Hello there everyone, I'm Learn2Eel and today I wanted to talk about a game that has been among my most anticipated releases since it was first unveiled back in June 2012. I am of course referring to Ubisofts' Watch Dogs, an open world game inspired by famous series' such as Grand Theft Auto and Assassins Creed. I have spent the past week almost religiously playing it, exploring every nook and cranny and being immensely impressed by what I have seen. I hope you find this review helpful!
As an initial disclaimer to these video game reviews, I own the
following video game platforms; Personal Computer (PC), Playstation 4
(PS4), Playstation 3 (PS3) and Xbox 360 (X360). I will note which
platform a game is reviewed on in brackets next to the title. My reviews
operate under a typical 100 point structure that is divided into five
sub-categories, each rated from 1 to 10 and with the final score out of
50 doubled to fit the 100 point review scale.
Watch Dogs (Playstation 4)
When Watch Dogs was leaked early to various minor review outlets and non-professional gamers, the general queries were centred around the gameplay of Watch Dogs and not its highly controversial visuals and quantity of content. Everyone knew this was not the same game we all saw at E3 2012, but what we didn't know was if the game itself could be as fun and diverse as the trailers made it out to be and this was a legitimate concern of mine as well. Suffice it to say, Watch Dogs has delivered on the promises and gives us a game where the player character has a ridiculous amount of tools to handle almost any situation. While certain story missions require a specific approach, be it stealth or combat, the theme of hacking remains prevalent throughout the game and is fantastic not in the depth of each individual "hack" but in the options it gives a player on the fly.
Let us use an unscripted police chase as an example; a citizen has witnessed your crime and proceeds to call the police on you. Before the police are even involved, you can attempt to either steal the witness' phone, threaten them and perhaps cause them to hang up in fear of rebuttal or jam communications in the area temporarily. Assuming the law enforcers do make their way in, you can either steal a car and attempt to escape in haste, you can try to outrun them on foot through alleyways and hide on the roofs or even inside certain buildings, or you can pull out your weapons and start to go to town on the ever increasing strength of the police. If you choose to flee by car, you can use the police's tools against them by setting up spike traps, closing and opening gates to block pursuit or even using timing-based hacks to raise blockers, explode steam pipes and cause crashes via ongoing traffic to stop their pursuit.
If you want to get away without harming any of your pursuers, you can use the many alleyways and parking lots to flee and hide, or raise bridges so that they cannot chase you. If you decide to flee on foot, you can hide behind nearby cars and fences or set up cover on the fly with city-wide protectors and lifts. If helicopters put such plans in jeopardy you can use unlocked hacks to disable them temporarily, or cause a massive black-out at the touch of your phone. If you decide to engage the threat head on, you can use traffic jams at intersections to set up moving cover through player-initiated car crashes or turning all the lights green to hilarious effect. Afterwards, pull out multitudes of sniper rifles, grenade launchers, assault rifles, sub-machine guns, shotguns and pistols to destroy police vehicles and the law enforcers themselves. Use situational hacks to your advantage by causing a black out, luring opponents away from the pack and subduing them silently. Grenades and moving car-based cover are your friends here, but the AI is no push-over and will attempt to flank and surround you at every opportunity.
As you can see, from even one minor, completely random encounter with one of many enemy types, Watch Dogs offers you a staggering array of options to deal with the situation - each of which can utilize hacks as much as you want. This is the name of the game and what makes Watch Dogs such a fantastic experience in terms of gameplay; versatility and adaptability. The game world is literally yours to command and sometimes you will feel like a god as you cause havoc and destruction on a scale and with methods unheard of in most other open-world games. The hacking is simple and all works at the touch or holding of one button, while other controls are fluid and easy to get a hang of. You can climb over much of the available terrain and this adds a vertical element to many encounters throughout the game. Approaching missions either through a mix of both stealth and combat or purely one or the other leads to a game that is very accessible to fans of both the action and stealth genres, while combining the two leads to some of the best fun I have had in any open world game styled after the Grand Theft Auto series.
One of the big aspects of the game is gunplay and the third person cover mechanics, all of which are fluid and feel natural. There are supposedly over thirty individual weapons to be found in the game which are all divided into the usual weapon classes all mentioned prior, and each gun feels satisfyingly unique. One sniper rifle in particular will automatically set any vehicle in the game ablaze with one shot, while the thud of a desert eagle is as satisfying as silently eliminating targets via precise headshots with a silenced pistol. The shooting mechanics are good and work around the seemingly mandatory cover system - it bears mentioning that like in third person cover based shooters, ignoring cover will get you killed very quickly - which is all simply used again with just one button. The game highlights where you can move to from between cover to cover so that you can easily flank or counter flanking enemies swiftly, while all potential hackable objects glow when your camera focuses on them. The weapon wheel to select each weapon and the controls used for swapping weapons are intuitive despite the vast range of guns on offer, though once you do unlock more than five weapons of the same type it can take a little while to find your preferred fire-arm. The Focus mechanic is a nice addition to the gunplay and allows you to chain headshots together in a sequence for some really awesome moments of "skill", but I find myself only using this in dire situations to try and get out of trouble. There is also a melee takedown attack Aiden can use against most enemies in combat, but this is again done at the press of one button and has no real depth aside from a nice range of differing animations.
Overall, the most satisfying aspect of Watch Dogs is its unique approach to story and side missions by leaving control of the situation almost entirely in the hands of the player. The level of interactivity with the city of Chicago is unprecedented in terms of the scope and number of options present as the game offers a multitude of methods to deal with any given situation or problem. From solid shooting mechanics to a well designed but not fully fleshed out stealth system, the incredible wealth of available hacks and the ease and fluidity with which the game controls, Watch Dogs is a blast to play and is a fun exercise in what is capable with open world adventures and manipulating so many tools at your disposal to different ends. The game also offers good driving mechanics that form a central aspect of the game with the ability to hide from distant enemies in ground vehicles, a wealth of different vehicles that all steer uniquely and even a range of motorcycles and boats for variety. The game gives you a huge world to explore and so many unique tools that exploration is sometimes as fun as the combat or stealth sections, but the game is undeniably at its best when it leaves the circumstances of engagement up to the player. Story missions suffer from being scripted next to completely unscripted events like engaging in a shoot out with local criminals or performing a high speed chase to escape the police. It has been too long since I have played a game like this that really offered more than one distinct style of play - the last major one that did it right being Deus Ex: Human Revolution and Crysis before that - and Watch Dogs is a fantastic gameplay experience that suffers only from some bouts of repetition and each of its individual mechanics being good not great. It is the combination of these above average elements that serve to make for a great time in the city of Chicago and make the player like a giddy dog watching for people to chase.
I'll be brutally honest here to clear up any rumours or conjecture surrounding this game; the visuals are nowhere near the standard of the E3 2012 reveal. There is no revolutionary lighting, there are no obvious simulated wind effects and the textures are incomparable. However, that doesn't stop Watch Dogs from still being a visually impressive game - at least on the Playstation 4, anyway. While this game comes nowhere near the distinct image quality and sharpness offered by the 1080p inFamous: Second Son, it has the distinct edge not only in variety of character models but also the sheer amount of content spread across a screen at any given point. Where inFamous was notably light on non-player-characters, vehicles and visual enemy diversity, Watch Dogs can have dozens of cars and characters all on screen at once and even in such chaotic encounters involving explosions, smoke and gunfire I have yet to experience a single drop in frame rate. This is a game that is incredibly well optimized to the Playstation 4 hard-ware and gives us a pure locked 30 frames per second image that isn't compromised when the screen is over-loaded with effects.
One notable example of this was as I was intercepting a criminal convoy with five different vehicles all fielding between two and four enemies. I caused a preliminary massed car crash at a four way intersection to give myself lots of cover and proceeded to destroy three of their transport cars. These exploded and caused other nearby cars to detonate shortly after, leaving at least six smoking wrecks in a large open area. Citizens were either trapped in cars, running for safety or struggling to survive and hide amidst what resulted in a massive fire-fight. The pelting rain and glimpses of thunder in a late afternoon back-drop gave the images a dank and desperate theme that elevated the intensity of the situation with the darkness being illuminated by the flashes of weapons firing and multitudes of unique non-player-character models all performing their programmed roles. Not once in this incredible - and random! - encounter did the frame noticeably drop which is something that continues to amaze to this day a week after experiencing it first hand. The game is masterful at delivering a jam-packed image with a varied setting in Chicago with so many different characters and objects to interact with, while the detail in terms of textures and effects is still a level above what a Playstation 3 or Xbox 360 open-world game could deliver. Possibly the best aspect of the visuals is the animation variety; whatever action Aiden performs, the animation is slick and almost never glitches or fails to capture the right response. Watch Dogs wears the inspiration from Assassins' Creed in this department on its sleeve and it only serves to further immerse the player into a very gritty and realistic visual style.
One of the truly amazing aspects of Watch Dogs is the immense amount of potential destructibility in the game and how each impacts the game both visually and in terms of gameplay. Smashing over a telephone pole or two can cause a district-wide black-out in which all the street lights explode and only the illumination offered by cars and distant parts of the city can show you the way forward. If you leap out of a car and attempt to traverse the pole, your character will interact with it in some way either by pushing out of the way as he runs or being forced to move around it, based on each particular items' bulk. Where inFamous: Second Son offered incredibly limited vehicle destruction and damage models with no real variance between explosions and no really distinct signs of normal damage, Watch Dogs provides a well rounded vehicle damage model and a few different explosion effects. These are not in the quality and detail of the Grand Theft Auto series and come nowhere near the physics offered by Grand Theft Auto 4 in particular, but they are still an improvement on the Playstation 4's other recent open world game. As far as actual textures and detail are concerned, this is still a very good looking game and the general art design and colour disparity is all very nice. While Watch Dogs certainly doesn't much up to its hyped visuals before release, it is still a good looking game that wins on the sheer amount of effects and characters filling the screen at any time with no discernible frame rate drops. Technically, this is an impressive game and one that also offers very nice weather effects with nice touches such as roads and streets remaining damp and sporting puddles after a rain-storm has just finished its cycle.
Where Watch Dogs is let down mostly is easily in the aural department, though it is again difficult to criticize this aspect of the game all that much. The voice acting is mostly of a good quality but I can't really say it is fantastic with the main lead sounding like he has throat cancer and most of the other cast sounding a bit dis-interested at times when they should be laden with emotion. The supporting and ambient dialogue is a bit of a mixed bag with citizens responding with repetitive and loud exclamations of surprise that are formed as grunts rather than words each time you drive a vehicle anywhere near them at a decent speed. On the other hand, the actual spoken dialogue is amusing and well acted for the most part with a surprising amount of hilarious quips and insults based on the players' actions; most notable of these was when a man yelled out "Run Forrest run!" when my character was sprinting down a side-walk.
The music is a nice mix of techno beats and generic rock, pop and rap songs galore via either mission-specific tracks or a multitude of differing radio stations. There's a lot of variety to the music and that is definitely good, but none of the tracks are really note-worthy and most of the Fixer Contract missions repeat the same exact song over and over again to their detriment. The sound mixing is probably the best aspect of the audio as there is a huge array of unique sound effects from differing sounds for most of the guns to distinct explosion noises based on their severity and size. This all seems simplistic but in a game as massive as Watch Dogs it is refreshing to not hear the same sounds in repetition; though I have heard some of them lots of the time like particular weapon noises and car explosion noises, I haven't been dulled or really noticed the repeats as yet which is to the game's credit. Overall, the audio as a whole does its job but doesn't do it in an inspired or particularly great fashion; the voice acting is mostly serviceable but not spectacular, the music is nice but repetitive and unremarkable, and the sound design is mostly good but nothing special.
There is a certain stigma in regards to open world games and the ability to break them with glitches and bugs due to their incredible size and scope, but Watch Dogs continues the trend set by recent examples such as inFamous: Second Son and Grand Theft Auto 5 by delivering a mostly functional game. Having logged well over thirty hours into Watch Dogs so far, I can firmly state that the game has been blissfully devoid of crashes or game-breaking glitches or bugs. I have yet to reset my Playstation 4 for any reason in regards to this game, nor have I fallen through the ground or clipped into and out of objects. In fact, it is difficult to pin-point any real glitches I have encountered as yet seeing as my experience with the game has been almost entirely clean.
The controls work flawlessly and as intended with only some very minor issues in regards to hacking a distant object when one is closer and in view, but these are so minor and rare that I can't really consider them a valid problem. It's amazing to think that a game this over-loaded in content could be so stable, but even more so than inFamous: Second Son I cannot point to any real issues. I guess I can say the jumping mechanic for the Spider Tank can be a bit wonky at times, but does it really matter when that is literally a mini-game? As surprising as it might be, I've had no clipping glitches whatsoever - the bane of open world video game development - and about the only time I have been frustrated with the game was due to my failure to realize certain Fixer Contract missions require your driven vehicle to be stationary to complete an objective. I am pleased to say that Ubisoft appears to have made an excellent decision by delaying Watch Dogs' release from October 2013 to May 2014 as the game is almost perfect in regards to stability. For an open world game, Watch Dogs sets a new and incredible standard for bug-fixing and glitch-stamping.
There's little doubt that Watch Dogs is among the best value for money video game purchases you could make in recent years with a staggering wealth of content and lots of variety to all the different side and story missions. Between seemingly randomly generated contract-based "quests", an unlimited amount of potential crimes to interrupt, unscripted events occurring as you roam the open world and a whopping thirty plus hour main story-line, Watch Dogs gives you so much stuff to do that you will never run out of things to do. This is before even considering the multiplication effect of all the different approaches to each mission the game gives you, with pure hacking based stealth, stealth mixed with silent take-downs, all guns blazing or violence mixed with hacking. That each locale typically offers several avenues of entry and advancement means that no one mission will ever play out the same way between players in regards to just how it is dealt with.
Behind all of this is a minor but still potentially game-changing Reputation system based on your actions towards civilians, criminals and law enforcement agencies. Discerning between outright criminal and vigilante mostly leads to small touches like radio stations commenting on the local populaces' support (or lack thereof) for primary protagonist Aiden Pearce or how often citizens will call for police intervention when you commit a crime such as grand theft auto or homicide. For even more variety and fun, Watch Dogs offers you tonnes of mini-games such as your typical poker-games that are given a unique spin with the ability to hack cameras to view your opponents' cards, while the Digital Trips offer you a reality-breaking experience based purely around fun before narrative. The best of these is undoubtedly the infamous Spider Tank game where you take control of a massive mechanical arachnid that must run around the city blasting police and citizens apart by the dozen at a time. Watch Dogs goes a step beyond most open world games in terms of just delivering lots of primary and side content by successfully varying its gameplay to offer up to three distinct approaches to missions, making it one of the most in depth video games of the decade so far.
The final score for Watch Dogs is a 45/50, or a 90/100, or a 9.0/10. This is a fantastic game and one that I recommend to all owners of next-generation consoles and high quality PCs that can leverage the impressive visuals of this game against its incredibly varied gameplay. Watch Dogs provides a level of unique content that can be replayed in a multitude of different methods that is unseen outside of classic series' such as The Elder Scrolls, while it is perhaps the most stable open world game I am yet to play with no memorable or discernible glitches and bugs to be found in my playing time. While its visuals may not meet the standard set by the E3 2012 presentation, the game otherwise more than lives up to the hype and is not to be missed.
The scoring system explained earlier is divided into 10 rating based
on a game's score out of 100 (or 10). This is the key used for each of
these 10 ratings.
1 - Horrible, do not purchase.
2 - Pathetic, nothing to really recommend it.
3 - Awful, one or two good things.
4 - Sub-par, a few redeeming qualities.
5 - Mediocre, not terrible but not good.
6 - Average, thoroughly ok and nothing else.
7 - Good, some issues but mostly recommendable.
8 - Great, a high quality purchase.
9 - Fantastic, recommended for all.
10 - Perfect, does everything right.
I thank you all so much for reading this article and I am eager to hear what you think of Watch Dogs. If you have any questions about the game or general queries about video game reviews, feel free to post a comment below. Cheers!