After a last-minute delay, and the internet having lost their minds that the graphics had been downgraded for release, we now finally have Watch Dogs in our hands. I have a surprise for those who were so angry – the game actually looks pretty good. Yes, not as great as that E3 showing, but if this is ‘terrible graphics’ I’ll take it any day thanks.
Welcome to Chicago, the very hackable windy city. If you’ve ever been to Chicago you’ll know that it presents itself as the cathedral of the USA, and that’s exactly what’s been captured in Watch Dogs. Everything from the iconic John Hancock Tower to the box-like Aon Center to the Aqua skyscraper is present and looks stunning. The finer detail, such as leaves blowing over the clean roads of the city streets and scratch marks on lamp posts are all there. The water from Lake Michigan is as life-like as I’ve ever seen. It’s perhaps the protagonist, Aiden Pearce, who has taken most of the slack when it comes to his looks.
Delve into the life of Aiden and you’ll realise that he’s had a tough few months behind him. It’s because of him that his niece died in a car accident and before long the story takes another turn in the wrong direction. His sister gets kidnapped by an old mentor of his. You see all this unfolding right in front of your very eyes and you end up feeling bad for all the bad press he’s received over the last few months. Geez, if you had that happening to you you’d also not be bothered about your coat not quite matching that of two years ago? Right? Enough of Aiden. What about the game?
You need time to deal with Watch Dogs. Ubisoft’s paranoia-inducing tech-noir thriller is an open-world beast. Its map bristling with side-quests, Easter eggs, races, unlockables and more. It begs to be explored, to have its treasures dug up. This is a game that wants players to drown in everything it’s got to offer. I found it quite easy to stray off my path, on my way to a Campaign Mission, and to end up playing a game of Chess with some dodgy stranger in some low-life takeaway joint. You’ll find numerous other activities such as playing Poker and taking part in drinking games. You can’t help but notice the GTA feel to those mini games, but then there’s Aiden’s REAL abilities. Something that GTA can’t touch. Not even remotely (pun intended).
On the one hand, you’re allowed to cause an infinite amount of havoc – such as hacking CCTV cameras, jamming police scanners and scrambling traffic lights, using Aiden’s smartphone. On the other, you’re required to play within certain perimeters if you want to be successful. That said, the campaign missions gives you the opportunity to tackle the shadowy nemesis in this game, the CtOS network that watches all in Chicago, on your own terms. Most missions involve a stealth approach. You can either tackle it the old school way by knocking out guards and making it to your waypoint, or you simply hack your way to your overall goal – which ultimately involves more hacking. This is where your obtainable skills come into play.
Whenever completing a successful mission, side quest or mini-game you are awarded with Experience Points. For every new level you reach you receive Skill Points. Skill Points can be spent on crafted items, improved hacking, driving and combat skills. The more skills you open the more dangerous you become. For example, as you’re spending most your time in cars the upgrade to easily unlock cars, without setting off an alarm, will improve your experience that much more. You can buy a ‘Quick Switch’ upgrade, if you’re more combat heavy, that increases the speed at which you switch guns. Aiden’s biggest weapon is his smartphone. There’s just about nothing he can’t do with it.
Hacking into innocent bystanders phones is a common occurrence in Watch Dogs. In fact, you’re always on the lookout for a victim. You can download songs, steal money, cars and go as far as to tap into their conversations, be it voice or text. Some of the dialogues are disturbing, generally involving very private conversations about either murder or sexual connotations. If it’s about murder you’ll receive a waypoint to stop the crime before it takes place. Playing as the good Samaritan increases your reputation, which means that civilians are less likely to report any wrong-doing you’ve got up to.
Therefore you’re always on the lookout for fixer contracts, gang hideouts, criminal convoys, missing persons cases, signs of human trafficking and all kinds of various activities. As mentioned earlier, it’s a bustling world of activity. So what about the money you earn? Well, you can spend it on weapons, cars and other materials to help you build Lure’s, Frag Grenades and other items that assists you in your cause of hacking everything to pieces. But there’s another reason for your low-life style of stealing money. Someone else might just steal yours.
While playing Watch Dogs, and this happened to me on numerous random occasions, someone might just hack into your game while free-roaming. Once that happens you’re notified and provided with a radius as to where the hacker might be. As time runs out the searching area gets smaller, making it easier for you to track the invader down. The hunter basically becomes the hunted. It’s the first game to truly combined a single and multiplayer experience effortlessly and I must say that I never declined an intrusion. The challenge was just far too exciting. Knowing that someone is in your world in real time trying to screw you over. You can’t help but feel that revenge is on the cards.
As much as I’d love to tell you that Watch Dogs is flawless it’s just not the case. I found the driving bits to be too twitchy. Jump on a motorbike and you’re basically controlling a wild horse. And seeing that half of the game takes place while driving it’s something that can become a bit much. Forget all the graphical downgrade nonsense (it’s really still a technical marvel). Expect the campaign to last you roughly 20 hours and the side quests to nearly double that. Was the delay worth the wait? You just wait and watch… DAWG!