Nothing screamed “the next gen is here” more than Ubisoft’s E3 2012 stage reveal of Watch Dogs. The PlayStation 4 and the Xbox One weren’t even revealed yet, but everyone knew what Watch Dogs was heralding when Ubisoft showed it off for the first time.
Two years and one delay later, we finally get to hack the mean streets of Chicago. Is Watch Dogs a next gen standard bearer or does it barely straddle the line between the last generation and this one?
Watch Dogs takes place in the nebulous near future where a tech company called Blume has installed a city-wide operating system called ctOS in the Windy City tying everything, from the police presence to the power grid, together. This is where stern white man Aiden Pearce comes in, as one half of a fixer/hacker team with his buddy Damien Brenks. After a supposed milk run goes sideways and his niece ends up dead in a botched hit, Aiden goes underground and becomes a vigilante known as The Fox (although he’s only addressed as such once), taking his brand of justice to the streets.
Watch Dogs is a gritty revenge tale where Aiden tries to track down the folks who killed his niece while his sister constantly tries to tell him to let it go. Watch Dog’s story about surveillance and giving up our privacy for convenience is a wasted opportunity, rife with cliches, lazy (and sort of sexist and racist) stereotypes and hokey dialogue.
Aiden undergoes his quest alongside his trusty cellphone which he uses to hack into the ctOS and turn the city into his weapon. Sure it’s kind of a stretch that the ctOS would cover everything from steam pipes to forklifts, but hiding in a corner while you look through cameras (you can hop from one camera to another within a limited, albeit generous, range) and drop pallets on people and explode grenades attached to guard’s belts offers a sort of odd violent voyeurism to Watch Dogs’ combat scenarios.
This voyeurism extends to the open world gameplay where a big chunk of what you’ll be doing is using the Profiler app to take a peek at the citizens of Chicago’s personal lives and hack their phones for bank account info, songs, side missions and text conversations, to name a few. One set of side missions actually involves Aiden breaking into building security to spy on people in their homes which is rather creepy.
Watch Dogs’ hacking tricks is where its originality ends. The rest of the game is fairly standard open world fare and the game does little to try and stand out from the pack in this regard. You can engage in a little sneakiness, but most of the time you’ll be shooting guys from cover or driving to evade pursuers, the latter of which is a hassle because of the poor driving mechanics. Watch Dogs is aggressively average in terms of gameplay and stuff in the open world for you to do. There’s a sort of perfunctory sense to the game, where everything functions on a level that you expect from a competently-made open world game but it doesn’t go out of its way to try and differentiate itself.
It’s also worth noting that Watch Dogs looks notably worse than it did in 2012. There is a PC mod out there that can give the game some of its shine back, but this is not a good looking title by any means. This is especially disappointing when you remember that this game was poised to usher in the next generation.
Watch Dogs doesn’t do much to set itself apart from the large stable of open world drivey-shooty games out there. On top of downgraded presentation, a bland and unsympathetic protagonist and not offering anything that you can’t already get in the clogged open world genre outside of the hacking, Watch Dogs is not really worth a second glance anymore.
An Aside on Multiplayer from Anthony:
I love the multiplayer in Watch Dogs.
The first time I was hacked, it was annoying because I had little idea what was happening. But then I started to hack people myself and I found it addictive, a high-tech game of hide-and-seek that I excelled at. I would follow my victim’s movements using cameras and dart from place to place to keep them guessing, all the while laughing at their misguided attempts to find me.
I soon figured out the best way to counter being hacked, which is to get somewhere isolated and lie in wait. If you are hiding inside a dumpster and some dude jumps inside, shoot them, for they are the one you are looking for. I spent entire nights playing the online components and even now as I have traded the game in, I find myself wishing I could play just that portion. It can be annoying when you are in the middle of something and someone hacks you, but embrace it because it really does no major harm to you if you lose.
Watch Dogs is mainly average, but the online game is far superior.
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