Originally destined to be an Xbox One launch title, Ubisoft pulled the plug on a Watch Dogs 2013 release in an attempt to make the game as good as humanly possible, throwing in a bit more spit and polish in order to deliver a truly memorable and exceptional experience. So now, with a May 2014 release, does the Chicago hackathon live up to the hype or will watching dogs turn out to be more fun.
Taking control of Aiden Pearce, a skilled hacker looking to seek revenge on those who unintentionally killed his niece, gamers will discover that there is more than meets the eye as this open world action adventure title takes the connected city to the nth degree. The game runs around one central idea; that everything is connected and anything can be hacked with mobile phones, big brother style cameras, traffic lights or even the pipes running under the cities roads all up for a bit of fun and games. It’s this that makes Watch Dogs stand out from the increasingly big open world crowd, but the balance between giving too much distraction and making the city feel empty is a fine one.
But you know what? Watch Dogs has hit it just about bang on!
As with any open world GTA style title (I promise that’s the only time you’ll see me comparing WD to GTA!), the main campaign will be competing against numerous side missions, street games, an integrated online mode and general all-round tomfoolery for your game time. How you wish to tackle Watch Dogs is completely up to you and if you so wish, you’ll be able to spend many an hour in Chicago without even noticing the main missions. But to grab the full experience, you’ll need to carefully weigh up the pros and cons of hitting that side mission that pops up in an attempt to distract you from the main task at hand.
It’s quite easy to get distracted in Chicago. The city is massive but every nook and cranny can and will be accessed by Aiden in his attempt to solve the mystery of his niece’s murder. There are plenty of vehicles to help you move around town and whilst none are detailed to any great degree, it’s what you expect to see in any open world, large scale title. There is no need to take to the skies, but if you get bored of driving back and forth covering roads you’ve already tramped through numerous times, then you can quite easily hop on the express train or use one of the various fast travel safe houses that are scattered around.
But for the most part, you’ll find yourself wandering the streets, phone in hand looking for that next nugget of information or classic street game to partake in. And when I say ‘looking for that next nugget’, I mean exactly that. Every single character found in Watch Dogs has a short back story that brings a great deal of enjoyment to the game, and it’s easy enough to spend hours at a time just taking in the delights of others phone calls, text messages or listening in on the music they are hitting through their headphones. Occasionally, you’ll stumble across someone with a more sinister side and it’s these guys that form a large part of the many side missions, divulging more info with regards to criminal activity and gang hideouts. Whether you then choose to follow up on this information is entirely up to you.
There are also plenty of other thrills to get involved in with street chess and shell games (you know, that game with three cups and a little ball that street performers love!) amongst my favourite relaxing moments. You could go in a bit harder, man up and take in a drinking game or two or sit down with some illegal poker hands in an attempt to win a bit more cash. There are also a few side games in place for the more adventurous gamer with QR code hunting, retro 80’s augmented reality cash runs and digital trips all an absolute joy to take part in. Seriously, if you think Watch Dogs is a serious game, just visit a digital trip dealer and you’ll see that Ubisoft know how to have fun!
Like I’ve previously mentioned, all the above can take place without even taking a look at the story, but when you do (and I advise that you don’t miss it), you’ll find a well written, brilliantly voiced and graphically immense storyline that after a slightly slow start, explodes into one of the best narratives currently on Xbox One. Split into a number of ‘Acts’ and short missions, you’ll learn all the tricks of the hacking trade (and also that ‘focus’ is your friend) whilst accompanying Aiden on his journey, tricks that will help you out no end with the other parts of Watch Dogs as well. As always, I refuse to ruin any campaign storyline in my reviews, so you’ll just have to take more word for it when I say it’s as hard hitting as you’ll find on the next generation of Xbox consoles.
You may think that with the lengthy campaign, numerous side missions, people watching and city games on offer, Watch Dogs will keep you entertained for many an hour, and yep, you wouldn’t be wrong, but then throw in an online mode that is constantly sitting in the background waiting for you to give it the go ahead to spring to the forefront and you’ll find a game that you’ll happily be playing for months on end.
The online modes you see are built right in to everything you do in the single player. You can be sitting there going about your normal every day existence when bang, a notification comes in to inform you that another player, somewhere in the world, is hacking into your game. It’s then a case of hunt them down and give them a good beating before they get access to your personal info and win the day.Of course, if you take it then you can also dish it out and there is nothing more fun and pleasing than invading someone elses world and watching then run round like a headless chicken whilst you hide in a car, a boat or a bush, just praying that they don’t find you. It doesn’t ever get boring but on the same hand, there’s not a lot of comeuppance for any online failure except for a reduction in your online profile XP. You also can’t currently ‘hack a friend’ but if Ubi can get some kind of patch out to allow that, then this online hacking lark could be the go to spot on Xbox Live for those times when you and a friend need a good laugh!
There is also a decent ish online race mode for those who want a more up-to-date version of the racing found in GTA (damn, almost made it!), but whilst this is fun for a while, it’s pretty buggy and twitchy in it’s current state and without a choice of vehicle makes for a bit of an online filler, although the online team deathmatch works reasonable well if you like that kind of thing, with the loadouts being utilised with numerous hacking weapons to help you on your way.
Overall, Watch Dogs is an absolute joy. The single player campaign and side missions are among some of the best around, and whilst the driving mechanic takes some getting used to, once you’ve given it some time you’ll find yourself flinging your vehicle round the corners like nobodies business whilst in an attempt to get away from the frequent gangs and police chases. Obviously, one of the key features of the game; the hacking is a joy and works extremely well, whether you’re on foot taking it easy or in a car looking for that next bit of road furniture to spring onto an unsuspecting follower. As long as you’re happy to give the story a go and not bin it after a slow first Act, you’ll find a game that gives you as much love and joy as you’re prepared to give it.
Just don’t expect an awful lot of easy achievements as they take some time to unlock.
The delay on the Watch Dogs release was disappointing but boy, what a game Ubisoft Montreal have given us!
Buy it without hesitation.