Watch Dogs is an incredible first entry in what is sure to be a successful new franchise for Ubisoft, building on the achievements and borrowing elements from some of gaming’s biggest series while introducing a few of its own.
WHEN THE LIGHTS GO OUT
Watch Dogs introduces us to Aiden Pearce, a master hacker-turned vigilante. You can think of him as Chicago’s Batman. The story begins with a brief flashback; we witness Aiden get into a car wreck, being chased down by two enemies. The root of the game stems from this moment, as Aiden’s niece Lena dies in the accident.
We don’t find out why Aiden was being chased down until late in the game, as this becomes the basis of Aiden’s actions and investigations throughout. This premise draws slight similarities to 2010’s Heavy Rain. In that game, you play as Ethan Mars, who loses one son and spends the story trying to prevent the death of his other.
Aiden uses a security system entitled ctOS. Through ctOS, everything is connected like never before. Essentially, everything has a computer chip of some sort, meaning no one and nothing is safe. The game challenges the real-life premise that we are moving towards a more complete technological society every day and the issues that can occur because of our reliance on it, but mostly challenges our morals. How much power is too much? Through ctOS, Aiden can cause electrical explosions, drain a person’s bank account, change a traffic signal, and more.
The backdrop for the game is Chicago, Illinois. The city is absolutely gorgeous and full of activity. There’s no part of the city that felt dead; there’s always someone with a story to tell. You can even run into celebrities; I saw Aisha Tyler at one point. Through ctOS, you can get a brief description on everyone. You’ll always see a person’s profession, a detail about them, and their annual salary. Maybe you run into someone who has a gambling addiction. Maybe you see an accountant. Do you drain their account? I found someone who had a chronic illness and felt sympathy. Sometimes, through a facial scan, you can hack a phone and be alerted to a crime in progress. You can choose to simply ignore and continue on with the main story, or help out and try to reprimand the criminal.
Since Lena’s passing, he feels it is his responsibility to take care of his sister Nicky and his nephew Jackson. He sets out to dig deeper and find out why he was targeted in the accident that killed Lena. During an early mission, Aiden meets up with his former partner Damien Brinks. The two botched a major heist at the Merlaut Hotel, splitting up the partnership. Damien wants to find a certain hacker that disrupted the Merlaut job, though Aiden wants no part of it. Damien sets off to kidnap Nicky and Jackson, though Jackson escapes to the care of his psychiatrist.
While some don’t care for Aiden’s personality, I thought it fit the bill precisely. Aiden’s voice is gruff and low, much like the aforementioned Batman. He showed emotion when appropriate to do so and felt like a character that could truly be cast in a big screen port of the game. His urgency in finding his sister is evident and his dialogue complimented the game’s soundtrack nicely.
The cast of characters is a mixed bag. Damien Brinks is a good first game villain. He is devious, just intimidating enough, and simply a plain jerk. Had this been a movie in the early 1990s, he would have been played by Jack Nicholson. There are three significant allies you meet throughout your journey. First is Jordi Chen, a Fixer (mercenary for hire) that supplies all of your automobiles and pops up to occasionally help with your development. Jordi is super likable and supplies a good portion of humor while pulling the tone of the game back to a laid back pace at times. Second, we meet Clara Lille, a member of a hacking group known as “DedSec.” At first, she utilizes the alias “BadBoy17,” communicating with Aiden via a voice encoder. It’s unclear at first why she is helping you, but is later found out to be the reason that the hackers found Aiden (and killed Lena). She helps him out of guilt, trying to right a wrong. The story goes back and forth and sometimes doesn’t know if she is supposed to be the love interest or just a teammate, but I enjoyed her presence. Lastly, we meet Raymond “T-Bone” Kenney, a former engineer at ctOS’ headquarters and the hacker responsible for the 2003 North-east blackout. You wouldn’t be wrong for mistaking T-Bone as a 21st century John Marston of Red Dead Redemption fame. He is in hiding, trying to remain off the grid after his departure from ctOS. He is eventually tracked down by Aiden and Clara in an effort to help them unravel certain data that will lead them to Aiden’s answers. T-Bone is a good side character and adds a bit of southern charm to Aiden’s group.
You will also encounter a few villains aside from Damien, including Dermot “Lucky” Quinn, who is just like the old creepy guy from Heavy Rain that Madison visits. He owns the Merlaut and is Chicago’s major crime lord. There are a few main members of gangs that are stereotypically over the top and then there’s also Maurice Vega, the triggerman that caused Lena’s death. Jordi keeps Maurice as a hostage the entire game.
I don’t want to go too deep into the story because I believe it is absolutely worth playing through for yourself. Watch Dog’s gameplay is the star, but the campaign had superb pacing and reached a very satisfying conclusion – something we often times don’t receive in games and movies these days. Not only did we get a definite period at the end of the game, we received several post credit scenes that set up a sequel like a softball pitch, ready to be knocked out of the park. I think we’ll see an Assassins’ Creed 2-like jump in quality from original to sequel. There is one post game option that brought things right back to the very origin of the story and I was surprised at my decision. Perhaps I was so jaded and engrossed in the story. Regardless, the intensity was high.
As mentioned before, Chicago is recreated in a beautifully detail-oriented setting. There are countless unique buildings, tons of automobiles, and of course loads of citizens occupying streets and venues. The map is large but not too large, leaving me often times choosing to drive across the skyway rather than take a quick-travel option to my next destination. One thing in particular that I enjoyed was the sight of moving clouds in the sky above.
The game’s soundtrack features a mix of licensed music and theme music. The theme music fits the game’s setting like a glove – a very futuristic sound primarily based off of a keyboard/synthesizer. The licensed tracks feature either songs about Chicago or bands directly from the city, providing for a nice mix of rock, rap, and the occasional jazz.
Watch Dogs features a few different elements of focus when it comes to gameplay. As Aiden, walking around the city is a joy. You can hack just about anything. There is a good progression system that is easy to use and upgrades your abilities such as how often you can hack and how big you can hack. As you travel throughout the city, you can find ctOS Towers and hack them, enabling you to use them as fast travel points. These towers also unlock activities on the map and allow you to be fully connected to ctOS, much like the watchpoints found in Assassins’ Creed games.
When it comes to main missions, objectives often were repetitive, but full of different settings and premises. The pattern is usually as follows: break into an enemy-infested area, don’t get caught, steal something via hacking, run before the enemies can catch you. On my first playthrough, I usually would run-and-gun, getting myself into a big shootout. If you want to play that way, great – the choice is yours. On my second playthrough, I would hack into cameras and take down enemies through hacking their grenades to explode, distracting them by sending scandalous emails or texts, and causing things like forklifts to operate unmanned. After you acquired your main objective and would have to scurry quickly, an inevitable car chase would ensue. This got old quickly. I didn’t need tailing missions time after time. Sometimes, I would jump on a boat and scoot off. At least I had a few options.
In driving during those escape missions, hacking becomes your best friend. There was little during the game more satisfying then setting off a burst pipe or hacking a road block to rise up just after I had passed it, destroying the pursuing car. Any car you can see, you can drive. Though you can purchase cars, which costs money, you can retrieve any car you have driven previously, so I always took that options rather than save up currency.
There is also a morality meter that helps Aiden to keep the police off of his back. Helping to stop crimes in progress? The city will view you as a watchful protector. Shooting a cop to kill rather than in the knee to escape? You become a villain. If you’re a villain, citizens will report your whereabouts to the police and, you guessed it, will set off more car-chase moments. These chase moments bring down the game’s momentum in its final chapters.
The hacking mini game was cleverly crafted and made me feel like a true hacker. I love the developer’s restraint in only selecting this one type of hacking because it keeps a consistent focus on it throughout the game while slowly getting more advanced as time goes on. The picture above shows the skills tree, where you can obtain a wider range of skills after successful missions.
Gunplay in Watch Dogs is simplistic and while that isn’t always a bad thing, it’s unpolished here. Aiming could be a little tighter, but I suspect that will be improved for the sequel. There’s a good selection of your basic guns, such as shotguns, automatic rifles, and pistols. You can craft items like grenades and other explosives, but the ability to craft items such as ctOS blackouts and scramblers was more exciting. In a blackout, if enemies are searching for you, all of the lights temporarily go out along with the inability to technologically communicate with their comrades. There’s an option to slow down time for a brief moment, known as “focus.” If you’ve played Red Dead Redemption or Max Payne, you’ll understand what I’m talking about.
In the world of Watch Dogs, you are always connected online to other players, much like the fictional Chicago you participate in. Other players can invade your game if you so choose, hacking your earnings. You must try to locate them before they take off and stop the upload. I tried this briefly, but it wasn’t integral to the game. There’s also the option for a few different online mini games, but I focused on the single player aspect.
Watch Dogs is a title I enjoyed thoroughly and surpassed my expectations. Ubisoft has another juggernaut on its hands and I recommend it to all kinds of gamers looking for a good open world adventure.
+ Story that paces well and ends with a satisfying conclusion while setting up a sequel with more than just a little teaser.
+ One of the best recreations of a metropolis in any game to date; Chicago is beautiful and buzzing with activity.
+ Hacking is a joy.
+ Driving takes a page from the Forza series, you can clear a room of villains like you would in an Arkham game, and you utilize stealth like an Assassin. Watch Dogs borrows elements from gaming’s best series and makes them its own.
– Though the graphics are gorgeous, they aren’t what they were advertised to be.
– Obnoxious repetitive car chase missions.
What is a hindsight review? It’s an article in which a Geekiverse writer reviews a game that they have never played before and is outside its launch window. It offers a fresh perspective and shows which games in your backlog are worth playing through.
Watch Dogs was reviewed on the Xbox One. It is also available on Playstation 4, Xbox 360, Playstation 3, PC, and Wii U.
Josiah LeRoy is The Geekiverse’s Senior Editor. You can follow him on Twitter via @josiahdleroy.