Watch Dogs Review

Posted: May 28, 2014 by ryanlecocq in Reviews

[Home Page Carousel] Aiden_Gun_Down_99826

It’s not an eye for an eye, it’s a niece for every single one of you, your families, your employees and countless innocent people.

Watch Dogs is one of those games that suffers from the hype of being the “first confirmed next-gen game.”  Much like Oblivion or The Bouncer, this is that game that was revealed over a year before we even knew what the new consoles would look like and naturally carried the torch of what the “next-gen” would be like.  While I think that this is partially self-inflicted by the devs for announcing it so early, we as fans also carry some of the onus as the ones who built our expectations to impossible levels.  Watch Dogs is, in a nutshell, another sandbox game.  It’s on the good end of non-Rockstar sandbox games, because like others in this category (think Assassin’s Creed or Just Cause) it has a unique gimmick that makes it different enough from a GTA game.  Watch Dogs’ hacking mechanic, while simple, is the best part of the game.  It makes the experience compelling, even though judged just as a sandbox game, Watch Dogs is only average.  By that I mean the physics, AI and pathfinding are about the same semi-realistic as most games in the open-world genre.  Much like a True Crime or Saints Row game, there are serious realism flaws (like police not having boats).  Unlike those games however, the features unique to Watch Dogs are what makes most of the experience.  While it may not live up to the pie in the sky expectations of some, Watch Dogs definitely deserves it’s place above Saints Row, but still below Red Dead Redemption in the Sandbox hall of fame.

The Graphics

I’m going to get this out of the way first, since a large part of this game’s hype comes from it’s amazing visual showing at E3 2012.  The game looks good.  Not blow you away amazing, but above par for other games in its’ genre.  I have played it on PS3 and PC and watched it played on PS4 and this is true on any scale.  No matter what system you are playing on, Watch Dogs looks at least as good as comparable sandbox games on that platform.  So in this case I’m talking about games like AC4, GTA5 and Sleeping Dogs.  Watch Dogs does however suffer from poor optimization on PC.  Running at the highest settings takes probably double the specs that the same requires in Sleeping Dogs.  The effects on display don’t appear to be that different, so the culprit is most likely poor CPU efficiency.  This surprises me not at all, as every Assassin’s Creed PC port has had the same issues.  I don’t know if Canada just lacks competent DirectX developers or what, but this is just turning into a running joke at this point.  It takes a decent quad core at minimum to run the game at all and requires a newer i7 to run at the highest settings.  Considering that the PS4 and Xbox1 have considerably weaker CPUs, I would bet my left foot that this is just another sad case of Ubisoft doesn’t know how to write code.  The game still looks very good for a sandbox game if you have the specs (much like AC4), but I wish they would just figure it out so I can stop beating this dead horse.  The good news is that the game runs surprisingly good on the 360 and PS3.  If you own a midrange or older PC and a last-gen console, I totally recommend console as it will run the game faster and prettier.

Why Hacking makes this game

I’ll admit that the hacking feature is very simplistic.  Besides the mini-game involved in unlocking ctOS facilities, it mostly boils down to holding a button for a couple of seconds.  It’s not just the action itself that makes it fun though, it’s more how it changes every other aspect of the game.  For example, every pedestrian in the game is unique.  When you highlight them with your cursor, you see basic information about them and can decide whether or not to invade their privacy.  They don’t all have realistic schedules or activities or anything, but every person you see is loaded from a library of hand-crafted characters.  This sometimes leads you to encounter the same person several times in different situations.  Sometimes a crime would be happening and the victim is a guy I decided not to hack earlier because he was a low-paid gay rights activist.  I’m like “Hey!  Mr. Lee is cool with me and you are not taking his wallet d-bag!”  It creates a kind of rapport with the civilians that I have never experienced before.  I also had an experience where I shot all of the guards around a ctOS tower and then when looting them afterwards, found out one of them was paying for his mother’s cancer treatments.  I was like “Dude, that guy was a decent human being and I am a sh*thead.”  I never killed another single guard without checking up on him for the rest of the game.  Guilt is an emotion that I have never once felt in a game after killing a guard.  I mean never.  Not even poor, flatulent Johnny in the Metal Gear series.  It’s also a much bigger thrill to get the rarest sports car in the game by hacking a billionaire tycoon in his front yard, rather than just stealing it from the dealership.  Overall the hacking mechanic gives Watch Dogs a depth that is a breath of fresh air for the genre.

How real is the sandbox?

In a word: fairly.  Much like every other game in this style, Watch Dogs does some things very well and some things laughably unrealistic.  The unique civilians add a lot of depth and make the world feel very real.  On the other hand, what you have heard about the cops is true.  All you have to do to escape Chicago’s finest is jump in a boat and speed away.  The Police apparently decided in the near future to abandon marine units and have no contact with the Coast Guard.  Also you can outrun police helicopters with boats.  This makes pretty much zero sense as the cruising speed of even the world’s slowest helicopter is about double the speed of your average boat.  If that is just too nautical for you, you can also just take a three-point and shoot one of the officers in the chopper.  The pilot will then decide to fight another day and will fly away.  On the other hand the police cars drive with a speed, maneuverability and lack of concern for pedestrians that is downright absurd.  It is almost impossible to lose police cars, which seem to all drive as if Robocop is at the wheel, with complete situational awareness and instant reflexes.

Contrarily, the on foot AI is very good.  I have joked many times about how in video games, the last henchman will bravely charge in, even after watching me effortlessly slay 30 of his buddies.  We even have a name for this gag: “The last henchman effect.”  In Watch Dogs, if you kill most of the guards, the last few will suddenly get very cautious and attempt to bunker down until backup arrives.  If a guard realizes he is the last one alive, he will usually crouch behind something and literally start losing his sh*t in terror.  It’s actually pretty comical to pull a Batman and just drop right in front of him as he’s blubbering and conk him on the head with a decisive blow that cuts of his shriek.

The driving suffers from the same issues that many sandbox games do; in order to make the missions playable, physics have to be simplified and reduced.  I think Sleeping Dogs lampooned this best with the unlockable “Monkey King Cloud” motorcycle.  That’s pretty much what it’s like driving in most sandbox games.  You are like a floating, solid cloud that glides across the city and bounces off everything you touch.  While it may not score any points for realism, it is very playable and comparable to GTA games.

Scarface or The Godfather?

It’s an old running gag that every GTA plot is either based on Scarface, The Godfather or a combination of both.  Watch Dogs is much closer to the latter as you are that guy that just has to have revenge, even if it causes implosion of the entire universe.  They accidentally killed your niece and you are going to maim or kill every single one of “them” no matter what the cost.  It’s a plot we’ve seen over and over in these types of games and it’s only slightly nuanced here.  There are a lot of fun characters and interactions, but much like the last dozen GTA games, you are going to be reliving another version of the films of Al Pacino if you want to finish the plot.  Unlike GTA however, Aiden Pearce is not your typical gangster epic protagonist.  There is a lot of good stuff borrowed from the Millennium trilogy (known as Girl with the Dragon Tattoo in the USA) and movies like Enemy of the State as well.  It’s nothing you haven’t seen before in another plot, but it’s stuff that hasn’t been ripped off before in this medium due to lack of technology.  I always wanted to play in a world where the “eye in the sky” feel of A Scanner Darkly or Tom Clancy’s Net Force was central to the gameplay and plot.  It’s pulled off really well here as the technological oppression is key to every aspect of the game.


The servers have only been up since yesterday and down half of the time since then, so I have only been able to test multiplayer to a limited extent.  From what I’ve seen, the free-roam and 8 player vs. modes are only somewhat fleshed out and offer nowhere near the depth of what is currently in GTA5.  The intrusion and tailing modes however, are a blast and a breath of fresh air for sandbox games.  If you read this blog, you know I love me some Souls games.  Much like in that series, these two modes involve invading the world of other players.  In intrusion, you attempt to hack another player without being detected.  This plays a lot like Assassin’s Creed multiplayer where you hide among NPCs, attempting to look AI controlled while keeping in range of your target.  If they discover you, it’s a balls to the wall chase to escape their wrath before they put a bullet in you.  Tailing involves basically the same thing, except the goal is to just observe them for as long as possible.  It’s eerie and surreal to just follow another player for long stretches and just watch the way they play.  You can even help or hinder them in minor ways, which is extremely entertaining.

The tablet/PC/console multiplayer is a lot like that feature in Zelda the Wind Waker where Tingle follows you around and helps you with environmental puzzles.  The tablet player can help you hack things to make car chases or infiltrations much easier, but cannot directly interact with you.  It may turn out to be a gimmick in the long run, or it could be a great way to still play with a friend while you are out and they are in.  Only time will tell.

Finally the racing is pretty much what you would expect.  You race other players.  That’s about it.  You can of course hack like in the single player, which makes it a lot like Split Second or Mario Kart where you constantly use one-offs to sabotage fellow racers.  Nothing we haven’t seen, but still a good diversion.

Conclusion:  Worth the price of admission?

I think what this really comes down to is if you love sandbox games, but are turned off by the shooter-esque machismo of most games in the genre.  If you loved The Saboteur and LA Noire for breaking out of the mold, this one is for you.  Watch Dogs also has a lot of Metal Gear Solid or Deus Ex in it, as infiltration and stealth are the most encouraged approach.  I am loving this game for the unique experiences it provides that aren’t offered in similar games.  As a sandbox game in general, I would put it about on par with Assassin’s Creed or Sleeping Dogs, but personally I have enjoyed it far more as it appeals more to my gaming style.  If what I’ve said above sounds like the open-world game you’ve been waiting for, dive in.  If you are looking for a game that is better than GTA5, you will most likely have to wait for GTA6.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s