Watch Dogs made a big impression when it burst onto the scene at E3 in 2012. Taking control of a city by way of hacking sounded awesome and the graphics shown in the E3 demo were gorgeous. Everyone believed this game was bound to be the next great open world title.
With so much hype Watch Dogs had a lot to live up to, and unfortunately the finished product doesn’t come close to the lofty expectations.
Watch Dogs can’t make up its mind in all areas. Does it want to be a stealth based or an action adventure open world game? Is Aiden, the main character, a good guy or a bad guy? And does it want to convey a serious tone or does it want to be goofy like Grand Theft Auto? The game never makes up its mind throughout the 20-30 hour campaign, which makes for a confusing and uninspired final product.
From the very beginning it becomes obvious that Watch Dogs doesn’t demonstrate the same polish as other open world games. Stiff driving controls will have you crashing into everything, unoriginal shooting mechanics make firefights unexciting and Chicago, while graphically gorgeous, is littered with too many little things that pull you out of the game; such as windows not showing reflections and car models that feel boxy and unrealistic.
Thankfully the main draw of the game, hacking, works beautifully, but after a while it starts to lose its shine and begins to feel gimmicky. The city is riddled with set objects that can be hacked with a simple press of a button, allowing you to explode steam pipes or change stoplights. It’s a simple yet powerful tool at your disposal and using hacking to stun enemies or stop a car can be very helpful, but after about 10 hours of playing Watch Dogs you will have unlocked all the hacking abilities and seen everything that hacking has to offer.
You can only hack what the game wants you to and most of the time hacking isn’t even all that helpful in combat. Either objects are too far away from enemies or hacking certain objects will alert enemies to your presence. I found hacking taking a back seat to my more traditional tools as I played through the campaign.
Instead of using hacks to get through a situation I found myself using them as compliment to takedowns and weapons. Watching a guards movements and ambushing them from behind became easier than killing them by blowing up an electric box and when stealth actually works in Watch Dogs it feels great.
I was much more interested in clearing an entire area of enemies silently rather than running in guns blazing. Using a silenced pistol to get a head shot or performing a stealth take down on an enemy gave me more enjoyment than eliminating my enemies in a fire fight, but after I was successful at stealth the game would throw me into a gun fight. I wanted to be an unseen man in the shadows but the game didn’t let me and at times it got frustrating.
Almost all of these little annoyances could be overlooked if the story felt meaningful and interesting, but Watch Dogs has some of the most uninteresting characters and story you will find in any triple-A game.
The main character, Aiden, is as boring and cliché as they come and his motivation for his actions is weak at best. The story never makes sense and any character you meet along the way, aside from Jordi, never gives any reason to like or root for them.
The cliché writing in Watch Dogs made me groan out loud in annoyance multiple times. Every major twist I saw coming from a mile away and at no point did the story or its characters interest me.
Nothing made me want to move the story forward which in return made the campaign feel like a chore, something forced on me in order to unlock parts of the city or certain abilities. In fact I found myself only wanting to roam the city of Chicago.
Watch Dogs managed to create a city that feels alive and interesting. Each NPC you run across has a profile that displays their name, age, occupation, income and a quick fact about them. These facts can range from boring things like “Is late on child support payment”, to entertaining such as “Top player in fighting games tournament”. It’s a feature that I never grew tired of.
I thoroughly enjoyed walking the streets and reading facts about every NPC I walked past. Giving each NPC a profile gave life to the citizens of Chicago and made me feel like I was one person in a large city rather than the only actual living person.
The massive city of Chicago contains so many things to do. In fact most of the activities provide more enjoyment than the story missions. Collecting trophies from beating street games or finding collectibles in the city excited me more than actually progressing the story.
Ubisoft obviously spent a lot of development time on making the city of Chicago. With games to be played, places to check in, people to hack and crimes to stop, Chicago feels alive and it’s impressive. Add on the multiplayer and free roaming in Watch Dogs Chicago can be a lot of fun.
With multiplayer enabled other gamers are free to invade your personal game to try and hack you, you must find and kill the invader before time runs out. This enjoyable and elaborate game of hide and seek makes for some interesting and original multiplayer.
Running around trying to find the player who invaded my game before time ran out was an adrenaline rush, and the feeling of accomplishment I got if I successfully found and killed the intruder was a feeling that not many games have given me.
And if you are daring enough to invade another player’s game you will be on the edge of your seat the entire time. Any gamer could get hooked on the intense feeling you get as you watch the player run around desperately searching for you as the percentage slowly ticks up hoping to reach that 100%.
Watch Dogs does a lot of things right: Chicago feels alive, hacking provides enjoyment and the original multiplayer will have you hooked, but at the same time Watch Dogs fails at a lot of major things. The boring story and characters, the game’s failure to decide what it wants to be and some unpolished mechanics make take a lot of the enjoyment away from anything Watch Dogs does right.
The gorgeous and entertaining city of Chicago and enjoyable multiplayer are weighed down by a boring story and unpolished game mechanics. Watch Dogs feels a lot like the first Assassin’s Creed. It came onto the scene with a bang and excited everyone, but it didn’t live up to the hype. The game feels incomplete, but also feels like a great foundation for something bigger.
6 out of 10