Open world games are always trying something new, something to stand out.
Numerous playable characters, super powers, good or evil but what hasn’t been done before is the ability to use the setting as your own weapon of mass destruction. This is where Ubisoft’s highly anticipated hacking title, Watch Dogs, stands in. Supposed to be a PlayStation 4 launch title but to polish off the game, Ubisoft pushed it back a few months which is entirely forgivable considering how good of a game its turned out to be. Even on the PS3 and Xbox 360 Watch Dogs manages to stand proud amongst the best open world titles available.
Watch Dogs revolves around protagonist Aiden Pierce, a professional hacker and vigilante who witnesses the accidental death of his niece which was intended to be him after a robbery attempt went awry. Aiden sets out to seek revenge against everyone involved in her murder but things go deeper than expected. Thing is, Aiden has a secret weapon; his phone, which has backdoor entry to the city of Chicago’s internal operating system (or ctOS) allowing him access to the infrastructure of the whole city and you as Aiden has full control. The acting in Watch Dogs as well as the motion capture is top notch. Sometimes heart felt, sometimes testosterone fuelled and the conspiracy of the main storyline keeps you guessing. Aiden is also a surprisingly deep character, it’s clear a lot of effort has been put into Aiden to make him feel like he can be empathized with along with his supporting cast like his sister and mute nephew.
Controlling Aiden feels natural and responsive, vaulting over fences or walls whilst running flows brilliantly and the combat is tense. Enemy AI however is a little hit and miss, hiding behind a wall using the smart cover system without shooting causes some of the daredevil goons to take a risk and walk towards your position leaving him wide open, as unrealistic as this is, it does simplify the combat scenarios as Aiden’s take down manoeuvres are satisfyingly brutal however he doesn’t possess any sort of fighting moves. That being said, the combat is exciting, exciting because the game encourages you to use the fantastically implemented cover system similar to that seen in recent Splinter Cell games and failure to do so means you will die quickly as the enemies are a great shot. The cover system is also ideal for stealth gameplay which again is excellently executed and nicely balances out the high octane spray of bullets. The driving mechanic is another shining entry on Watch Dogs’ CV. Its arcadey style makes it easy to learn and also means that car chase missions are fast paced, smooth and incredible fun. The campaign missions mix the three components with one difference, Aiden’s ability to hack.
At the push of a button, Aiden can activate an app on his smart phone which turns the screen into a scanner or Profiler. This scanner highlights any NPC and displays a small randomly generated profile of that person and at times makes their phones available to hack for special rewards whether its cash, songs for the in-game music player or even a type of car for the games quick delivery service. The Profiler can also highlight environmental traps which can be activated by hacking them. These are by far the star of the show and are especially effective during high speed chases to fend off followers. These traps range from changing the traffic lights to green, bursting gas pipes , raising bridges to an all-out black-out and taking out a pursuer by any of these means makes the screen zip to the unfortunate one so you can see your accomplishment. The profiler is also used for helpful means such as distracting guards and activating switches which sometimes require completion of a little mini-game. Hacking is superb and changing the cities functions never gets old, sitting back and watching a car slam into barriers you had raised at the last minute is a blast.
As you wander the streets, every now and again, you will get chance to intervene in a potential street crime, it is purely optional however but successful intervention means a higher reputation level and also gives Experience. More experience means more skill points to spend in the quite extensive upgrade wheel whether it is on hacking abilities, driving abilities or perks or being better with a gun it’s entirely up to you. Aside from street crimes, online hacks trigger from time to time which is another player invading your game to steal data from you which incurs a cat and mouse kind of scenario, these can get cumbersome but a handy option to turn them off is present. Other mini games includes Digital Trips which range from driving a car from hell in a Carmageddon type mission to the fantastic Spider bot mission, you have to try that for yourself! Augmented reality missions such as races and shooting waves of aliens to aim for a high score are available too so there’s a lot to do in Watch Dogs if you fancy a break from the story.
Now the biggest difference between the formats is the graphics. PS3 and Xbox 360 looks uglier than those of next gen versions with shorter draw distance, more screen tearing and rougher textures but it doesn’t slow down and handles the game quite well. Next gen versions however play silky smooth at 30fps and the city looks authentic and brimming with activity. The character models are impressively detailed which makes the cut scenes a joy to watch.
Using Aiden’s online app, you are able to invade other players’ games to steal data from them as well as participate in online races and missions which has its own rewards. It’s fun to play with human players as it provides a nice change from the aforementioned substandard enemy AI.
Ubisoft haven’t let us down with Watch Dogs and them extra couple of months of waiting has certainly been worth it. The only thing that tells the format version apart is the graphics but all have the same mixture of fast paced high octane car chases, tense shootouts and edge of your seat stealth sections with the star of the show being Aiden’s incredible executed ability to hack elements of a beautiful Chicago’s infrastructure. Watch Dogs is definitely a contender for game of the year.
Story – 5/5
Graphics – 5/5 (Xbox One) 3/5 (PS3)
Game-play – 5/5
Overall – 4/5
Versions reviewed – Xbox One with PS3 version played to comment on the graphics.