Ah, “Watch_Dogs” as it calls itself- one of the most hyped games in living memory- a game that was thought by many to be the sole reason to buy a next-gen console, and “The first truly next-gen game”, whatever the hell that actually means. Fortunately, dear reader, I’ve been rather successfully (if I do say so myself) ignoring all the immense hype for the game, which I feel will help in this review. Apart from the very first trailer for it, I’ve ignored the other trailers, the apparent graphical downgrade, the delays and the five special editions for the game, partly because I knew I’d end up getting the game (at least to review it) and therefore didn’t care about the press for it, and also because I knew that the final game could ever live up to the sheer hype- said hype was so immense. Question is; is “Watch Dogs” actually any good? Well, read on.
So it’s the near future (I think) and Chicago is home to an operating system called “ctOS” that controls pretty much everything electric in the city as well as having everyone’s personal information (though due to pesky game limitations it can only bring up one piece of apparently “important” information at a time.) on file. This was an extraordinarily stupid idea that lead to people like protagonist Aiden Pearce being able to log into and control all sorts of devices and steal all sorts of personal information with incredible ease. Why was ctOS set up? I don’t know. It may have been mentioned in an audio log somewhere, but as far as I saw it wasn’t justified. Anyway, Aiden Pearce is a hacker whose niece is murdered in an attempt to scare him after a job he pulled, and he’s trying to find out who killed her. Well, I say that, he actually finds out who killed her at the start and has him held hostage for the entire game while the story desperately attempts to find things for him to do. The story in “Watch Dogs” is really nothing special. For starters Aiden is given no real backstory- he’s a skilled infiltrator, marksman, hand-to-hand combatant and driver bordering on military level, but the game never explains where he learned these skills. I’m also supposed to sympathise with him despite the fact he’s brought terror and destruction to his family and is an emotionless, manipulative twat, despite apparently fighting on behalf of the citizens of Chicago. The game has an “inFAMOUS”-style morality meter that didn’t seem to amount to much at all, and certainly didn’t affect the story- throughout the game Aiden was resolute in his own awesomeness as “The Vigilante” despite the large number of police and civilians I had murdered in cold blood. The actual mission-to-mission story is nothing special, but largely in-offensive. Aiden grumbles and murders his way through several break-ins and gang hideouts as he’s blackmailed into various jobs, but none of it ever really had any weight to it. After a while the whole thing took on a perhaps unintentionally dark quality as it dawned on me that Aiden is pretty much just a monster in the “Joel” mold- a man whose only skills extend to violence, coercion and general bastardry, and for a while I quite liked the Nihlistic feel to it. This was then ruined by Aiden’s sister and nephew being pretty much okay with everything he does, but hey-I had it while it lasted.
Gameplay wise, it’s decidedly hit and miss. The whole thing feels rather similar to Ubisoft’s own “Assassin’s Creed”, but with two stand-out elements, which I’ll get to shortly. The gameplay is largely stealth with silenced weapons, with a fair bit of driving, shoot-outs and hacking elements also. I use the word “Elements” because the hacking really isn’t as integral as it was made out to be. Whenever the game forces you to hack things, it’s usually hacking into a camera then jumping from camera to camera to follow someone or get a bead on an area, or just hacking into a computer or box. All of this is done by pointing at something and holding down a button. Outside of the mandatory, hacking mainly consists of making chest-high walls pop-up, or affecting things on roads in order to disable people you’re chasing or being chased by. The one major problem with the hacking is the “Disable Helicopter” move- something that works fine when on foot, but is seemingly impossible while driving. Overall the hacking is nothing particularly amazing, but where it really comes in handy are the game’s optional stealth sections, especially the gang hideouts. These are easily the best parts of the game- you scan the area to find the target that you’re supposed to knock out. You then have to knock them out and either escape or kill all of his henchman, either using stealth or all-out aggression. These stealth sections are reminiscent of “Splinter Cell Blacklist” (also made by Ubisoft. It had fantastic stealth)- the climbing, smooth shooting and melee takedowns all work brilliantly, and these sections are where I had the most fun with the game. When you’re free to do things your own way with a mixture of murder and hacking, the game is really rather decent. Nothing new, but certainly very competent. However, there’s one gameplay element that really sours the rest of it.
Forced stealth sections. Bloody hell the forced stealth sections. Ubisoft have previous for this- the forced stealth sections in every “Assassin’s Creed” game were also bloody awful, and the ones here are no exception- be spotted by anyone, anywhere, for a second and you’re busted. At one point I was tracking a briefcase as it was exchanged among a group of gangsters in a pubic walkway by the sea. I wasn’t supposed to be seen, and at one point a gangster did see me, pulled a gun and asked “What are you doing here?!”. IN A PUBLIC AREA. This was a pretty jarring lapse in logic and common sense, as the game stretched logic to fit in with the mission. During another mission I ran into a guard and he spotted me- the game then decided I had failed, and removed all control from me- the scene faded out as I stood there like a lemon while the guard shot me repeatedly. Now, had the game not removed my control I could have very easily stopped time with my dumb bullet time ability (that’s a point- you have bullet time for no adequately explained reason), raised my silenced pistol and shot him right in the face, like I would do during a gang hideout mission. But no, apparently that just wasn’t feasible. This is not how you do stealth, guys. It’s not enjoyable, it’s not fair, and it makes no bloody sense.
Any other problems? Well, during a mission late on in the game, I was supposed to be guiding someone to safety via security cameras. I instead sprinted into the building, killed a few goons and found the person in question only for them to COMPLETELY IGNORE ME FOR NO REASON. Nice one, guys.
Overall, “Watch Dogs” has its ups and downs. The optional stealth sections are great- the gang hideouts in particular play like a more restrictive version of “Splinter Cell: Blacklist”, which I love. The driving is fine, and even manages to have one rather initiative move where you turn off the engine to hide from the police, the shooting is decent, and although not essential, the hacking is well-implemented. What hold it back are the story being bland and not being affected by the player’s capacity to either be a man of the people or a psychotic bastard, and the utterly terrible forced stealth sections, that are entirely unwanted and very annoying. Is the game any good? It’s alright, yeah. It’s not the revolution people seemed to think it was going to be, and it certainly doesn’t live up to the massive hype. It’s really nothing special, but if you absolutely must pick it up there is fun to be had. There are better Ubisoft games on next-gen, namely “Assassin’s Creed IV” and “Rayman Legends”. They’re much more worthy of your time.
By James Lambert