Watch Dogs has had a lot of hype in the past few years. It has been built up to this hackers free roam paradise where Chicago becomes your playground. Did it live up to the hype of it all, or did it fall beneath the pressure, as many games have before it?
When Watch Dogs was first dropped at E3 2012, we all lost our minds. The first pictures of Aiden Pearce strolling through a perfectly digital version of Chicago was all I needed. Love at first sight. Not because of the bullets flying across the screen, or the shady looking fellow who reminded me a lot of Orion from the TV series "Chuck", but the power he had in his hand. He was turning off traffic lights and blowing the lights all with his phone, and my favourite thing was the profiling feature. The ability to learn about any random person on the street just by looking at them and getting their digital profile. A power that I greatly wish I had. I now look at my iPhone and I'm a little bit mad that I can't do that. Maybe with iOS 10.
Upon loading the game, you're tossed in to a prologue that shows you Pearce before anything happened. I will try and keep away from spoilers in the next part, but there is some things I will need to discuss, so if you're incredibly blind to the story and haven't watched any trailers, you shouldn't be reading this next part. Aiden's niece get's killed in a scare tactic gone wrong. The story is about how your character is dealing with the loss, and trying to figure out who is responsible. There are twists and turns a lot of the way through the story, too. That, combined with learning about his family and how they dealt with it, makes for a good story. It doesn't fail to keep your attention, even if it is rather short.
The story itself is about 10 hours long, but that is a drop in the ocean that is this game. There are so many side quests and collectables and locations to discover. Each of those reward you upon completion, too. When I had completed the story, I was around 50% of the way through the game progress. The story is realistically about ¼ of the whole game. This is not something I was particularly happy about. I was happy I had more to do after the story, since the game cost a lot and the story wasn't exactly long enough to satisfy the craving for Watch Dogs gameplay that had built up in the long wait for the game. Don't get me wrong, it's a good story, it's just shorter than I would of liked. It was also kind of easy, even on the most difficult setting. I only got stuck on a handful of parts, and when I say stuck, I mean had to do it 4 or 5 times due to my own stupidity, like moving from cover at the wrong time or not looking around.
The characters from the game are really good. The people you meet along the way in the main story are really good, and they do actually raise my overall rating of this game. They were funny, and fun, and I was looking forward to seeing what would happen next. They genuinely made the story a lot better.
So, story aside, let's talk about the amazing features of the game. The ‘profiling’ system, which allows you to focus on any character in-game and dig into their details, is amazing. It tells you all kinds of stories. People who are sick, people who adopted pets recently, people who earn $22,000 a year, people who earn way more. It’s a clever system that looks to humanise the non-player characters (NPCs) that stroll around these digital recreations of urban America. It also gives relevant moral quandaries about access to people’s private information and the information we share ourselves over the web. I found myself often having to question these things further, but the game never really offers more information. That's not a negative feature about the game, really, but it would be nice to know where these people go from there.
You can hack money from the people you profile. This is by far the quickest and easiest way to make money in the game, too. Money itself has a very small part to play in the game, but it's fine. As you earn skill points and you level up your hacking abilities, you will get a blue retinal around people of interest. Generally people with large amounts of money for you to take, or people who have songs or cars for you to add to your collection.
Your phone can hack in to the city, which runs on CTOS. CTOS is an operating system that controls everything from security camera to traffic lights to personal information. You can raise and lower bridges, bollards and blow up steam pipes. These tactics become invaluable in a car chase, which happens way too frequently.
A feature that bothered me about the driving is something that I have never seen in another game like this. You cannot drive and shoot. Often I have needed to shoot out an enemies tires, or simply eliminate a driver, but I don't have the ability to drive and shoot, so I need to use my surroundings. I am happy to use the powers given to me, but I would also like to shoot at my target. Sometimes I trapped them, got out of my car and shot them then, but shooting from the car would of been a huge time saver and it would of kept me a lot safer, too.
Something you can do, however, is slow down time. An interesting feature. I didn't know hackers could hack in to the time/space continuum, but that's fine. I accept it, as it saved me quite a bit during the game. You can use this to line up a shot at a target, correct the sniper rifle's sight, which appears to be operated by somebody with Parkinson's. You can also use this ability while you're driving, which I rarely did as it generally ends up making me crash. It would be handy to use this while shooting and driving, but sadly that does not seem to work.
There is a system that tracks your behaviour in game and labels you based on your work. Either you become the friendly neighbourhood hacker, or this dark evil vigilante that is feared citywide. Killing pedestrians with your car or shooting people who commit crimes are two common no-no obstacles you must overcome. Generally they want you to avoid driving on the path (which is a fair request), and to tackle and beat the living hell out of your targets, which looks so violent that you'd kill them anyway, most of the time.
Watch Dogs is a little bit (a lot) glitchy at times, too. Several times I was forced to restart a mission because my target simply wasn't there, or I had to fast travel because my whole game literally got stuck, yet my options menu would still work. It was very strange. I think a bit of patch work is required. It didn't really impact my overall experience too much, but it definitely was a huge inconvenience and kept ruining my immersion in the game.
There are a lot of pretty cool features on your phone, too. You can open your phone's HUD and do things like call for a car, or see what song is on the radio. You can also begin several mini games that allow you to cause chaos in the city, or go on a "digital trip" which is basically as it sounds.
Aiden’s phone also has a battery life that I am incredibly envious of. There is no point where it needs power. It is also waterproof. Something else I desperately want for my fragile device. His phone can also control the environment in a battle situation. It'll let you manipulate cover so you can move around, or it will trigger an explosive that a soldier might have equipped. You can also time the explosion of devices around the battle zone which can be used to eliminate targets. It's very satisfying to do this. You can do all this while looking through the lens of a security camera, too. I have beaten more than one mission without ever leaving my car, which is a pretty cool and unique experience.
When Watch Dogs works, it really works. However, when you're trying to hack something and an NPC walks in your way and you select the wrong thing, or you try to pursue a target in a car that hasn't loaded because of a glitch, it get's a little more than frustrating. Another thing that really gets in the way is the multiplayer feature.
More often than not, I was interrupted by a multiplayer person coming in to my world and targeting me. It's not such a big deal, but it tended to keep happening after I drove half way across the map to accomplish something. More than once it also happened as I would pause the game to go to do something, but the game wouldn't pause because it was considered to be in multiplayer mode, even though I had no idea when I had paused the game. It generally takes a few moments to get the player in your game, obviously, but you may not know when it is happening.
In saying that, the times that I wanted it to work, it really worked. I loved hunting targets and trying to figure out who was hacking me and trying to hack in to somebody else's game was always fun.
By far my favourite multiplayer feature, however, is the iOS companion app. A friend of mine was able to control a helicopter and attempt to stop me reaching a target, all from my iPhone. He could call the police or hack in to the system and control the environment around me. It worked incredibly well, and was very responsive. This was the one thing I was doubtful about and it worked the best.
The side quests are pretty good, but they tend to be a little bit repetitive. You just seem to be grinding your way through them by the end. After a certain point I just found myself wanting to do something else, just to get a break from the same thing over and over. I did enjoy it for a long time, though. I just think I overloaded myself on the same things. My main regret was powering through the story. If I could do it again fresh, I would focus on the side quests first and finish with the story.
Although this may seem like a negative review, it genuinely isn't. I'm just trying to focus on the things that need reviewing. I was a fan of the story, I just wish it was longer. I enjoyed the multiplayer, when it wasn't totally invasive to my experience, but then again, it is called "Invasion". You can't turn off invasion mode without erasing your total score, which was really irritating. I didn't want to lose my score, I just wanted to play without being invaded. I don't want to disconnect my Xbox Live just to play a peaceful game.
Overall, I really did enjoy the game, and I look forward to more DLC and (hopefully) Watch Dogs 2. I just hope they listen to the fans when they make it and fix some of the issues.
I do not regret buying this game. It definitely is a very enjoyable game, especially for the story. I was just a bit peeved with some of the small things, like the inability to shoot from my car, or the glitches and invasions that wasted a lot of time for me. I will still be picking up all the DLC for it. I don't regret the money I spent on it, either. I really enjoyed the game, it just needs some tweaking.
Overall Score: 7/10