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Watch Dogs: Watch the Hype, but Hold the Hate

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Watch_Dogs by Ubisoft Montreal is a game that has been hyped and anticipated since its 2012 E3 reveal. It promised next-gen graphics like we hadn’t seen yet, an immersive, open world, and a fantastic, gripping plot that was supposed to make us question of privacy and what we give up in the name of security and comfort. The question to ask, then, is has the game lived up to its hype? The answer is… it’s complicated. Read more after the jump. 

WATCH_DOGS REVIEW

The game has been compared to a fusion of Assassin’s Creed and Splinter Cell, and while that isn’t necessarily off the mark, I can’t help but feel like that’s cheapening Watch_Dogs and Ubisoft’s efforts in some way. Yes, it’s open world, and yes there’s absolutely the opportunity to be incredibly stealthy. At the same time, this still feels every much like its own IP. It’s game that absolutely liberally borrows from other Ubisoft properties, but throws in just enough that I never felt like I was re-treading through familiar environments and scenarios from other games.

STORY

In the game, you meet an interesting range of characters including rival hack</a srcset=Watch_Dogs takes us to an alternate Chicago in the modern (if slightly futuristic) time. The city has installed what’s known as the ‘ctOS’ system, that is a city-wide monitoring/management program. It controls everything from traffic lights, to monitoring for crime, and it even controls steam pipes throughout the city. The lead and player-controlled character of Aiden Pearce is someone who has found his way into the system, and as you progress through the game, more and more of the ctOS system becomes available to you.

**GENERAL PLOT SPOILERS**From the very beginning you learn that a year before the bulk of the story, Aiden failed a hacking job at a hotel, and as a result someone “sent him a message” that resulted in the death of his very young niece. Aiden, along with his sister and nephew, are still recovering from the trauma and the hole left in their lives from the niece’s death. As the story progresses, you learn more about the characters as well as meet some interesting faces like Clara: Another hacker who seems to have been accidentally pulled into everything, and T-Bone: the legendary hacker who briefly took down the company that installed ctOS, Blume. As the story progresses, you uncover more clues about why Aiden’s family was targeted as well as who exactly controls the city. **END GENERAL PLOT SPOILERS**

All in all, the story is actually pretty good. There are a lot of tropes that were blessedly averted, and the story itself was gripping. There were times where I actually felt compelled to rush as fast as I could between missions just so I would find out what would happen next. As good as the main story is, the sidequests left more to be desired. The missing persons sidequest ended up being the largest anti-climax of the game, and if you want to avoid spoilers, then move onto the next paragraph. **MAJOR SPOILER FOR SIDE QUEST** In the missing persons sidequest, you find bodies around the city arranged in a interesting ways, each with a painting in blood that in some way incorporates the dead body. The effect is chilling, and mesmerizing. It felt like the story was building up to something great, but in the end it turned into nothing but a standard “crime prevention” minigame Watch_Dogs is riddled with. The serial killer himself didn’t end up being all that special, and despite an interesting motif, he turned into an almost carbon copy of Bryan Hughes from Criminal Minds**END SPOILER**

GAMEPLAY

Gameplay-wise, hacking is actually very fun. Everything from destroying steam pipes to stealing credit cards is handled with a simple press of a button (‘Q’ on the PC and ‘X’ on the Xbox). Much of what you do around the game also directly effects the sliding scale that is your reputation. On the high end, you’re well respected in the city, while on the low end you can expect to have the police hot on your tail on a regular basis. The combat itself was fun and engaging, but where  the game really shined was in hacking your way around a mission. Leaping from camera to camera was fun, and finding a new way in became a puzzle itself. In some missions, you could make your way out without killing anyone, and that was a great challenge.

The combat is dynamic and more fun than many games in the genre

Of course, that rarely stopped me from rampages, but that’s neither here nor there. Using guns in Watch_Dogs was smooth and fluid, and that’s actually where I feel it excels against other games like GTAV. The OTS 3rd person camera didn’t get in the way, and even on an Xbox 360 controller, aiming felt responsive. Movement was never sluggish, and cornering and finding cover was also near perfect. The “equip” wheel was easy to understand and access, and by the end I found myself looking forward to large battles just so I could show off a little muscle. The pump-action grenade launcher was a personal favorite of mine.

One disappointment I had was when I found a reliable way to beat the computer during the “get away” portions of the game. **GAMEPLAY TRICK/SPOILER AHEAD** When you’re being chased via car or helicopter, all you have to do is drive to the nearest dock, hop out, and steal a boat. There are no police boats, or enemy boats in the game. There are also a grand total of 3 different types of boat in all of Chicago itself, which ended up being yet another small disappointment. **END SPOILER**

The skill tree is detailed and elegantReplayability, however, is severely hurt by the inability to have mroe than one saved game at a time. Any attempts to create a new game will immediately overwrite the old, and some people will be loathe to erase all their old data just to go through the story again. It’s ironic and tragic that a game about technical advances and the near-permanence of data in an ever-more connected world won’t let you have more than one saved game at a time.

Multiplayer missions were also always interesting. They ranged from paranoia-inducing invasions where either you were trying to steal notoriety from another player without getting caught, or vice-versa, to online races, to capture the flag-like games where you were trying to be the player or team who had the data file when it was finally done decrypting. Finding new ways to sneak up on enemies, or to just generally go on rampages (I had a blast in a fire truck calling myself the Ramboni Machine) ended up being the best part of multiplayer.  You never knew when you were going to be invaded, and with the online capabilities turned on, you had plenty of opportunities to invade other players as well.

GRAPHICS

In general, the graphics are great, but not next-genGraphically, the game absolutely wasn’t what we promised. While the graphics weren’t what I could call ‘bad,’ they also showed their edges in places. The 2012 E3 gameplay footage promised a lot, and I fully expected this to be a true next-gen experience in the graphics department. Instead, it felt like what we’ve seen before. The human models were definitely better than some games, and the water physics also tended to look gorgeous, especially in the middle of a thunderstorm. Those successes only highlighted the glaring flaws elsewhere.

Some textures forced me to roll my eyes like the incredibly low-resolution “White Sox” logos on banners during one scene at the end. I also couldn’t help but inwardly groan when during an emotional scene I was distracted by the very poor grass animation. I know, that sounds incredibly nit-picky, but it was actually that bad. Lighting wasn’t nearly as dynamic as previous footage showed, and windows and mirrors were still stuck in last-gen territory. There were no reflections to be seen in the game, and the “reflections” on the city windows in the game, didn’t even reflect what was across the street. A window in a narrow alley was reflecting a skyline that absolutely wasn’t behind me, for example.

CONCLUSION

Overall, Watch_Dogs is a game that delivers well on the fundamentals. The core gameplay is solid, and the main story stays on-point to deliver an exciting conclusion. The game really shines when it sticks to its core elements, but the sidequests started to feel stale at best, or anti-climactic at their worst. For both the story and the combat, I actually had the most fun when Aiden was backed into a corner and I had to find interesting ways to a solution. Hacking electrical boxes, transformers, and grenades were always fun ways to take out guards without being seen, and led to some great moments. While the game had its flaws, especially in the graphics department, I can’t deny that I enjoyed myself in the end. By succeeding in the fundamentals of what it wanted to be, Watch_Dogs succeeded in being a fun, good game, however it shied away from greatness by failing in other areas. In the end, I give this game 4 out of 5 stars.

About Stephen Crane

Stephen was hooked by the NES at a very young age and never looked back. He games on a daily basis and is currently trying to climb his way up the ranked ladder on League of Legends! Outside of the video game world he actually likes running and owns a rapidly growing collection of toed shoes. Stephen Crane is the owner of Armed Gamer.

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