Watch Dogs (Xbox One) Review
Ryan Bloom / Jun 6th, 2014 No Comments
Since it was announced at E3 two years ago, Watch Dogs has been many things. It was the game that was too pretty to be current generation when it debuted; it was a fresh take on the open world genre when its trailers suggested it offered something more; and it was too ambitious to be completed in time for the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One launch when it was delayed. Now, Watch Dogs is the one thing gamers everywhere wanted all along: available.
With two years of hype and a marketing budget that would seemingly be enough to purchase the Los Angeles Clippers come great expectations. Unfortunately, Watch Dogs is merely a shadow of what it has promised over the past two years, failing to live up to high expectations despite offering a new way to explore the open world.
Been There, Done That
Aiden Pearce is a man fueled by revenge–stop me if you’ve heard this story before. Pearce is sort of responsible for the death of his niece. Despite the urging of his sister and a nephew that is crying out for help, the only way for Pearce to find peace is to hunt down the people who killed his niece. The plot has enough twists to keep players engaged, but the story’s dark undertones and the noir atmosphere of Watch Dogs’ version of Chicago invoke memories of Max Payne–you could almost hear the signature theme music.
Armed with a smartphone that he can use to hack into almost anything in the ctOS-powered version of Chicago, Pearce is an expert hacker. Want to unlock doors? No problem. Trigger a car alarm to distract guards? Piece of cake. Move a forklift? Yes, for some reason you could even do that. Hacking cameras perched throughout the environment provides players with the opportunity to defeat enemies without getting near them, a more intriguing option than simply firing away.
Pearce’s smartphone enabled skills have similar powers to the gadgets used by another stealth Ubisoft hero, Sam Fisher of the Splinter Cell series. Watch Dogs is a new IP, but the game is littered with elements that feel like a rehash of other popular franchises. Trailers and gameplay footage trickled out over the past two years hinted at something fresh and different, but the revenge-filled plot, bullet time-like combat mechanics, stealth gameplay, and Pearce’s parkour abilities offer experiences already found in other titles.
A Side of Hacking
Like a teenage girl, Pearce is addicted to his smartphone. But rather than serving as a distraction to the outside world, the device further enhances his understanding of Chicago and the people inhabiting it. Passing by random NPCs reveals tidbits of information that are sometimes funny but mostly useless. However, some will open up side missions. This is where the smartphone addiction comes full circle. While it is not a distraction for Pearce, it is for players, causing them to veer off the campaign for side missions and encounters that do nothing to enhance the Watch Dogs experience.
Side missions include stopping criminals in the act, chasing down enemies, and performing tasks for extra cash. Completing extracurricular activities earns Pearce a reputation amongst the population but it has no affect on the rest of the game. Side missions are prompted countless times while exploring Chicago, and players will quickly become annoyed by constant requests to carry out meaningless actions.
The game revolves around hacking and gamers will experience their game actually being hacked by another real-life player in real time. During tense moments, players must locate the hacker in a designated area and take him down within a set amount of time. Watch Dogs is at its best when it raises the intense feeling of hopelessness brought on by being hacked.
The large open environment of Chicago is gorgeously rendered and interactive NPCs wandering the streets bring the city to life. Hacking into traffic lights, trains and other city-powered elements to escape from the police or cause massive accidents is extremely satisfying. But the game’s most rewarding moments are overshadowed by Watch Dogs’ anti-hero.
Even when the plot provides engaging moments, it is tough to root for Pearce. He is so self-involved with plotting his revenge that he loses sight of the fact that he is putting the living members of his family in danger. Players will want to help Pearce move on from his past, but instead they are forced to continue to do bad things, and in turn, bad things continue to happen to Pearce. Despite his smartphone’s abilities to control things around him, players get the sense they are not in control of Pearce, and each bad decision he makes drops him further down a dangerous rabbit-hole.
There are great moments in Watch Dogs and the openness of the realistic environment is a feat to be marveled on next-gen consoles. But Watch Dogs is not the unique experience Ubisoft hinted at over the past two years. At times, the open world game feels quite linear.
Watch Dogs does not bring any innovative ideas to the open world genre but it is a solid foundation for a new IP. The concept that anything could be hacked should strike fear in gamers in a world increasingly reliant on technology. When Watch Dogs’ tense moments recreate this fear, the game shines.
tags: review , ubisoft , watch dogs , watch dogs review