Watch_Dogs is a game that has gone through a lot of controversy since its E3 announcement, especially in regards to its graphical capabilities. Some label it as an over-hyped mess promised by Ubisoft Montreal even though they could not deliver. But despite the negative follow-up to the game’s development news, the game is without a doubt an entertaining, well designed game. Watch_Dogs shows that you don’t have to be innovative or ground breaking to still deliver an enjoyable gameplay experience.
Aesthetics (Story, Graphics, Sound)
Watch_Dogs’ story follows Aiden Pierce, an elite hacker turned vigilante after the death of his daughter. It’s time for vengeance in futuristic Chicago, now complete with a completely integrated, citywide computer OS, and you’ll see every cliche vengeance plot beat hits its mark here from the pleading loved ones who tell you it’s not worth it to the eventual descent into how far you’ll go for resolution. The story is, at best, mediocre, a bit predictable, and doesn’t necessarily stand out among the other action games of its genre. Characters are well voiced and have a bit of engaging quirk to them, but the dialogue is unoriginal. It’s not a bad story, but it won’t have you jumping from story mission to story mission eager to find out what happens next.
Here it comes, Watch_Dogs’ most controversial element: the graphics. The game is 720p and locked at 30fps, an announcement by Ubisoft that made many who watched the game’s E3 reveal shake their heads in confusion and contempt. But to be honest, the downgrade on graphics is not too noticeable on the PS4. It still looks great for a next-gen game; the clarity and sharpness of the world are a huge contributing factor in bringing near-future Chicago to life as the city still looks pretty stellar. Textures, facial animations, and character models aren’t the best as they pale in comparison to other next-gen titles, but they’re still pretty good.
Gameplay (Combat, Systems, Mechanics)
The gameplay in Watch_Dogs is, in general, enjoyable if not a bit stinted. For an open world game that emphasizes control over the environment and offers a mixture of different play styles, the actual availability of actions given to the player is limited. Aiden himself can’t melee without a prompt and can’t jump without a prompt either; the available clothing choices are very limited, the camera distance to the character is too close just to name a few. In earnest, the game feels like it’s holding me back from enjoying the world to its fullest. Driving and shooting both feel pretty good though as they deliver tight controls and a good feel to their models and functions. The problem with Watch_Dogs is that for every success and little detail they get right, there’s another detail they missed or left out.
However, despite the lack of character freedom in the game, the hacking mechanic is fantastic. Acting as the main thematic mechanic in Watch_Dogs, hacking gives the player the ability to interact with the environment on varying levels of scale, whether it be something as small as bursting a small water pipe or something as big as raising an entire bridge. Hacking is a simple mechanic to use, just a point and click interface, yet timing is crucial in using it right to set a trap or disrupt pursuers. It has its bugs here and there, such as auto targeting errors, but for the most part it works pretty well. The best example and a personal favorite is blackout. This tool shuts down power in a set block radius, plunging the city of Chicago into complete darkness and giving you an opportunity to escape or execute a stealthy assault. It gives the player a sense of power that’s unrivaled in most games and looks amazing when you do it.
Another element that Watch_Dogs includes which I personally enjoy is the amount of unlockable content in the game. By completing a copious amount of side missions and collectibles, ranging from tedious to compelling, the player can unlock guns, cars, and skills. The amount of content left to be unlocked by the player through gameplay is a feature sorely missed in a lot of today’s triple A titles. These extras, whether their for vanity or for end game ultimate upgrades, have mostly been delegated to become DLC or are included sparsely. Unlockables give the player something to strive for, a decent reward to enhance the player’s endgame experience or allow them to take a new twist on the game’s mechanics; they’re a trend that I’m glad Watch_Dogs embraces, though it’s in the minority.
I read a quote somewhere that I think perfectly describes Watch Dogs: “Cheesecake is probably one of the most unoriginal desserts ever, but I still love cheesecake.” Watch_Dogs may not shatter industry or genre conventions, but that doesn’t mean it’s a bad game. The story and graphics are solid, entertaining pieces that fit well with the enjoyable gameplay, especially in regards to the various hacking tools at your disposal. It’s an entertaining game despite it’s flaws and controversies. I would definitely recommend Watch_Dogs to anyone who likes open world games or RPGs and enjoys a well refined gameplay experience.
Final Score: 8 / 10
Written and Edited by Tim Atwood