It has finally arrived, after months of hype, a delay from the initial launch period and an almost agonising wait for gamer. Watch_Dogs has landed and it’s both more and less than we were hoping it would be. The odd part of this is that the bit we were counting on being spectacular (the story) was a little bit bland but the game world and online and side-quests, oh my…
For those who haven’t been riding the hype-train for the past six months or so, Watch_Dogs is the story of a man called Aiden Pearce, a hacker who stumbled on a job and lost a member of his close family as a result, forcing a split with his partner in crime at the same time. The pair had come across… something that someone didn’t want them to see. Now you’re trying to figure out the why behind everything and digging your hole deeper at the same time. It’s all very mysterious and, in places, thinly connected for much of the game. Aiden is helped on his quest by a variety of people, not all of whom are what they claim to be. Our favourite supporting character is Jordi Chen, who is amusing and entertaining enough to make Aiden seem like a bit player. You’ll find yourself looking forward to this amoral goofball’s appearance during the course of the tale.
Pearce, who is voiced by someone who sounds like Christopher Lambert from the Mortal Kombat movie, is a strange character however you choose to play him. At times he seems reluctant to let anyone get hurt at all, at others he’s positively bloodthirsty, something that comes through in gameplay as well as the narrative. Even if you’re attempting to be a pacifist (which is largely possible), Watch_Dogs will eventually force you into a bloodbath. Repeatedly.
Being nice to the civvies is a good idea though. Players have a free hand when it comes to private security forces, criminals and other Fixers, who take the same role as Aiden but on the side of a tenuously defined ‘bad’, but curb-stomping civilians is a no-no. Shoot as many Fixers as you like and your reputation is fine. Knock over a pedestrian or, worse yet, kill one outright while speeding away from a chopper and your reputation takes a massive dive. Reputation is important because, if you’re seen by the public as the ‘good guy’ – something that is achieved by stopping crimes in progress regularly – people will be less likely to report you to the authorities when you’re recognised on the streets. And you will be noticed. If you’re a less pleasant fella, the cops will be on your tail very, very often. The way that the reputation system works though, accidentally ploughing your car through a crowd can turn you from saint to sinner in short order.
Aiden is a hacker with some pretty impressive toys though so in the event of a shootout, chase or any other ‘whoops, busted’ moment, they have the world at their fingertips. Watch_Dogs is set in a futuristic Chicago controlled by a citywide operating system called ctOS and while you start off with only minor control over it, soon players will be able to manipulate large chunks of the city at will. Causing traffic accidents, raising spike strike or blockers and disabling police choppers can all be done at the touch of a button but these events still need to be used carefully to evade pursuit. When not being chased by annoyed people with guns, Aiden can profile any person in the large and impressively populated city. Recent life events, occupations, annual salaries and, in some cases, police records, show up while players are scanning the city on foot. It’s quite stunning to see the available variety of personas though there is a fair bit of repetition in-game. If you’re feeling underfunded, money can be siphoned from bank accounts to be withdrawn later at an ATM, music can be ‘borrowed’ and some crafting components stolen from NPC smartphones.
But Aiden also controls the many, many surveillance cameras connected to ctOS, using those to scan a crowd without having to move physically. In missions, players can actually use cameras to achieve objectives without (too much) bloodshed if they like, either by hacking from camera to camera until they reach the point where they need to electronically break in (which is utterly bloodless) or by exploding hazards (like grenades carried by guards) and removing some of the opposition. The approach is mostly up to the player.
But there is so much in Watch_Dogs that we’ve barely even touched on. The multiplayer, which was unavailable in its full form for this review, is the highlight. Invading games or being invaded by others in order to hack and escape other players is brilliantly done, giving gameplay a tension that isn’t found in the single player side and the integration is seamless. Players can take online contracts, get revenge on others who have hacked them in the past or team up with a group to collect intel for a true multiplayer experience. Then there’s the mobile game integration, which we haven’t even touched yet.
Plus there are scads of collectibles, including hacking cameras to find people going about their private lives in their homes (which includes stuff you just DON’T want to see). Hacking phone calls and text messages has the same effect and Ubisoft have including a massive load of content in this line. There there are the AR games that players can undertake between missions as well as digital trips, which are… something else entirely. Killing demons/zombies with a car, bouncing on flowers while distorted carnival music plays or stomping stuff with a big mechanical spider… those will keep you busy.
Watch_Dogs‘ storyline might not be the strongest but this game’s strength is outside of the narrative, completing side objectives, screwing with the city or facing off against other players is why you’ll stay glued to this one. You’ll probably also get around to completing the main quest at some point as well.