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Review: Watch Dogs (PS4)

On July 20, 2014 by Aaron Meehan

Ubisoft’s Watch Dogs is a game that leaves me in two minds. As an open world game where you can hack street lights and cause general mischief around the streets of Chicago it is really fun, but when you get bored of messing with the world the game becomes boring. I found Watch Dogs to be a game where you had to find your own enjoyment. What the game offers in terms of side and campaign objectives is alright some objectives that are fun, but they do lose their appeal rather quickly.

In Watch Dogs you play as Aiden Pearce a hacker who has turned vigilante after Lena, his six year old niece was killed by the mob after he failed a hacking job they gave him. After Lena’s death Aiden swears revenge and is given a phone that can hack into Chicago’s ctOS, an operating system that controls all of Chicago, the phone gives Aiden an unparalleled level of control as you can profile people in an instant, blow up steam pipes, control street light and more. In Aiden’s quest for vengeance he is led on seemingly never ending path that has him face down gang leaders, corrupt organisations, a massive blackmail operation and an old friend who wants revenge on him and the city. As you play through the game it seems nothing will stop him from finding why his niece was killed.

Watch Dogs’ story isn’t very complicated, it is all about Aiden and his quest for vengeance, but his quest leads him down some dangerous paths and honestly by the end you are left wondering, why is he doing this? His family have moved on and accepted Lena’s death and don’t blame him. It is just Aiden wanting revenge and in the process of trying to get revenge he ruins not just his own life, but the lives of his family and numerous people who call Chicago home.

The characters in Watch Dogs like the story aren’t very complicated. Each character feels one dimensional – shallow, uninteresting and boring, and as such if/when something bad happens to a character you don’t feel any connection to them. The most prominent uninteresting character is Aiden Pearce, the main character, all we have from him is his goal of revenge and keeping his family safe that is it. We show no real emotion as he senselessly kills people, hacks people’s accounts for money etc. The side characters are better, but as I said they are one dimensional.

In Watch Dogs hacking, the game’s main selling point, has its up and downs. When in high speed pursuits from police or chasing a suspect you can use the city as weapon by changing street lights, razing blockers etc. Hacking also brings an extra dynamic to infiltration missions as you can infiltrate and take what you need by jumping from camera to camera to get to your destination. However the game allows you to combine shooting with hacking as you can use camera to mark enemies, raise defences and even kill/distract enemies by hacking devices they are carrying.

While blowing up equipment and creating general mayhem is fun there is one important hacking tool you should never forget and that is the profiler. The profiler activates with the press of a button and once active you can get information on every single NPC you walk past. The information obtained includes the NPCs name, age, occupation, income and a random fact about them. Personally I like the profiler as it gives some life to the city and honestly some random facts can be rather amusing. The Profiler also alerts you to side objectives like Crime Detection, Gang hideouts etc.

While hacking is fun it can become rather tedious and boring. Some missions require you to go through a puzzle mini-game where you have to navigate through an enemy’s main frame to find on object, while you can usually take this at your own pace there is the occasional game where you have to fight against the clock or even an enemy trying to prevent you from completing the mini-game. The tedious nature of hacking isn’t limited to a puzzle mini-game as there is several escort campaign missions where you have to slowly get a person from one destination to another without them being spotted by armed men. These missions require a lot of patience as you have to wait for enemies to move out sight of the person you are escorting and if the enemy doesn’t walk around you need to distract them by setting off an alarm etc. although if you do this to often the enemies become suspicious and patrol the area.

If you are looking for fun beyond the hacking and story than Watch Dogs has a large amount of side-objectives. These side objectives include: 6 mini-games, 4 side-missions, 5 investigation missions, 6 types of collectibles and 4 online contracts. As you can see there is plenty to stop you from getting bored. While the majority of the side objectives are fairly easy some side objectives such as the drinking mini-game are frustrating as you have to move your analogue stick to a button prompt and while the prompt is highlighted you press the required button. While this sounds easy at first you are competing against the clock and the further you go into the mini-game the buttons become more difficult to reach in time as the game tries to show Aiden is getting drunk.

While parts of Watch Dogs are hit and miss the game’s online “Invasion Mode” is most definitely a hit. Invasion mode takes place in the single player world, but at unspecified times another real-life player can hack into your version of Watch Dogs and cause mischief. The goal of the invader is to hack and decrypt a file, you can see the rate of decryption via slowly filling gauge, to stop the invader you need to use your phone’s profile ability to locate and stop him from finishing his/her job. If you aren’t a fan of other players coming into your game and messing with your single player experience you are able to turn the mode off. Personally I turned it off after I was invaded once as I wished to concentrate on the single player aspect of the game.

Watch Dogs also a reputation system, the system is donated by a reputation bar which increases to the right (blue, good) when you do a good deed i.e. stop a crime or to the left (red, bad) when you do something bad i.e. killing pedestrians and policemen. The reputation system is very easy to manipulate as if you die when you are deep into the red territory your reputation is reset, but if you die while in the blue territory your bar does not drop. Also there seems like there is no point to the bar as the only difference good or bad makes is the frequency of when pedestrians call the police on you.

For a game that has you mostly hacking the gunplay isn’t that bad. Ok if you get in a large fire fight you are going to get into trouble, but since these are rare you can easily shoot your way out of trouble. Although if you get caught up in a large fire fight you can get a bit of help with the focus ability, this ability slows down time for a short period of time and makes shooting enemy targets easier. If like me you want to use both guns and hacking than there is no problem as you can use both without being hindered. In some situations where I had to infiltrate a gang hideout and take down a specific target I would scope out the enemies by hacking cameras, disabling enemies ability to call for reinforcements (high level hacking skill), use my hacking to distract enemies and then shoot them while using focus with a silence pistol.

Watch Dogs has a rather interesting progression and skills system. Of the two the skills system is the weakest as it is simplest to do. To unlock new hacking, driving, crafting and combat skills all you need do is level your character and place the skill points you gain from levelling and fill out your skill trees, although some higher level skills might require you complete certain side-objectives. The progression system is rather different as completing progression objects, which range from completing a main mission act to collecting X amount of items, to push people to get 100% each progression objective has a reward for example when you stop your first criminal convoy, one of many side-objectives, you gain “Critical Focus” an ability that replenishes focus when health is critically low, other rewards apart from passive abilities include weapons and vehicles. If you are worrying about having to do all the side-objectives to do well in the game you have no need to worry, for example I got 36.5% completion (only did main objective and a small number of side objectives) and I had no major problem completing the game.

In Watch Dogs making money is easy all you need to do is come across an NPC whose phone is connected to their bank account and make a quick money transfer. After you have hacked the account you need only walk over to an ATM and withdraw your money. While money can be used to buy crafting items, weapons, ammo and to spawn cars having money is not a requirement. When playing the game I wanted to see how far I could go with spending money (excluding forced moments) and by the end of the game I spent $0. Now you may think spending no money would have hindered me, but it didn’t as I was tripping over crafting items and ammo, I got free weapons for completing side objectives and when I needed to spawn a car I spawned one of the numerous free cars.

The graphical quality of Watch Dogs has taken a bit of pounding from the various news outlets as the final graphical quality was lower than the originally revealed graphics, but while the game doesn’t look as a good as the stage demonstration the game is rather pretty. While the graphics are pretty, reflective surfaces give no reflection of the world around them.

Conclusion

SCORE: 8/10 (very good)

While Watch Dogs is a fun open world game that feels lacking. The game’s story and characters aren’t very interesting, but the game’s primary selling point hacking adds a fun dynamic to the game as it provides you with additional ways to approach a problem.

Pros/Cons

+ Hacking adds an extra dynamic to certain intrusion and search missions
+ A large number of side-objectives
+ Online invasion mode

– Characters aren’t very interesting
– Story feels a bit all over the place
– Reputation bar is pointless

Watch Dogs information

Developer Publisher Genre Rating Platform Release date
Ubisoft Ubisoft Action-Adventure 18+ PC, PS3, PS4, Xbox One, Xbox 360  May 27,2014

For more information on Watch Dogs, visit http://watchdogs.ubi.com/.


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