Watch Dogs – PC
Developer: Ubisoft Montreal
Release Date: 27 May, 2014
Nerd Rating: 6.5 out of 10
Reviewed by Cloud3514
In 2007, Assassin’s Creed was released after years of hype and promises of being one of the first titles to truly take advantage of the power of the Playstation 3 and X-Box 360. It was promised to revolutionize open-world games and be a “true next-gen experience.” Sound familiar?
Watch Dogs is the latest game to be hyped using the red herring of being a “next-gen experience.” It was promised to revolutionize open-world games and to truly take advantage of the power of the Playstation 4 and X-Box One. However, like Assassin’s Creed before it, Watch Dogs is a very problematic game.
Players take the role of Aiden Pearce, a hacker and vigilante who patrols the streets of Chicago with a smart phone tapped into the ctOS computer system that controls most of the technology in the city. His phone can hack the system to change traffic lights, activate traffic blockers, activate drawbridges and so on and so forth.
After a job is traced, a hit man kills Aiden’s niece. Aiden then spends the next 11 months tracking down the hit man to find out who was targeting his family. The game starts with Aiden interrogating the hit man.
It may be easier to start with what I liked about the game. For one, the game is very pretty. Even playing on medium settings, the game looks good. The characters look very realistic and the environments are believable. The textures and facial expressions are fantastic, but can get somewhat muddy on minor characters, at least on medium and lower settings, which would be somewhat distracting from the story if it weren’t for the problematic story in the first place.
The stealth mechanic is solid. This game uses a snap cover system that just plain works. There’s an occasional quirk where Aiden will either go around his current cover in the opposite direction you want or will leave cover entirely, but these cases are few and far between. The system is simple, you simply point at where you want Aiden to go and press A. It feels good and simplifies things considerably.
The AI is good. Enemies react to just about everything you do to them. They start to get paranoid if you hack into the environment around them and make things explode or pick them off. If they see you, they will duck into cover, try to flank you, alert each other of your position and even give each other covering fire. It’s pretty impressive and forces the player to focus on stealth. It also encourages creative use of the hacking mechanic to kill and manipulate your enemies.
At the same time, the AI is easy to trick, however. They will turn and stare at a wall if you shoot next to them. They will also instantly know where you are if one enemy finds you, even if the rest of them are no where near you.
The hacking mechanic is fantastic. It is extremely satisfying to hack a panel to make it explode and kill several enemies without them having any idea what’s going on. The hacking is context sensitive and all you have to do is press X to hack something that can be hacked. It can be great to watch enemy vehicles crash into traffic or traffic blockers. It’s a simple mechanic, but it works an can be very strategic and fun to play with.
However, this is about all that’s good with the game.
At it’s core, Watch Dogs is a competent stealth action game with good stealth mechanics and solid shooting mechanics, but the level design and driving mechanics hold it back.
Early on, the game is a blast with only a few annoying moments, but eventually it starts to drag. Some missions have far too many enemies and go from fun and challenging to outright frustrating. Other missions have obscure objectives. There’s never a solid balance. The difficulty is all over the place. Some missions feel pretty well toned in difficulty, while other missions will suddenly jump up in difficulty without warning.
Even worse is the fact that some missions more or less require stealth, while others can be done like Rambo with little issue. Sometimes you can get away with a shootout if you fail to be stealthy. Other times you’ll be swarmed and constantly be killed over and over again until you do it right. It’s inconsistent and extremely frustrating.
Not to mention that some of the weapons are worthless. Assault rifles will not likely get much in the way of use, while shotguns are too situational. Sniper rifles are just plain frustrating and appear to take more luck than anything to use as your aim will swing around wildly with no way to deal with it. Chances are you’ll end up picking two or three weapons to rely on (the Spec Ops 1911 pistol and a burst fire SMG for me) for the vast majority of the game and ignoring the rest. Though admittedly, using a fully automatic shotgun was immensely satisfying during the mission I got it.
And then you have the driving. Oh, god, the driving. Every time I was given a driving mission, I dreaded it. Driving missions are not fun. At all. At best, they’re boring. At worst, infuriating. Maybe they wouldn’t be so bad if the driving mechanics weren’t as annoying as they are.
The car variety is fantastic, but the car stat variety is not. Half the cars are a waste of time and chances are, like the weapons, you’ll pick one you like and stick with it. Even then, you’ll have trouble steering your car because the steering is too shallow, even on cars with max handling, meaning skillful use of the handbrake is a complete necessity. If you can’t figure out the best way to use it, driving will never cease to be a frustrating endeavor.
You can’t even shoot while driving. It would simplify so many of the frustrating driving missions if you could just shoot your target without having to get out of the damn car.
Then you have the side missions. Some, like the gang hideouts, are fun for the most part, while others, like the convoy missions, are never fun, but none of the side missions offer any actual reward. They unlock some minor rewards like new weapons and vehicles, but are not really worth your time unless you’re looking for a distraction from the main story. None of the side missions have any story pay off.
Similarly, the reputation mechanic does so little, I don’t know why Ubisoft even bothered. It goes up when you run around the city stopping crimes and down when you hurt or kill civilians. Fighting crime can be fun and satisfying or annoying, depending on where the criminal is as it is far too easy to spook the crook and keep the crime from happening, depriving you of your reward. Like the side missions, in theory, it unlocks things, but in practice, the unlocks change a grand total of nothing. Caring about your reputation is just a waste of time.
At the very least, the in-game representation of Chicago is pretty nice. The city feels alive and there is fun to be had with just wandering around, experiencing the city and fighting crime, despite the issues the crime fighting has. Notably, the citizens will take notice of what you do. They will mock you (unfortunately with a grand total of one phrase) if you sprint around for no reason. More notably, they will take notice if you run around with a gun out, if you steal their parked car in front of them or commit a crime. Often times, they’ll actually call the police. It’s pretty impressive and I’ve never seen an open-world game do it.
So side missions are a waste of time, the driving is bad and the campaign is frustrating, what about the story?
In short: It sucks.
The storyline is trying to do way too much. It’s trying to be a morally black and white superhero story and a morally grey crime drama at the same time. It tries to portray the villains as both comic book super villains and dangerous crime lords with complex motivations. It tries to portray Aiden as both an optimistic superhero and a dangerous extremist who goes too far to protect himself and his family.
It feels like there are three story lines trying to be told. The first is Aiden’s revenge for the death of his niece, but that plot takes the back burner once the next story is introduced. The next one is Aiden trying to save his sister from his former partner, Damian Banks. It’s a cliché plot that fails to be interesting at pretty much any point. The last story is Aiden’s role as the Vigilante, which is pretty much ignored until the game feels the need to remind you that Aiden is the Vigilante.
None of these plots are woven together with any sort of competence. Like with everything else in the game, it’s inconsistent and poorly done. The characters are nothing new. The plot is cliché ridden and uninteresting.
Watch Dogs is a waste of time. For everything it does right, it does two things poorly. The gunplay is competent and the world feels alive, but the level design is poor and the driving missions are dreadful. The story tries to do too much, but ends up being a convoluted mess.
It’s not a bad game, just not a particularly impressive one.
Watch Dogs is also available on Playstation 4, Xbox One, Playstation 3, X-Box 360 and is slated for Wii U later this year.
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