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Hype can be a strange thing. On one hand, hype is exactly what every developer wants when they show off a brand new IP. People start talking about the game and become increasingly excited to play it and expect something that will blow them away. On the other hand, hype can create completely unrealistic expectations and in the end disappoint the consumer after waiting for such a long time.
Watch Dogs was always going to receive some backlash after it was so well received at E3 2012 and after numerous delays and graphical downgrade rumors, it had seemed the Watch Dogs bubble may have burst. After playing the game for countless hours and having more realistic expectations, Watch Dogs was everything I had hoped it would be when I first saw it revealed. It may not be the crazy, ground breaking next generation experience some had hoped, but it is a fantastic open world game with enough unique elements that fans of the genre should not hesitate to play.
Watch Dogs tells a simple story of revenge after our protagonist, Aiden Pierce, suffers a horrible tragedy. A failed robbery leads to the death of his niece instead of him and he seeks to track down and make the people responsible pay for these actions. By no means the next great video game story, it certainly served a purpose and compared to others within the genre I found it to be interesting enough to keep me invested until it’s conclusion.
I liked Aiden as a protagonist even if he was a little dull at times and sometimes came across as quite robotic. The supporting cast was a mixed bag. Clara was interesting enough but the main enemies felt a little underdeveloped as they didn’t get much screen time for me to care enough about finding and killing them. Going forward I’m not sure I’m attached enough to any of them to care if any feature in future installments. This game’s draw is definitely it’s setting and premise over it’s actual plot and characters.
It’s in this setting and premise that things start to get very interesting indeed. Our own personal privacy is something that is becoming more and more of an issue recently with the rise of cameras and news of agencies like the NSA spying on people. While the game doesn’t directly address any of these issues, it certainly raises the questions and fears that many of us have and I hope this is focused on more as the franchise continues.
Gameplay feels fun and never became frustrating or felt strange in any situation. Gun play is solid when forced to use it but I always preferred using brains over brawn in most situations and cover controls work great. Driving does feel floaty to begin with and takes some getting used to but after a few hours it felt totally fine and what you would expect from this genre.
One of the more refreshing and surprising aspects of the gameplay I found was how well stealth can be implemented in most situations. Sure, there are still plenty of gunfights and car chases but in most combat scenarios I found myself being able to manipulate the environment via hacking and dodging enemies while stealthily executing them all without being seen. I have always loved stealth games but rarely find the mechanics work that well but in this instance I had zero problems. This wasn’t an aspect I expected from this game and was probably what I enjoyed most from the experience.
Watch Dogs did give me a very strong “GTA clone” vibe that was very prevalent during the PS2 era with titles such as True Crime and Driv3R trying to emulate the incredible success of Grand Theft Auto. This is a good thing as I loved all those games and this felt like a modern version of those kind of titles. It has enough new elements to make it stand out but also borrows heavily from the game that started the genre and in the end created my favorite “GTA clone” for many, many years.
However, don’t take that as a criticism. This game has many elements that makes it different to GTA such as it’s fantastic use of stealth that I already mentioned. By far this game’s biggest hook is of course the hacking. I loved how powerful I felt when either destroying a pursuing cop car with a road block or creating an explosion to kill a nearby enemy. Guiding my viewpoint through cameras to access new areas felt new and interesting and overall I feel the way hacking is used is excellent. The individual character profiling could have maybe been more useful but after over 30 hours of play time so far, I still enjoy all the little perks that make this game unique in a very familiar genre.
One of the big things talked about when Watch Dogs was first revealed was it’s always connected world and how players can enter and exit each other’s games seamlessly for hacking and other benefits. Unfortunately this promise is not delivered as the online offering is just a few short modes and ultimately I found myself playing on my own 99% of the time. I don’t mind as I prefer this experience be a single player one but given how important this element seemed to the developer, it’s definitely something that could be improved going forward.
As you would expect from a Ubisoft open world game, there is a ton of content for you to consume outside of the main story. There are numerous collectibles, unlockable songs, extra weapons and cars to unlock; enough to keep you playing for easily over 40 hours. Some of the side missions feel slightly boring but others like the Gang Hideouts are a lot of fun that sometimes require tactics as to how to best approach the enemies. Privacy Invasions are also another cool concept where you hack someone’s camera and see a personal conversation or act. Not all of them are interesting but a few definitely made me laugh seeing what people do behind closed doors.
Chicago looks great, even if it doesn’t feel like a completely alive and fleshed out world. It is a nice backdrop to the action, but none of the vistas will blow you away anytime soon. Getting across the map via fast travel is quick and overall the game runs great. I didn’t experience any glitches or hiccups during my entire time with the game, and that’s something I don’t think I’ve said too often playing open world games.
Watch Dogs, in a lot of ways, is a sum of many parts. Assassin’s Creed and Splinter Cell have both influenced the gameplay, as well as every open world crime game before it and while it doesn’t do any individual element amazingly well, the overall package is certainly an impressive one. Hacking, the game’s unique selling point does however feel fresh and is enough of a new element that stops Watch Dogs from ever feeling like just another action game. It could do with having it’s own identity more and hopefully as the franchise moves forward this will happen. I really enjoyed the game and would definitely be down for more hacking based, open world craziness with a few of the small oddities fixed to create something very impressive indeed. Until then, there’s still plenty of fun to be had in this very strong first entry.