Watch Dogs

Game Review by Tom Hillman | 06 Jun 2014
Game title: Watch Dogs
Publisher: Ubisoft Montreal
Release date: 27 May 2014
Price: £39.99 - £49.99

Spider webs are fascinating aren’t they? Chicago’s hyper-connected operating system ctOS is Watch Dogs’ web. Its threads tap into every facet of life, funnelling information back and forth from traffic lights, water mains, bridges, transport, banking and even power grids. Any information, that flows through the web gets analysed and considered for future use. The spiders at the centre of this web have a nasty bite though.

You play as Aiden Pearce, a man who stumbles across a piece of information so powerful that people are willing to kill for it – and they do. The overarching story is compelling and you’ll come to empathise with Aiden and his allies. Unfortunately the same can’t be said for the dark forces at play that follow well tread “bad guy” tropes. Visually things also look pretty slick, especially at night, and the character animation is excellent, apart from some poor lip-syncing.

Aiden’s deemed dangerous, as aside from his aptitude with firearms (the mechanics of which feel great), his ability to manipulate anything connected to ctOS such as security, construction machinery, electric gates etc. is incredibly powerful. If it’s electrical and you can see it, you can probably hack it. You’ll jump from CCTV camera to camera before infiltrating vulnerable routers and servers all with the goal of getting more overall access and information.

What never gets tired in Watch Dogs is working out how to approach a mission - whether you’re setting off car alarms to distract guards or blowing water valves in their faces to gain a split second advantage as you move in for a takedown. It’s thrilling to case a joint and then sneak in and out without ever being detected. There’s also a great crafting system in place to add more options to your repertoire via single use apps, which create blackouts, jam communications, scan areas to search for enemies and more.

Seamless multiplayer is another of Watch Dogs’ greatest strengths; you can invade other people’s games and vice versa. One mode lets you hack into another player’sworld whilst trying to look inconspicuous as you disguise yourself as an NPC. If you manage to reach 100% without being made then you win but if your opponent manages to figure out you’re the hacker, using their profiler, then you’ll then engage in a breakneck chase to get away whilst you’re hunted down. This cat-and-mouse gameplay is awesome and thrilling on both sides.

Watch Dogs does have a few issues though. Ubisoft made a big point of saying that their Chicago would feel like a deep and well-realised world but scratch beneath the shiny veneer and it’s all a bit flimsy. As another example, hackable routers only appear on the outside properties associated with missions, not every house, breaking the illusion that ctOS is hooked into everything.

The campaign takes around twenty hours to complete and twice that for completionists. It feels like Ubisoft should have been more focused and instead of putting in poker, chess, racing, clam shell switcheroo betting, drinking games etc. they could have used that time to make the world a deeper experience. Some of the interesting side missions, like cracking human trafficking rings or catching a serial killer, are reduced to simple go here and press a button moments. It’s a real shame.

On the whole Watch Dogs is undoubtedly worth a play. It may have its faults but Ubisoft have kicked off a new series that not only delivers promise but a tremendousamount of choice as to how you want to approach your game.