat, though annoying at the same time as I kept on thinking my graphics card was on its way out (turns out, i was just being hacked…)
The sound effects and sound engine are good, and the music that stirs up during story events fits pretty nicely. I however wasn’t a fan of any of the ingame radio tracks, which were all a little too in my face for personal preference – I spent most of my driving trips with the radio off.
It’s worth noting also that Ubisoft have done a fantastic job at making a living city, civilians are plentiful which really helps make the city feel real. They also have their own little schedules, they talk to each other, they rap in the alleyways, they line up to use the ATM, they panic when they have a car crash (after you fiddle the traffic lights of course) and scream appropriately when you pull out a gun or try to run them over. It’s a minor thing also but I absolutely love sandbox games that have a working train system – you can board at a platform and ride inside the train to your destination, and that to me is magical, particularly when you see the graphics engine doing its thing with bloom.
I don’t think I had any major issues with the game, aside from a few technical ones. There are a few segments where the checkpointing could be more forgiving and less annoying, for example checkpointing just before a scripted scene which is unskippable is annoying. Probably the biggest annoyance I had with the game was with the police helicopters – a ridiculously powerful force that comes with a police sniper and is very hard to evade, the sniper will shoot your car periodically, or cut the middle man out and just shoot you every few seconds that you don’t have a roof over your head. The game does provide a ‘disable helicopter’ hack, however for some retarded reason it is impossible to position the camera in a way to actually target the damn thing – if the chopper is directly overhead, you are basically screwed. As a beside, it feels like many of the extra sidequesty sort of missions aren’t actually that satisfying to complete, and outside of the gang hideout sidequest line, it feels like there isn’t much opportunity to find some enemies to kill if you want to do so after completing the campaign, a ‘replay campaign mission’ feature also seems to be missing. Another odd thing is there is no way to shoot out from your car or bike while driving, perhaps this is a deliberate choice to emphasize Aidens profession as a hacker rather than soldier, but given he can wield a sniper rifle or LMG just fine, it seems odd he can’t poke out the window and shoot at cars.
I was unable to partake in the multiplayer stuff, but the small glimpse that the campaign provided into the multiplayer world made me upset, as it looked really cool, I would love to try invading a players game at some point and out-hacking another player on the streets of chicago.
I feel it’s important to remember that this is a brand new IP, a brave proposition in todays AAA gaming market, where shares and profit tend to take centre stage over innovation. Sure it maybe isn’t as fleshed out as similar games, or the long running GTA series or AC series, but then it hasn’t had 7 games to refine itself yet. There is a ton of things I would have loved to see in – the ability to take to the skies, a customizable base/cars/weapons, more things to spend my money on and so on, but we can hope these will make it into future games in the series.
Watch_dogs for me at least, lives up to the hype. A fun game with an engaging if somewhat cliche story, a ton of good shootout scenes and some truly stressful police chases.
Approximate Game Length : 15-20 Hours campaign
Actual Worth / Online Price: £25 / £35 = 0.714
Should you play it : Yes, probably the best sandbox game on PC since sleeping dogs
Rating: 4.5/5^vid of me being super good at the game.