Reviews

Watch Dogs

Remember the first time you ever used a light switch as a kid? Prior to understanding how science and electricity worked, it all seemed like magic; and of the enthralling variety. It felt almost empowering. Couple that with the right amount of curiosity and you (much like me) would have been on the receiving end of many a scolding from your parents for being an annoying little git who’d play with light switches.

This is what Watch Dogs feels like. Yes, at its purest level, stripped from its myriad themes and inspirations, lies a game that’s empowering, but most importantly fun.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’d be hard-pressed to avoid the fact that Watch Dogs has you in the role of Aiden Pearce. Aside from the protagonist being a vigilante-hacker-what-have-you-anti-dudebro, he has access to almost every working component of the city. From hijacking camera feeds to blowing up steam pipes to causing blackouts, you can do it all.

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At its purest level, stripped from its myriad themes and inspirations, lies a game that’s empowering, but most importantly fun.

It’s as if the fine folks of Ubisoft decided to appeal to the kid in you with a room where you can turn on and off all the lights minus the parental drama.

Of course, this empowerment is nothing without the right controls. Whether you’re free-running across city streets or gunning down baddies by the boatload, you’ll be doing it in style. Everything works as it should. You’ll rarely find yourself at the receiving end of a mission failure screen due to the controls.

Barring the driving, of course. Well, at least the cars. Most four-wheeled vehicles in Watch Dogs handle like boats. On concrete. This leads to more than a few segments being more irritating than they should be. Chase sequences and escapes take a while to get accustomed to and I’d recommend using an actual boat whenever possible. Or, at the very least, a motorcycle.

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From hacking into Chicago’s CTOS network to getting some one-on-one time with the city’s most reclusivee gangsters, you can do it however you see fit.

Vehicular vexation aside, there’s good amount of freedom on how you can tackle most missions. From hacking into Chicago’s CTOS network to getting some one-on-one time with some of the city’s most reclusive gangsters, you can do it however you see fit, which is welcome because the game’s stealth mechanics, while derivative, work just fine.

Borrowing from Splinter Cell: Conviction, Watch Dogs lets you move from cover to cover to get to your goal unseen. Pop your head up for too long and your foes will end you. There’s an indicator to show how aware they are of your presence and you have a ton of distractions, ranging from simple audio distractions to making an enemy’s phone explode. There’s enough of choice to make up for the game’s early predictability.

Yes, you read right. Early on, you’ll find yourself wondering if this isn’t a modern day equivalent of Assassin’s Creed. There’s a seemingly simple mission structure that has you scoping out a locale, carrying out a hit or a similar objective, and simply running away or chasing after someone. Oh, and there’s a fair number of computer towers to hack into in order to progress through the story.

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Watch Dogs becomes grittier than expected, tackling themes such as blackmail, family, human trafficking and manipulation along the way.

Depending on what you’re looking to gain access to, the method of hacking differs. Simple things like cameras demand the press of a button. Strongholds and enemy installations have you tackling puzzles reminiscent of BioShock’s hacking, wherein you control the flow of data via pipes. There are timers attached to specific pipes which further add to the tension, but by and large, you’ll rarely find them being much of a challenge.

Some elements, such as the game’s skill system, are useful, allowing you craft items that let you create area-wide blackouts or prevent the authorities from scanning you. Others, like the notoriety system that gauges your morality based on your actions, feel tacked on and extraneous. Did I mention you can slow down time too? Well, you can, much like Max Payne.

However, thanks to the robust options in terms of what you can do in missions, such as stealth and distracting (or killing) your opponents, the feeling of been there, done that is staved off. And just as that contemptuous familiarity returns, the game opens up with missions that are anything but phoned in. Without spoiling much, Watch Dogs becomes grittier than expected. It tackles themes such as blackmail, family, human trafficking and manipulation along the way, all while throwing you into intriguing scenarios. There’s enough fodder for analysis for all and sundry, and I won’t be surprised if some parts of the internet would outrage over what it does.

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The city looks great at night, in rain and early morning. Not so much during the day though, and I wish it felt more populated and bustling.

Oh look, I’m at the end of this review and I haven’t said a word about how it handles technically. And I almost sent it in as it is before realising that I would find myself on the receiving end of one angry commenter too many. So here it is – Watch Dogs looks good. The city looks great at night, in rain and early morning. Not so much during the day though, and I wish it felt more populated and bustling. There are a few jaggies and a bit of texture pop-in as well, but nothing offensive enough to keep you from playing. There is some minor slowdown post-mission, but aside from that, it maintains the advertised 30 fps for most part. This was on the PS4.

So if you were expecting a game that’s all action from the very beginning, be warned: Watch Dogs is somewhat of a slow burn. Throw in characters that are anything but cliché and dialogue that isn’t gag-worthy, and you have a game that’s rather competent. There’s a solid attempt at narrative, but it takes awhile to hit the ground running. Once it does, you’ll find it tough to put the game down. It might not be the GTA-killer some of you expected, but it’s welcome all the same.

IVG's Verdict

8/10
  • Slick premise
  • Flexibility in tackling missions
  • Looks good
  • Slow to start
  • Car handling could be better
  • City needs more people
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