Watch Dogs – Review

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Posted June 19, 2014 by Guilherme Jacobs in Video Games

It’s hard to say if there was any game this year that generated more talk than Watch Dogs. Whether thanks to its graphics downgrade or for the potential the game had, chances are you had more than one conversation about it.

But now that it’s here, was Watch Dogs worth the hype? Not so much.

The thing about Watch Dogs is that it features lots of great ideas but rarely executes them well, starting with the story. In the game, Chicago has connected all of its software into one network, the citizenOS (ctOS for short), which means anyone that hacks into it has access to anything. That’s where Aiden Pearce comes in, our main character decided to use his hax0r skillz to avenge the death of his niece and make everyone responsible pay.

Sounds good. Except Pearce is as interesting as a fallen tree branch. It’s clear from the get go that the developers tried their best to make him cool. He dresses like a badass and has a Batman voice, but what he lacks is substance. This is a very personal story, yet, I don’t think I’ve gotten to know Pearce during may playthrough. He isn’t funny, he isn’t tragically dark, he is just downright boring. Ubisoft Montreal doesn’t give us any insight into his feelings and while we know why he’s fighting, a dialogue-less scene on a cemetery is as close to an emotional moment as the game gets. It’s hard to know if the actual plot was good because the entry point, the thing that should make the player care about the story, the main character himself, completely fails.

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The other big problem is the game’s main mechanic, the actual hacking. While Aiden walks around with his smartphone and has absolute control of the city we are just pressing buttons. We don’t get to choose how the hacking will act, what message will be sent, etc. Every hackable object in Chicago, be it a bridge, or a television works the same way: you point at it, you press a button, and it does a thing. If you press it again, it reverts back to its original state. If this was a game about you being Jean Grey, you’d be able to do pretty much the same things with your mind, so what’s so special about hacking? I felt like Ubisoft just scratched the surface of what this can be, maybe because it was limited by the Xbox 360 and PS3, but there is enormous potential here. It’s cute to see a blackout happen when you press square (or X), but it gets old quickly when you realize everything else works the same way, choice in Watch Dogs is just smoke and mirrors.

There are good things, while the hacking itself lacks variety, the missions don’t. There are plenty of different missions and sets of objectives in Watch Dogs and you won’t get that feeling from Assassin’s Creed III where you do the same thing over and over again. At one point, you’ll be jumping from the rooftop of a police station on a car, then you’ll be in a boat chase, then assaulting a fancy-car retailer, and on it goes. Watch Dogs has a wide range of objectives to be accomplished, specially when you take into account the side-missions. Besides diversity, there is quantity. There is a lot to do in this game, and to 100% it, you better be ready to put aside 40-something hours.

All of that takes place in a beautifully realized Chicago. The city and its surrounding counties are gigantic and full of life. It’s not uncommon to find unique things throughout the streets and alleys, like a lonely man playing soccer, kicking the ball against the wall, or a group of college friends playing a drinking game at a park.

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The best part of Watch Dogs, fittingly, is the one about connectivity. The multiplayer is excellent, fun and intriguing. It splits into two categories, first, the matches you find as you’re playing the campaign, such as when you’re walking by a place and someone starts hacking you out of the blue, your heart speeds up and you get desperate to find and kill whoever it is that dares steal data from Chicago’s top hacker. It’s fun, scary and addictive to play online this way. Also fun is to create a lobby with friends and jump into a match of decryption or a race, which to my surprise was the best part of the multiplayer. Most of Watch Dogs’ hacks are driving-related, so the racing itself becomes a Mario Kart-like thing, where instead of turtle shells, you use traffic lights to crash your adversary.

There is a vibe, an aura, similar to that of the first Assassin’s Creed in Watch Dogs. There are great ideas poorly executed, but with so much potential to do more, to be more, you can’t help but want to see what else the developers have in mind for this world. Watch Dogs 2 will happen, probably sooner than we think, and it can do for this series what Assassin’s Creed II did to that series. Watch Dogs greatest sin is not giving you the control it implies Aiden Pearce has.


About the Author

Guilherme Jacobs