Reviewed on PS4
After Watch Dogs was announced by Ubisoft Montreal in 2009, we all have been eagerly awaiting a magnificent, high-tech “GTA-killer” to grace our screens. But is it everything we dreamed it could be?
Well…Yes and no.
After an incredible E3 Demo back in 2012, we all grew insatiable, needing to find more and more about the game, even though after nearly 4 years very little had been show. And now, finally, in 2014 we have the finished product, and it’s playable on our shiny new Sony and Microsoft consoles.
I’ll start off by addressing the “controversy” that Watch Dogs pulled a fast one on us all in 2012 by shipping a game that doesn’t quite live up to the visual fidelity we were all promised (although those options are still available for PC players…). Playing Watch Dogs on a PlayStation 4 is a fantastic experience. No, the graphics aren’t as incredible as the E3 demo, but they still are, in my eyes, almost on-par with Infamous: Second Son, which is the strongest overall graphics on any new system yet. The game runs at an unbreakable 30FPS (unless you count the atrocious online racing, where it drops below 10FPS sometimes), and features great main character models, detailed landscapes, and awesome water and weather effects. I also believe that graphics are an extremely petty way to measure a game – if the game is fun, and the visuals don’t hinder the experience, just enjoy it!
On the gameplay front, Watch Dogs more or less delivers everything we were promised. It’s a great game. The basics of the game are similar to GTA and the Assassin’s Creed series. The story follows Aiden Pierce, a man out for revenge, and opens with an oddly placed moment that feels like moral choices may effect the game. Unfortunately you soon realize there is no moral system involved. After a short sequence to give you the gist of the world, everything is pretty much opened to you. From the beginning you can access all of the map should you choose to. In fact I got into a car chase earlier on that took me over most of the map. “Unlocking” the map functions similarly to Assassin’s Creed, as you must “hack” certain towers in areas to unlock more detail on the map.
Hacking, and everything related to it, is definitely the highlight of the game. In the open-world hacking is a simple as aiming your reticule over something and pressing a button. Want to raise a bridge? Go for it. Curious what that security camera can see? Take a peek. Being chase by cops? Blow up a steam pipe after you pass over it and take them out. Once you’ve unlocked bullet-time…errr… rather “Focus”, this becomes second nature as you slow down time to look behind your car, change some stoplights, disable a helicopter, jump out of your car, stop a train, hop on the train, and disappear into the night. As complicated as I feared it might be, I was quickly pulling some of spectacularly badass moments. Even driving, where control can range from beautiful to atrocious depending on your car, allows for some insane jumps and escapes.
Outside of the open-world, hacking is a key ingredient to missions and side quests, as well as the story in general. Hacking in these situations is performed via a single mini-game, which actually never got repetitive, despite being one of the typical “connect the power from A to B by turning switches” puzzles. These types of hacks let you progress through the campaign, as well as experience my favorite side missions, where you get a voyeur look at people via cameras in their house. The things you see range from mundane (someone cooking dinner) to downright disturbing (someone trying to kill themselves and having trouble with the safety on their pistol).
Variety really is the name of the game. The variety of stuff to do is incredible. Outside of the campaign there are multiple flavors of driving missions, poker games, chess, parkour speed runs, drug trips, an incredibly evil and impossible drinking game (this alone will prevent me from getting a platinum), and more. And each of these are really fleshed out – take the drug trips for example. Drug trips give you a selection of ways to trip, and they vary from bouncing off flowers in a drug induced state, to taking over a giant robotic spider and wreaking havoc on the police and city. The spider missions alone took me over an hour before I have leveled my spider up to the max. More than an hour to complete one piece of one side mission – that’s how much content is packed into the game. Some of driving missions can be a little repetitive and frustrating, but one nice feature is that to unlock everything, some goals are set lower than amount in the game, so you can pick and choose the variety that you like best. For example, I preferred the driving missions where I ran from the cops hitting checkpoints along the way, rather than stealing cars from gang members and having to hide. Other side mission offer fresh play styles with each you attempt, which is awesome.
The greatest weakness of the game is the story. The campaign missions are very fun and varied, but the story falls short. The villain(s?) are pretty hammy, and it gets convoluted as it progresses across the 30-40 hours you’ll be playing. Side characters are mostly well-done, but they again range from cartoony to serious, leaving the game in flux tonally. This is especially apparent when Aiden, the main character, talks a lot about how much he wants to better himself and stay within the confines of the law, and then the cutscene ends and you’re able to run over a row of civilians and drive away scot-free. Aiden himself is the game’s biggest flaw, with a poor character arc, and a voice that sounds like Christian Bale’s Batman.
All in all, it’s hard to complain about the story given how small of a piece it is in the absurd amount of fun content that Ubisoft Montreal has created. I really dug Watch Dogs, and can’t wait to see where the series goes over time.