2O2P Game Review: Watch Dogs

Is it Watch_Dogs, Watch Dogs, or Watch-Dogs? Does it live up to the hype or is it just another game that had a little too much to drink at last year’s E3 launch party and decided to send out a naughty tweet to the hundreds of thousands of people in attendance?

Release Date: May 27, 2014
Publisher: Ubisoft
Platform(s): Xbox 360, Xbox One, PS3, PS4, PC


Originally announced at E3 in 2012, to much fanfare, Watch Dogs was originally scheduled for launch in November 2013 but ultimately launched on May 27, 2014 to allow Ubisoft to add more polish to it. Set in a digital stand-in for Chicago, protagonist Aiden Pearce explores this sandbox world by hacking pretty much everyone and everything with his generic looking stand-in for a smartphone while trying to save his sister in between side missions of ridding the city of its criminal elements, avoiding or defeating rival hackers, and racing from point to point. A backdoor into Chicago’s central operating system or ctOS allows Aiden free reign over everything and no one is safe… especially those responsible murdering his niece and kidnapping his sister.

Eleven months earlier, after a failed robbery at the Merlaut Hotel that led to his niece’s murder instead of his, Aiden Pearce seeks revenge. Armed with l337 hacking skillz of prompting you to press X or Y and his Samsung Android/Apple iPhone wannabe smartphone Aiden is ready to don his baseball cap, a bandana, and his leather one-strap Trenchcoat of Holding (I don’t know what else to call it - It can magically hold an arsenal of shotguns, pistols, assault rifles, sniper rifles, grenade launchers, and chemicals and electronic components to save the day without encumbering the wearer or interfering in the wearer’s movement). Aiden appears to take on a badass persona but never quite succeeds because the only one that takes Aiden’s badassedness seriously is Aiden and the game publishers. The audience is simply told in very indirect terms that “Aiden is a badass” without any actual proof… unless you consider hacking $6600 from a citizen that was recently diagnosed with terminal cancer and then showing up to your nephew’s birthday party without a present as being a badass. In that case, he isn’t a badass, he’s just a dick and like the Windy City of Chicago that missing any actual wind in this game, Aiden’s the badass that’s missing the bad… ass.

When your friend standing next to you gets shot, don’t stand around waiting for your turn.

One of the biggest obstacles for Watch Dogs are the endless comparisons to Grand Theft Auto that it has had to endure. I don’t think this game was ever meant or marketed to be a GTA replacement. If it was, the person responsible for that marketing effort should be caned and canned because it isn’t GTA. Yes it’s a sandbox game just like GTA. Yes there are vehicles that, much like in GTA, you can jack from those driving them. Yes there are missions that involve you shooting up several enemies and blowing things up just like in GTA… but this is no GTA. It is a completely different game just as Assassin’s Creed, Crackdown, Infamous, etc. are all different games yet none of them were compared to GTA as harshly as Watch Dogs.

You can’t really troll the NPCs in GTA, can you?

If you’ve played GTA though, you can’t but help make the comparison. Running and not being able to jump in Watch Dogs gets irritating. Not being able to freely melee any of the NPCs like you could in GTA gets annoying. Not being able to go to a strip club and use your mic on a live stream to verbally seduce a virtual stripper is a major hang up. Having the police on your tail and not being able to get rid of them like a bad case of herpes can ruin your day. Not being able to go to a strip club. Attacking an armored vehicle for $7G’s or mugging pedestrians for $10-$30 then running for your life can be a pain in the butt. Not being able to go to a strip club. Minor things like this might make or break a picky gamer’s day (and their ability to go to a strip club).

On the flip side though, if you’ve played GTA, playing Watch Dogs can be a pleasant break from Los Santos. The ability to run around and not accidentally jump to your death from atop a building is a welcome addition to accident prone players like myself! Not being able to go to a strip club and then have your wife or kids accidentally walk in on you telling your virtual stripper how much you like looking at their oddly shaped polygonal boobs is a Godsend.The ability to not accidentally melee a pedestrian for $2 and then having to run from police using deadly force is great. The ability to walk around and look at your phone while making thousands of dollars from hacking and not having to run for your life is so fulfilling. The ability to use certain elements in your environment such as overloaded utility boxes or underground steam pipes to take out enemies is awesome. The best ability in this game however is… being able to pull out your phone when someone in the game is talking to you and pretend like you are checking email or something important when all you want to do is ignore the other person just like in real life. BEST. FEATURE. EVAR!

Anyone watch the movie Hackers with a young Angelina Jolie and Jonny Lee Miller in it? That’s what this game kind of feels like. In the movie like all movies involving hacking, no real knowledge of actual hacking is required. In the movies or on TV, hacking is so easy that just about anyone with a MacBook Pro can do it. So long as an actor/actress can press buttons convincingly like the young Jonny Lee MIller or Angelina Jolie in the movie, they can hack just as you you can hack in Watch Dogs.

Since you can hack in this game, you might as well hack the whole planet, err, city and in order to do that, you won’t playing a lot of campaign. The real action isn’t in the main campaign. It’s in the side missions, walking the streets of virtual Chicago, hacking the people in the city, and mutliplayer contracts/races. The side missions are a combination of races, running after bad guys, or taking out entire street gangs while walking on the streets of Chicago and hacking people in the city is just that and is just that easy. Multiplayer, however, is a completely different story.

My first day with this game was spent just walking around the city hacking everyone and fulfilling all of my voyeuristic fantasies by reading their short little bios that appear on my phone. In between reading bios, I’d make stops to various ATMs to withdraw money from accounts that I had hacked. By the end of the night, I don’t know how many bank accounts I had compromised but I had a good $100 grand in the various pockets of my one-button/strapped trench coat. Don’t mind the fact that I took most of this money from just about everyone that was diagnosed with some sort of terminal illness. Making money illegally was never so easy!

Making money was never so easy (and safe!)!!!

When you get bored of making money (and you will get bored after you’ve purchased the limited inventory of collectibles and weapons in this game), you can tackle the side missions that either have you racing after a bad guy, have you taking out gangs, unlocking ctOS antennas around the city, etc. Just as you start to bore with these activities, a random online player/intruder jumps into your game and hacks your data. It’s not quite stated what data this intruder is hacking or stealing but this player is stealing your data nevertheless (maybe it’s the obese clown Real Doll porn that you have in a folder called “WORK STUFF,” who knows). You then have a limited amount of time to track this intruder down and put a stop to their hacking.

Finally, you can always just walk around the various parts of virtual Chicago and interact with the NPCs.

More NPC trolling.

The multiplayer aspect of Watch Dogs can be a lot of fun with friends and or randoms. There are two ways to play multiplayer. The first is through the game itself by navigating to your map then hitting one of the bumper buttons to go online and the second is through the mobile phone ctOS app. The Online Multiplayer modes are:

1. Online Hacking has your character infiltrating another characters game with your objective being to locate the other player and install a backdoor into their network while remaining undiscovered. If you do to get profiled, the other player's objective is to find you and kill you.

2. Invasion happens when someone else invades your game. Your objective is  to track down the intruding hacker, profile them and kill them before they can fully install a backdoor into your network.

3. Online Tailing is like an online game of cat and mouse where you take turns trying to follow each other without being detected. In the event of detection, the goal changes to the same goals above - find and kill the player tailing you.

4. Online Race is pretty simple. Drive as fast as you can from point A to point B while using ctOS to your advantage.

5. Online Decryption pits two teams or three individual players against each other. Each team or player face off to collect data by staying close enough to the source or by killing each other off. The team or player that collects 100% of the data wins the match.

6. The ctOS Mobile App on iOS and Android that allows you to take 5 minutes out of your day to challenge friends or random players in between meetings or while you are out and about ignoring the world.

Believe it or not, the Disrupt engine that Watch Dogs was built on was originally going to be used for a driving game. Thankfully Ubisoft decided against that as the physics in Watch Dogs would give any driving game enthusiast a permanent WTF look on their face. A couple of Forza friends commented on how they like the driving in this game and how it feels more realistic but this is a video game and although it may be realistic that you can’t take a turn at 100 mph in a beat up economy car in the game and in real life, when your in-game car takes a turn at reasonable speed, drifts onto oncoming traffic, kisses an oncoming truck head on, then causes the truck to fly back 20 feet while you still maintain most of your momentum, you’ve got to question the physics… or real life if this has ever happened to you in real life.

Uber futuristic hover car.

Another item that I’d like to bring to everyone’s attention is the law… The police. The police in this game are ruthless and will chase you with orders of shoot to kill for just about any offense, regardless of how serious the offense. They will pursue you to the ends of the city boundaries with reckless abandon and will not stop until you are dead, dying, or have somehow managed to successfully elude capture. If you drive onto the train tracks or somehow figure out a way to get your vehicle onto the El tracks, they will follow. If you drive from one end of this virtual Chicago to the other, they will follow. If you jump out of your vehicle, they will stay in theirs and run you the f-ck down. If you jump into the water and swim away from them, they, uh… they… uh… they cease pursuit and take a break for donuts. For some reason, they can’t seem to follow or track you in the water and then while you are in the water, your phone magically survives and you can take calls or hack nearby civilians.

As much as I like this game and am still having fun with it, I cannot recommend this game as a brand new purchase. There’s just a lack of polish even if Ubisoft took a few extra months to add it that really bothers me. The lack of shadows on just about everything, vehicles appearing as if they are floating on the street as they drive by, repeating dialog of NPC’s after you listen to them for a while (and when I say ‘a while,’ I really mean 2 seconds), etc. all add to my not being able to recommend this as a brand new purchase… instead, I can say get it used. It’s not quite the ‘next gen’ experience but it’s a fun game to play when you’re tired of the usual fare and if you get it used, you’ll save yourself a few bucks while still having a fun game to play on a rainy day.



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