Michael Leparc On June 25, 2014 at 11:18 am

Watch_Dogs_RUNNING_ON_LTRAIN__1394239149The recent revelations about what the NSA has been up to as the internet proliferates around us has led many to ask if it’s worth connecting so many things to each other only to have them betray us and our personal data. Watch Dogs has timely inserted itself into this context with a look at how this connectivity can be used by private actors to run rampant as well. While it avoids exploring any of the serious implications of this, this effort by Ubisoft is a fun romp that finally gives us a wider glimpse of what it would be like to play in a cyberpunk sandbox.

Set in Chicago in an alternate/near future where everything is controlled by ctOS, a secure operating system that runs the entire city, you are introduced to the protagonist hacker Aiden in the middle of a tried and true trope: working against the clock to steal money from a hotel, his partner Damien gets too ambitious, rattles the wrong cage, and attracts the worst kind of attention. While Aiden gets out, it’s too late, a contract has been put on him which promptly leads to the death of his niece. From then on he’s the typical anti-hero on the hunt for those who did him wrong, hypocrisy be damned as he uses many of the same methods used against him. This is definitely the weakest part of the game as we don’t really see much progress in his character or any real introspection about the way the world has gone, as well as a couple twists that are quite predictable. The female hacker Claire, who you meet early on, just looks a little too much like the Girl With the Dragoon Tattoo to avoid looking derivative. Still, overall the story serves its purpose I suppose in giving you plenty of variety in missions which also introduce you to various game mechanics.

And it is that gameplay which is a blast to master and where the game truly flexes its muscles. Yes, it does share the vast majority of its DNA with previous sandbox games like Grand Theft Auto and Assassin’s Creed. You will be stealing cars and firing various firearms just like GTA, and you will be figuring out how to scale and access ctOS towers in a similar manner to AC’s eagle points, but that’s just the skeleton upon which the hacking features flesh things out. Break the law, even just by waving a gun around, and someone will call the cops. If you don’t get to them in time to knock the phone out of their hand, a ctOS search will execute, representing by a growing circle around your location in the minimap. You can jam it temporarily by using a crafted item, but if you fail to escape in time, the chase is on! At this point, you’re not only counting on your driving and shooting skills. To truly escape you’ll have to use the city’s brains against itself, hacking traffic lights, bridges, steam pipes beneath the street, etc. to take out your pursuers. This really gives the game more of an intense movie chase style feel, and the highlights you’ll make are epic. The same principle applies to your encounters on foot, where you could go in guns blazing just like GTA and maybe you’ll make it out alive, but the real Watch Dogs way to go about it is through stealth and subterfuge. The possibilities are multitude, really. A highlight for me was breaking into a data center full of military personnel with only a security camera outside as my port of entry. From there I was able to hop from camera to camera, scoping out all the vulnerabilities in the system and disabling their ability to call for reinforcements. Then I created a distraction from inside the office where a terminal I needed to get to was located. When the nearest soldier was alerted and decided to check out what happened, I jumped into his hidden camera and followed him into the room. Eureka! I got what I needed without firing a single bullet or killing anyone. Alternatively, I could have caused chaos by blowing up several panels and setting off someone’s grenade, but where’s the fun in that? Oh wait. That is pretty fun, too! While it’s not “real” hacking in some senses, there’s a sense of accomplishment in stringing together scenarios like this that can’t be underestimated.

Also worth noting is Watch Dogs take on multiplayer, which is Assassin’s Creed esque in the sense that it pits players against each other in a way where the name of the game is not sticking out in the crowd. When a player invades your game (and they really do, interrupting your progression to the next story checkpoint at times), a bar will display how close they are to completely hacking you as well as a circle on the minimap of where you can find them. Your goal is to discover them before they siphon off all your data. The circle will get smaller as they get closer to finishing, but it can be quite difficult to pick out the oddball in the crowd. Once you discover them you will have the challenge of taking them out before they get away. How much XP and money you earn in these encounters depends on how efficient you are. If you want to turn the tables you’ll have to pick up the appropriate fixer contract. Even more interesting is the way your friends can participate with just a phone or tablet, essentially hacking into your game to give you a timed challenge and throwing all sorts of cops and obstacles in your direction. As if all that weren’t enough, there’s all sorts of side missions that you can pick up just hacking people’s phones on the street, stopping an imminent crime or shutting down a gang hideout for instance. Then there’s the augmented reality games you can play, collecting coins, shooting alien invaders, and digital trips that resemble Carmageddon or my personal favorite, Spider Tank, which allows you to wreak havoc in the city in mecha style fashion. It was hard completing the game simply because there were so many things to get sidetracked with, and that’s not a complaint at all.

There’s some controversy surrounding Watch Dogs in that the graphics did not live up to what we were shown in previous footage. No doubt it looks like some of the shaders or textures were scaled back, but the end result is a game that runs smooth (important when you’re switching from camera to camera a whim) and in high resolution on the PS4, with enough draw distance to create some impressive views of the skyline in some locations. The soundtrack in the game is fairly extensive as far as what you can listen to inside your car, but unfortunately the music licensed isn’t the quite the big name cast you might expect from a GTA or Saints Row game. Aiden and most NPC’s voice acting came across competently but unfortunately they were all forced to be quite one dimensional by the script.

Watch Dogs is a game that finally scratches an itch I’ve been having for a long time, and yet it’s only barely scratched the surface of its potential. If they could get the story right and add even greater depth to the hacking, this could be Ubisoft’s next money printer after Assassin’s Creed. Definitely pick this up to get you through the summer, in my opinion.


So much to do, whether it’s single or multiplayer, and the hacking expands on the sandbox template to create so multiple approaches to missions and unpredictable results.


It does look like they scaled things back a bit, making the game look more like a last gen port than a native game.


The voice acting didn’t have much to work with and the music selection is somewhat lacking.


A great start to a new franchise. Can’t wait for the sequel.

Comments are closed.