Review: Watch Dogs

Written by: Martyn Nolan

PS4, PS3, Xbox One, 360, PC

So the Ubisoft megahit is finally here, but does it stand up the massive hype that surrounded it?

This all depends on your exact expectations from this open world thriller set in a not- too-distant future where everything is controlled by technology.

Aiden Pearce in Watch Dogs

The game never seems to reach the high standards it set itself at E3 a while back, but what you get is by no means a poor game.

The world of Chicago is a massive, densely populated sandbox with more than enough going on to pique your interest. Watch Dogs is heavily influenced by previous Ubisoft gaming efforts like Assassin’s Creed and Splinter Cell as well as Rockstar’s Grand Theft Auto.

Watch Dogs takes certain elements from all these titles and adds a technological edge to proceedings.

The story of the game revolves around hacker Aiden Pearce. The story opens with Pearce being caught snooping into a system he shouldn’t be, and an assassin being hired to take him out. During the assassin’s attempt on Pearce’s life he accidentally kills Aiden’s  young niece. This then kickstarts a classic revenge story, as Pearce tries to track down the man responsible for the death of his sister’s youngest daughter.

This story is drawn out over a lengthy campaign believed to be in the region of 20 hours. However, when you step foot into Chicago you will find plenty of distractions to keep you from Aiden’s main desire of revenge.

Chicago is run by a system called ctOS which electronically runs the entire city. Aiden manages to seamlessly hack into this network and is able to control most things through his phone. This means you can randomly control things like security bollards and security gates, overload circuit boards, change traffic lights and hack into security cameras.

These processes are original and allow you to do a number of things not seen in video games previously. A perfect example of this would be when you are being chased by the police and are able to change all the traffic lights at a junction to green with a simple click of a button. If timed correctly, this tool can help you evade the police and cause some wonderful chaos in the process.

One of the biggest talking points about Watch Dogs has been the graphics. When this game was originally shown off at E3, it displayed a level of graphics you would expect from top end PCs and the next generation of consoles. Unfortunately, as the development of the game has moved along and delays were made to the final release, we’ve found out that the graphics had to be downgraded slightly to give a better overall experience. This has resulted in Ubisoft Montreal putting the available power in to smaller processing details which are subtle and on the surface are nowhere near as visually satisfying to the player.

Aiden Pearce slides across a car in Watch Dogs

The one area that did surprise me, however, is how the game can at times look quite amazing yet on other occasions it seems to fall short of expectations. A perfect example of this would be when I stood on a bridge in the pouring rain looking at the skyline of Chicago and it felt like I was playing a next-gen game. Then, in the same moment, I looked down at traffic and watched cars merely 400 feet away disappear into thin air and others appear as if they have just been beamed down from the USS Enterprise. It completely destroyed the illusion.

For a game with such a long development time, these things seem to be unacceptable and especially when other gaming masterpieces such as GTA V managed to avoid blunders like these on even older technology. These issues seem unforgivable and as a first impression they may be all you think about. However, if you go much deeper into the gameplay (after all, that’s what matters) you will find a lengthy, rewarding experience which you will likely not get with any other game.

If you let the city engross you with its details then you will be surprised at the level of work gone in to this game. Aiden, through his phone can hack in to people’s lives as everything is available through the network controlling Chicago. So, as you walk round the streets you will see a small summary for nearly everyone you pass with information regarding their current life. This could range from someone being on a donor list or someone who has recently purchased internet porn.

These summaries give a new depth to your city because it makes everyone feel as if they have a life. If you’re considering doing harm to someone, you might end up finding out that they are committing a petty crime because they have a drug addiction or have recently suffered from a mental breakdown. It’s rare that a game makes you feel guilty, but Watch Dogs manages it.

That is a powerful mechanic when you are making judgements on characters within a game. I once knocked everyone out on a mission rather than silently killing them because each one of them had a perfectly good reason for being in the situation that they were in. Granted, sometimes it feels like too much information is being thrown at you on the screen with summaries, symbols for hacking and lines shooting out of your phone to all the local hotspots but providing such an incredible level of detail can be forgiven.

Aidan Pearce's eyes in Watch Dogs

Another aspect is the accuracy of Chicago itself. I have visited Chicago and took Aiden to where I stayed. The similarities were ridiculous and my jaw nearly dropped to the floor when I instantly recognised the places I had been.

With that being said, when I first started playing this game it felt a little overwhelming and it wasn’t something that I would enjoy, but the more I got familiar with the mechanics and tricks you can deploy I was found myself controlling every situation possible with the biggest rewards. Four hours in and I had hardly touched the campaign missions and was hacking everyone’s phones, making judgements on criminals and building a reputation within the city. As you progress, it feels like you are slowly becoming known within the city, with random people in the street whispering “Oh my god, that’s the vigilante!”. On occasion they will take pictures of you when you turn your back. These kinds of actions create the illusion of your growing power and something that most people will find enthralling.

Watch Dogs is a game that in some aspects doesn’t meet the hype that built up around it. However, what you will find (if you let it) is an immersive world to get engrossed in and a rewarding experience if you let it give it to you.

Author: Martyn Nolan

Martyn is a Manchester-born lad who enjoys all kinds of sports, gaming and cinema. Martyn's main passion is professional wrestling. If he isn't watching it then he's writing about it! Either on The Void or he is always expressing his opinions on what is going on in the crazy world of WWE. Martyn is a Manchester United supporter and loves watching F1 among other sports. You can get in touch with Martyn via Twitter at @BeansOnToastUK.

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