Watch Dogs (Xbox One) Review
Posted by Jeremy Thomas on 05.30.2014
After lengthy delays, Ubisoft's highly-anticipated game Watch Dogs has been released! Is the hacking/action game worth the wait or is it left without a single hotspot? 411's Jeremy Thomas checks in with his full review!
Game: Watch Dogs
Genre: Open World Action
Players: 1 (with Online Play)
Developer: Ubisoft Montreal
Format: Xbox One
Rated: Mature (Blood, Intense Violence, Nudity, Strong Language, Strong Sexual Content, Use of Drugs and Alcohol)
When the Xbox One and Playstation 4 were announced early in 2013, one of the most anticipated games announced alongside of them was Watch Dogs. The Ubisoft open world action game immediately caught gamers' attention and it raised anticipation for the consoles quite a bit. Unfortunately, getting it as a launch title was not to be, as the developers decided to delay it in order to make sure that everything was right. This caused some concern among video game players that the game would come up lacking, a fear that was exacerbated when it was announced that no demo would be forthcoming.
Fortunately, we can all relax because now that it's been released, it becomes clear that the extra time has paid off. Ubisoft has by and large delivered on their promises for Watch Dogs and while it may not be a genre-changer in terms of sandbox video gaming, it certainly provides a fun gaming experience that will keep gamers busy and possibly even coming back to it again and again.
Watch Dogs takes place in a near-future Chicago where CtOS (Central Operating System), a super computer controlling every piece of technology in the city, maintains a watchful eye on residents whether they want it to or not. Aiden Pearce, a skilled hacker, finds himself on a mission of revenge eleven months after a job he pulled led to the death of his niece Lena. As Aiden hacks his way around Chicago to find the people he needs to deliver his payback to, larger questions begin to arise about the nature of CtOS and other supercomputers like it around the country.
That's a recipe for death...
Of course, as a sandbox game in which you're playing someone operating outside of the law there was one game that this was always going to be compared to: Grand Theft Auto. And honestly, it's not a fair comparison because Rockstar is several games into their franchise while Ubisoft is just getting started, but we'll go there anyway. There are several elements that are at least superficially similar to GTA; it's hard not to imagine that you're Trevor or Michael from Grand Theft Auto V when you're in a stolen vehicle speeding your way through the streets in order to evade the police. But Watch Dogs changes it up in the storyline and setting, which are both tapping into a more Orwellian bent. The setting of Chicago is utilized well for the most part with such iconic elements as the L-Train, the towering skyscrapers and notable landmarks like Cloud Gate, Willis/Sears Tower. It isn't all there; Soldier Field has been tweaked and rechristened as May Stadium and the Chicago Theater is now Ambrose Theatre. For native Chicagoans this may be distracting, but legal rights appear to have been at play and the setting certainly feels like Chicago right down to the lingo, at least for outsiders. Visually the game looks fantastic; Ubisoft obviously put a lot into making sure this really did qualify as "next generation" and only the highest expectations will fail to be met.
More intrinsic and intriguing within the setting is the near-future aspect. The game accomplishes the same thing that Spike Jonze's film Her did in providing us with a world that feels like our world but with an overlay of where technology could well be going. CtOS is omnipresent without being high science fiction, and while much of the look and style is grounded in what we know things are just a little bit off. The environment is very interactive as you maneuver your way through the world. It doesn't have the real estate area of Grand Theft Auto V but it makes up for it in sheer density. Everyone in the city has details and with your smartphone in hand, all of those details are yours for the taking. Part of the fun of Watch Dogs can be found in pulling Aiden's phone out by launching his profiler and seeing what everyone's details are, whether they're a former high school valedictorian-turned-prostitute or the brother of a convicted con man. Some of the game's subtle humor can be found in these elements, and that's only the passive actions you'll discover while you're on your way to campaign missions or side jobs.
The campaign mode is a very well done and immersive storyline. As Aiden makes his way closer to his vengeance he picks up allies and enemies and you learn more and more about Chicago and how it came to be the way that it is. Missions are accomplished largely by way of his hacking skills and you can play the game based on your favored style. For example, if you've located a gang hideout and there's someone you need to get to and take down in order for the cops to arrest him, you have several options. You can go in guns a-blazing and kill off all the gang members en route to your ASPS baton-wielding finish, though you should be prepared to be quick in order to evade the cops and keep your target from escaping. Or you can go stealth and hack the cameras that are sure to be present, silently hacking from spot to spot and taking out the target's buddies by triggering explosives on them or using some of the electronics in the environment to distract or destroy. Reconnaissance via the cameras is what will help you decide what is best for each situation. This flexibility is one of Watch Dogs' best features, allowing you to play however best suits your style and keeping a balance in bonuses and drawbacks of each method.
Bringing the phrase "There's an app for that" to a whole new level
One of the other nice parts of the game is its integration of multiplayer aspects. There are the standard sorts of online match situations of course, but you can also invade other people's campaign experiences. I was extremely wary of this at first, as nothing can frustrate worse than having your campaign interrupted because someone wants to make your life hell. But Ubisoft handled it quite nicely as you can take jobs where you hack in to steal another player's data, requiring them to locate and take you down before you succeed. It's never a long diversion and it doesn't happen so much as to keep you constantly sidelined; instead it unexpectedly adds to the setting. As much as I may have gritted my teeth when I saw someone was stealing my data just before I was about to complete a campaign mission, two minutes later I was right back on course.
Is this a perfect game or one that reinvents the wheel? Not at all. In truth, there are times that it does hew a little too close to the other sandbox action games out there and feels like GTA: Hacker Edition or Assassin's Creed: 2018. These times are relatively few, but it would have been nice to see Ubisoft put a little more effort into a variety of side missions; so many Fixer contracts are driving-related that if you're not a good video game driver you will pass a lot of them up. On the plus side, the driving has a quick learning curve in this one. The integration of music could have been done better; they got a quick chuckle out of me by the fact that you get music by hacking it from others (a nod to piracy, no doubt) and you're basically playing your MP3 player while driving. But it lacks the immersion of other similar games in this aspect.
Fortunately there aren't many other flaws and any of those are nitpicks at most. The game has plenty to keep you busy; outside of the Fixer contracts there are racing side-games, FourSquare-style hotspot check-ins at landmarks that can net you donations from other players, the usual gamut of collectibles and a solid skill tree that allows you to gain abilities like hacking the L-Train or raising the bridges in the city. Some of the more fun and detailed side quests are the Digital Trips, which are mindscape games in which you have to evade robotic Klaatu-like people while restoring power to the city or cause mayhem in a Spider tank. These almost feel like full (if short) games in their own right and will keep you busy for a long time, especially since the game's AI is remarkably smart without being impossible to beat.
We all have our little secrets.
- Expansive open-setting used to the utmost
- Immersive storyline that is well-written and voice acted
- Gameplay is varied and easy to learn, yet still challenging
- Plenty of side missions to keep you busy
- Multiplayer is well-integrated
- Occasionally feels too much like every other action sandbox game out there
- Music integration could be done better
Gamers may have had impossibly high hopes for Ubisoft's Watch Dogs before the delays and other bad buzz moments dragged them down, but I'm happy to say that most reasonable hopes have been thoroughly satisfied. With new twists on the open world action format and a storyline that keeps you wondering, impressive visuals and a world of things to do this game is one that will keep people involved for quite a long time. Sandbox games may sometimes feel like they're all different flavors of the same thing, but at least here Ubisoft has at least found a flavor that works.
The next-gen specs of the Xbox One are given a workout and the setting is used to great effect.
Gameplay is intuitive and provides for a variety of play styles.
Voice acting and ambient sounds are very good, but music selection could be integrated better.
There's more than enough to keep just most people satisfied for a good long while.
Whether you're just grabbing secrets, hacking traffic lights for kicks or doing side missions, it's never dull.