Watch Dogs ReviewFiled inside: Reviews
There is a certain stigma when it comes to games with lengthy development cycles. After a few less-than-stellar showings from some highly anticipated games (we’re looking at you Duke Nukem), it’s hard not to immediately start questioning the quality of a game that sees a multitude of delays and re-works. So it’s no surprise that many gamers would question the fate of Watch Dogs. The Ubisoft developed and published product has been under development for five years, and while that’s a very short window compared to some other titles, it’s still a rather lengthy time frame. But now that Watch Dogs is finally in the hands of eager gamers, we’re learning that the title’s lengthy development cycle was a worthwhile investment.
Crafting a massive, open world game without load times isn’t as easy as some would think. Graphics, rendering, and overall game composition play an important role in ensuring a massive adventure without the wait. The veteran developers at Ubisoft know this, but still managed to give us a release that is packed full of visual goodies and a slew of extra graphical elements.
There may be times when you experience slow down, or when cutscenes within the game stutter (more notably on PC), but the negative issues that plague Watch Dogs become nothing more than a subtle annoyance when you begin exploring Ubisoft’s vision of a technologically enhanced Chicago. The sprawling metropolis is filled to the brim with busy business people, eccentric individuals, and artistic types. Massive buildings stretch tall into a rapidly changing skyline, and colorful foliage adds a splash of nature to the city’s monochromatic, Urban feeling.
The finished visual product is an enthralling and entertaining environment that offers up a multitude of differing areas. There are slums, aristocratic locales, industrial zones, historical landmarks, and even a rural addition that will give you the feeling of small town living. The environment in its entirety is perhaps the most interesting graphical aspect of this release, but that shouldn’t take away from the rest of the visual goodies. The title’s lens flares, character animations, vehicle models, weather changes, and structures are all solid, and easily on par with other open world affairs and current graphical advancements.
There is one fairly negative issue to note, concerning how developers handled the reflections on windowed buildings and mirrored objects. Rather than a true representation of the reflection in a given area, you’re presented with an “alternate universe” of sorts, where individuals and intersections from completely different parts of the city are shown. This is definitely due to the “rush” that developers were put under to finally bring this game to fruition, and it by no means ruins the gameplay. But it could have looked so much better had they taken the time to finish it.
If you want to separate yourself from the pack in this era of open world adventures, you need to have a hook, something that differentiates you from the traditional “create chaos and bedlam” rules set by games like Saints Row and Grand Theft Auto. Watch Dogs has a hook, one that brings a refreshing angle to this genre of game. In a remotely controlled Chicago, your phone is your best friend. A variety of underground organizations and tech-heads have given birth to a series of hacking programs and backdoors like no other. A simple flick across your device can give you access to a multitude of ctOS controlled devices, including things like cameras, bridges, blockades, and security devices.
Running from police, eliminating threats, and gathering information becomes an entirely new experience in Watch Dogs, as you’re given the technological tools to hack items from a distance. Opening and closing garage doors gives you access to personal shortcuts, overloading steam pipes and grates can cause explosive damage, and perfectly timed blockades can eliminate any would-be pursuers. You’re even capable of destroying transformers, plunging certain parts of the city into total darkness, which will give you the ability to sneak undetected around enemies.
You’ll have the ability to race through the streets in a vehicle, and you can even make your way through some sticky situations on foot by using Parkour elements, but hacking is definitely where this game shines. It’s taken to such a raw level, allowing you to siphon money remotely from bank accounts, spy on potential crimes with a nifty “citizen profiler”, or even catch a glimpse at individuals in everyday situations by hacking into apartment cameras, laptops, and other personal visual devices. Amidst all the chaos and action is a world teeming with backstory, and riddled with emotional, comedic, and sometimes outrageous personal moments between the city’s many residents.
It’s elements like this that make the gameplay such a massive step in the right direction. The time and careful planning that was put into place to give gamers a truly evolving and interactive world is very admirable. There is a storyline to the Watch Dogs adventure, but half the fun is simply exploring, collecting items, playing mini-games, and observing the public.
Aiden Pearce is an uncle scorned. His niece is ripped from this world too soon because of past choices he’s made. As a fast-minded smooth-talking and handsome individual, Aiden has all the elements to verbally bully his way through a variety of situations. He’s not necessarily a master hacker, but due to his connections and relationships, he’s supplied with a multitude of hacking tools that allow him access to almost anything he could ever want. But only one thing weighs heavily on his mind, the responsibility for his niece’s death.
Watch Dogs employs a classic “revenge conquers all” scenario in which the protagonist sets out on a journey to bring a killer to justice. At times Aiden is consumed by his guilt, and motivated by his rage. On the outside it’s rather cookie-cutter, but the story unfolds into layers that far surpass the original vision that is presented to us at the beginning of the game. Many elements combine to craft a theatrical event, a story that is broken into acts, and an adventure that sees many twists and turns. The picture of a technologically advanced Chicago is not as clear-cut as you are led to believe.
Many villains play their part in Aiden’s story for redemption, and there are some instances in which his quest for retribution is sidelined by a greater need to help those around him. He is a protagonist at heart, and the story follows his struggle to right his wrongs, while maintaining a focus on what’s truly important. But the game is somewhat open to interpretation, and some elements within the title allow for you to twist how the world perceives Aiden. He may be out on a journey for justice, but making poor choices and injuring innocents will label the hero as an anarchist vigilante. The karmatic scale doesn’t have much bearing on that actual story itself, but it does affect how the general public treats and perceives you.
The story itself is lengthy and well designed. A cast of colorful characters, seedy antagonists, and interesting afterthoughts makes for a playthrough that is action-packed, adventurous, often comedic, and always entertaining. The storyline is strong, and it really shines as you slowly unfold the puzzle that is Aiden Pearce’s quest for understanding.
Watch Dogs is not by any means a lengthy developed title that falls short of its expectations. If anything, it greatly exceeds the negative outlook that most of us assumed. It’s obvious that the elongated development cycle wasn’t due to an issue with work, contracts, or studio shifting, but was instead a product of the sheer size of this title. There is so much to do, so many different things to see and experience, and it’s no wonder it took developers such a long time to get everything finished. It is unfortunate that some things seem a little rushed, or that some additions could have been “so much better,” had a little more time been spent on them, but it’s understandable considering all the flak that Ubisoft got from gamers concerning the push-backs for this title.
Still, at the end of the day, time-frames and complaints aside, Watch Dogs is a great release, a must play, and a very welcome addition to the open world genre.