It's impossible to review a game without comparing it to those that have come before. Ubisoft has managed to take its wealth of experience from past games, learnings from its competitors, pop culture references and our current digital lives to create an experience that is far beyond the value of the sum of its parts. Watch Dogs is a dark, complex, gripping, cinematic adventure that makes putting down the controller very difficult.
Watch Dogs takes place in a not-so-distant future version of Chicago. The entire city is connected digitally through a central operating system (ctOS) that controls everything from traffic lights, cameras, individual cell phones, electricity, etc. You play as Aiden Pearce, a hacker who lives in the grey zone of the law. The repercussions of his life as a vigilante has taken a toll on his family resulting in the tragic death of his niece. His grief and guilt has turned to determination to protect his sister and nephew, at all costs.
Watch Dogs' gameplay will feel familiar to anyone who has played an open world action game in the past few years. It uses many video game tropes seen in previous Ubisoft titles such as the Assassin's Creed and Splinter Cell. The main storyline gameplay is a combination of action, platforming, driving, stealth and shooter mechanics, alongside a new hacking ability. Through Aiden's cell phone, you have the power to hack into many elements of the city's infrastructure including cameras, heavy machinery and wireless communication system. This gives you the option to play the game in a unique, completely stealth fashion, or go balls to the wall shoot em up style. Hacking feels more realistic when you enter digital access points with your phone to solve a series of linear puzzles. Decode the puzzle by connecting digital paths in sequence. I found these moments to be the most gratifying and 'realistic' to what the experience of real life hacking because you are truly forging the path into a system.
Along with the main storyline, there are many side missions to complete, mini games to play, and collectables to gather. They are optional but will wield extra experience points and perks, making you an even stronger threat.
After recently playing inFAMOUS Second Son, I thought I had an idea of how large an in-game representation of a real life city could be. Watch Dogs goes way beyond inFAMOUS, in scale and detail of its infrastructure, city scape and population. Ubisoft has done an excellent job creating a living, breathing city. While you cannot walk into every building, many do have subterranean levels that you can use to avoid cops and there are no load times transitioning between one borough and another. The storyline often refers to landmarks and city attractions and I am curious to ask a Chicagoan how accurately Ubisoft simulated their city.
We can't be in radio and not talk about the soundtrack. For gameplay outside of an automobile, the soundtrack is cinematic with audible crescendos when gameplay intensity grows. It's beautiful and unintrusive, exactly what an OST should be. If you plan on driving around Chicago a lot, you can listen to the radio’s playlist which mixes rock, hip hop, soul, blues, jazz, electronica, punk, folk, and pop. You can easily change up a song by hitting right on the directional pad. It will be interrupted by ctOS announcements which is probably reporting on your latest galavant. New songs can be collected by hacking people in the streets and many of them have a Chicago reference. For those who purchase the limited edition box set, you get the soundtrack packed in for your listening pleasure. Below are a few examples of the tracks I picked up in game:
Help Is On The Way - Rise Against
I Shall Not Be Moved - Public Enemy
Dangerous Tonight - Alice Cooper
Cold Night In Chicago - Danny Chaimson & The 11th Hour
Never Again - Danko Jones
My Life Is Winter - Smashing Pumpkins
The GOod Life - Weezer
Wake Up Sunshine - Chicago
When you boot up Watch Dogs for the first time, you will notice that there is no option for multiplayer. That is because the multiplayer online contracts are inseparable from your regular gameplay experience. When you are not on a mission, invites will pop up when a multiplayer match is available or are triggered by hacking citizens, just like other side missions. They range from free for all capture the flag to racing. Sometimes, another player will invade your game to hack you and you'll have to defend yourself. Unlike the other online contracts, these interrupt your gameplay and must be dealt with on the spot. Successfully completing online contracts will earn you points so you may place higher on the leaderboards as well as unlock perks. Failing, will in turn lower your ranking and take away a few bragging rights.
Only a few multiplayer functions where available when I was reviewing the game but what I did play was as seamless as the rest of the game.
I have one criticism with Watch Dogs, and it really isn't a complaint. The game's complexity is so involved that at the start, it can be quite overwhelming. Thanks to the reflexes that I have obtained from playing open world action-adventure games prior to this one, you have to take it upon yourself to settle down, calm your nerves and start hacking. You can easily get sidetracked by side missions and mini games, all which are being brought to your attention constantly by on screen pop up alerts. It's only really an annoyance when you are, like me, attempting to finish story mode as fast as you can :)
Watch Dogs is one of the most sophisticated and involved games that I have played in a while. It takes modern day ideas about technology and creates a scenario that is not that far from our current daily lives. With a mastery of the action-adventure mechanics, the setting of a real city that feels alive and commentary on our digital footprint, Ubisoft has created a game that does not only entertain, but makes us think about the impact of all the devices we carry with us and use everday.
We were lucky enough to get our hands on a limited edition copy of Watch Dogs from our friends at Ubisoft. Check out the photos of the set below and our interview with Watch Dogs’ Creative Director, Jonathan Morin.