Eleven months after a failed robbery at the Merlaut Hotel, Watch Dogs follows the dramatic tale of Aiden Pierce (Voiced by Noam Jenkins) who is seeking revenge on those responsible for his niece Lena’s untimely death. When a hired gun was contracted to kill Aiden, Lena got caught in the crossfire and died in the car crash that occurred. Using a backdoor into Chicago’s central operating system (ctOS), Aiden is able to hack into the security monitoring network. This allows him to discover information about its citizens, and with his trusty smartphone he is on a quest to exact guilt driven revenge on the people that have wronged him.
From the start of the story you feel for Aiden as you would anyone who lost a loved one, but the game lacks choice and the lengths he goes to for his revenge become so hypocritical it’s hard to justify his actions. Between bouts of gunning down 100’s of hired men, kicking criminals to the curb and causing monumental damage to the city, Aiden self-reflects on why he is choosing to commit these acts with no thought of actually changing his ways. Every other character in Watch Dogs is more interesting (if not filled with cliche) than Aiden, but everything is focused on this dull character who won’t take no for an answer and it completely misses a chance for character interaction. Watch Dogs lacks simple dialog options for each of the people you encounter, and it leaves the world feeling empty and sticks to a very generic script.
But it’s an open world game, there has to be lots of stuff to do because there’s so much to explore, right? Well let’s look at the activities that are included here. With the 1 or 2 fun mini games dubbed “Digital Trips” and the odd environmental puzzle outshining the rest, there isn’t much point to going on a side mission adventure. You can play a drinking game where you drink and line up buttons, play chess, play poker (and use a camera to cheat), chase coins, defend from waves of holographic aliens and many more things that just don’t make much sense and never correlate with the main story. They are just there in case you get bored of the story and couldn’t be bothered to exit the game.
Even the main missions could be put on the borderline of “don’t bother” unless you really want to push through the story. Several of the missions were rehashed with a different environment and a different set of goons to either mow down or sneak past using the camera system. This usually leads up to an almost unavoidable combat sequence which leaves you thinking, “Why the hell didn’t I just mow them down in the first place?” If you do die or instant stealth fail mid-mission, it will usually take you back to the start. This means going through the “sneak or shoot” section or the same “car chase with lots of hacking opportunities” section, usually with the same overarching dialog explaining the same scene.
In saying that, the sneak and shoot mechanics are still pretty decent. Enemies have vision cones and can be distracted or killed with the push of a button, creating multiple avenues to make any escape viable. Profiling an enemy guard who has a gambling debt can be used against him by sending a text from his loan shark asking for the money. The goon will be so absorbed by this he will forget you’re even there, thus allowing you to sneak past or pop out and shoot him. While most of the time I got away with using the starting silence pistol, sometimes you won’t so lucky and you will be eventually surrounded. The AI can be quite smart in these situations and will call out flanking orders and use flush out techniques but we are always one step ahead.
When you’re not hacking cameras for strategy, Aiden also has the ability to hack time itself by using his “focus” ability. Everything slows down and he is able to take out multiple enemies in quick succession. While it doesn’t make a lick of sense, you can feel like a badarse taking out a room of guys with your silenced pistol. This guy seems to be able to be an expert hacker, do parkour, shoot down everyone in his path with precision and still wonders why people are coming after him.
The general feeling I get about Watch Dogs is that the many aspects of the game just don’t fit well with each other. You would think that for an open world game to feature so many car chases and point A to B travel, it would have some decent driving mechanics. Nope! Cars handle poorly and have this weightlessness that doesn’t feel right. With upgraded skills you can hack into any car as if it were your own, alter the physical properties to turn it into a tank on wheels and increase tyre durability, but can’t even hack the music to play something decent every once in a while. The playlist is a mess of licensed music tracks with no clear genre or theme, and every once in a while it will play something from the game’s score which tries to add to a certain emotion the developers are trying to make sense of.
But the game doesn’t have to make sense to have your moments of fun, and the multiplayer is where the hacking mechanic shines above all else. You can invade into other peoples world to mess with them or hide in plain sight. You take on the role of a random “fixer” and attempt to hack the users files without being detected. This has lead to some of my most intense multiplayer experiences and it works really well. I see my victim user sprinting as I’m across the street secretively hiding in a car, giggling as I download all of his precious files. This also works the other way around and players can invade you, giving you a wide marked area indicating where the invader will be hiding which makes for a frantic game of cat and mouse.
Other modes include the Online Decryption where players fight over an encrypted file hidden somewhere in the city as well as an online racing mode, and while the driving mechanics aren’t great it’s still fun to race around, weaving in and out of traffic. I would have to say that the Free Roam mode is actually the weak link in this case. After inviting people into our session and messing around with jumping and killing each other, there wasn’t much to do. There are no air vehicles to fly or mini-games worth doing. With 1v1 hacking, you are anonymous until scanned and detected. During Free Roam, you either show up on the map as friendly or you show up as an enemy almost a street away. This at times can be frustrating, especially when you want to sneak up to your friend and put one between their eyes Assassin’s Creed style.
The only down
side I find with the online modes is the queue system. You are unable to do most other things while waiting to find a game, so you are left sitting on the train or aimlessly driving around waiting for the prompt that says that you can escape this world and enter someone else’s. Apart from that, the multiplayer in Watch Dogs outshines the single by just being genuinely fun. Without the need to be serious or include a deadpan character who has eaten enough gravel to become Bruce Wayne’s cousin, the multiplayer takes a step in the right direction by embracing what the game should be about. Hacking.
The amazement of Aiden’s ability to hack into anything quickly drains as you discover what it really is, a random number generator. When you hack someone in the street, it chooses from a set number of responses that displays in front you to make you believe until you see exactly the same chat 3 times. Hacking is used to join combat/chase sequences, extend dialog and to play the same pipe joining mini game over and over again. Hacking random citizens is funny at first when you find out someone has done something they shouldn’t have, questionable at second and downright silly by the end. Why do I need to steal from this guy’s bank account? I thought I was a vigilante and I don’t need to buy a car because I can basically download one and have it instantly arrive a street away.
The game looks nice and most of the particle effects are very pretty. The lighting dynamic is well done and the water looks amazing, but even with 4K downsampling on PC it has never looked as good as what it was originally introduced to look like back in 2012 E3 presentation. It was my understanding that a game would look better when it was completed, not worse. This created unnecessary hype and even with the 6 month extra delay, the PC version was still not optimised correctly (see Version Information below). While the view distance is fairly decent there is a ridiculous amount of pop-in occurring. This causes issue especially when you are escaping in a frantic car chase. The last thing you need is the traffic lights and other vehicles popping in to run you off the road.
In the week I finished Watch Dogs, I have been constantly switching my opinions on it. On one side I’m annoyed by its many shortcomings and enraged by its repetitive missions and dull story, while on another intrigued by its many diversion tactics which leaves me unsure just how the game is pieced together. It’s like a puzzle Ubisoft has created by looking at their backlog and taking pieces of each hoping to make some sort of UBIWORLD experience. But the pieces don’t talk to each other, leaving the world empty and without consequence for you actions unless it’s scripted into a mission. While the multiplayer hits home with some amazing sequences of awesome, everything else is just… average. They tried to go in so many directions at once that each piece just can’t support the weight of the whole.
Version Information (PC)
For the PC gamers out there and as you probably already know, this game is terribly ported so I’ll just go over the issues that I have had.
The game has Incredible mouse acceleration within menus that don’t provide you a mouse cursor in game. This is incredibly frustrating when needing to switch weapons and load cars. The mouse movement is also different from when you are in-game to options menus. The game was designed with the joystick in mind and using a controller is probably preferred.
Next, the game is poorly optimised for PC. I’m running a GTX780 with an I7 3770k (OC), 16gb 2400mhz RAM, the game’s installed on my SSD and still couldn’t keep a stable framerate of 60fps while running ultra/high settings (Yes, latest nVidia drivers). Dropping down as low as 20-30 fps for no reason when running around is not something my PC is known for doing and (as previously stated in my review) it’s not because the game looks amazeballs so I played on HIGH. The Optimal Playing Settings Guide will help with some of the issues, but there’s no point to maxing settings because in my opinion it is poorly optimised anyway.
The game also cannot handle multiple screens and alt-tabbing very well because consoles don’t use more than one. I was constantly switching between graphic options until it was able to display my 3 screens images until I alt-tabbed or restarted from a crash and it was back to the same thing.
Even with the extra delay being added to the original release date, I was hoping that these issues would be resolved. They haven’t and while it only affects gameplay somewhat, a lot of PC players are simply fed up with spending X amount of money on a system then not being able to have their game the way they want.