AAA titles garner a fair amount of attention, even when they are brand new IPs, but Ubisoft’s Watch Dogs arguably caught quicker than most. Much of that was due to the timeliness of its content and the growing privacy concerns within the United States. It’s been some time, though (still, be sure to check out Ted Dedon’s wonderful related piece here). Watch Dogs needed some more time in the oven and being so far removed, does it still maintain its massive relevancy? Does that part even matter as much? Let’s find out.
What Is It?
Watch Dogs is the story of hacker vigilante Aiden Pearce, who has the ability to control massive amounts of Chicago through its central operating system (ctOS) primarily through a smartphone. You meet Pearce amidst a hotel hack job gone wrong. Turns out, there’s another hacker in the system, but the responsibility gets placed squarely on Pearce and soon enough there’s a hit placed on him. This hit gets his six-year old niece killed in a drive-by shooting, resulting in Pearce’s personal vendetta to get those responsible. His vendetta pulls you into a world of corruption, hacking, excessive intrusion and even human trafficking.
Upon completing the story, you’ll find that Watch Dogs has its combination of direct and indirect commentary on privacy concerns, but the primary goal is to tell Pearce’s vigilante quest. This will leave you to question things yourself and draw your own conclusions. In a sense, that’s a good thing. Watch Dogs isn’t necessarily trying to tell you how to feel; that’s on you.
Do you feel weird watching a resident through a hacked camera? What about stealing bank account information? One also wonders if the game could have been better served with the story taking a firm stance one way or the other— outside of leaving some clear wiggle room for sequels.
Why Should I Care?
Still, Watch Dogs puts together a fairly solid package with its fair storytelling on top of a structurally sound game. Having completing the game, I found this to be the most relatable way to describe the game: imagine Grand Theft Auto V mixed with elements of Splinter Cell and the Arkham series, without being a direct clone of any of those games. It’s a game that takes itself quite seriously, though has its lighter moments.
The cast is an interesting collection. Aiden Pearce has the vigilante attitude without being insufferable, though he does have a Batman-like rasp to his voice. The rest of the cast has its stereotypical element: the eccentric sidekick, the dirty attractive hacker girl and dirty hacker guy (because hackers need to be dirty?), mob bosses, and even a Deadmau5 wannabe who speaks in “lolz.” They live in a world populated by Ubisoft references and hidden memes (insert joke here about Watch Dogs being that old already), but thankfully the world goes beyond that.
It’s a good take on a living Chicago. You are technically playing along with other Watch Dog gamers, but not competing directly against anybody during the story without accepting online contracts for a variety of games. However, what’s a privacy game without its own privacy concerns?
So long as you aren’t in the middle of a mission, someone else could try hacking into your game and downloading your information. It becomes the right type of nuisance; something you don’t want to happen but a decent challenge to accept. You’ll have to break their hack and typically kill them to build up your skill set.
Building your hacking skill set will become incredibly important early on, so I highly recommend focusing on those skills first. The gameplay presents a good challenge and hacking different parts of the city creates very cinematic scenes. You’ll be able to throw up blockers, induce car crashes and more while evading police and enemies. But some parts are just overly difficult and even more so if you aren’t hacking perfectly. A noticeable amount of police pursuits turned from cinematic to car crash porn when five cop cars smashed the hell out of my vehicle. There were plenty of close controller-throwing moments, but a few attempts should get you comfortable with selecting the right approach for even the most difficult situations.
While in this generation especially, we don’t need to comment on how a game looks outside of frame rate issues, I feel compelled to comment on Watch Dogs’ graphics. Initially, I was turned off. I didn’t care for the look and felt that games such as Dead Rising 3 looked better than this. After a couple of missions, my tune changed as the game slowly looked better and better. Perhaps you won’t feel the same, but it was an element that sorely stuck out at first.
What Makes It Worth My Time and Money?
Watch Dogs isn’t by any means a groundbreaking game, but it is a very solid effort that is worth dedicating your time toward. It took me roughly 25 hours to complete the story and parts of the side missions, but there’s still plenty of the world for to explore. So in that sense, it’s not entirely unfair to go back to the Grand Theft Auto comparisons, but it’s an apples–and–oranges situation. Watch Dogs stands on its own and benefited from its extra development time, and it’s good way to start your summer gaming.