Watch Dogs Review
With a reveal that took everyone by surprise, Watch Dogs was quickly chosen as belle of the ball at E3 2012 and the hype train hasn’t slowed down since. How could we not be intrigued by a game where you exploit the fact that big brother is always watching, when we can already see the rise of the surveillance culture every time we turn on the news? Whether you’re interested in Watch Dogs because it promises a fresh take on the open-world action genre, or because it presents a terrifying look into our future, one thing is for sure: it has your attention.
Watch Dogs is set in a near-future version of the city of Chicago, one where almost every piece of electronic equipment is connected to a large computer network. The network is backed by the CTOS platform and our protagonist, Aiden Pearce, has the ability to gain access to the network, and control its various devices, but only when he is in close proximity. While the world of Watch Dogs makes computer hacking look a little too easy, CTOS and the threat of constant surveillance help keep the story in rooted in the realm of believability.
As Aiden embarks on his quest for revenge you’ll quickly start to see the ways in which his character doesn’t really jive with the narrative. Other characters in the Watch Dogs story are pulled straight from a list of archetypes and most fail to develop in any meaningful way. While I wasn’t particularly attached to any part of the story, there were a number of gameplay elements that did hold my attention.
You may think that since you’ve played one third-person, open-world, action game that you’ve played them all. You may be partially correct as Watch Dogs will feel very familiar in terms of controls and mechanics, but there’s more going on here than first meets the eye. Aiden’s ability to hack electronics, on the fly, can be gimmicky and feel like magic at times, but it can also make you feel like a strategic genius. Missions are often laid out in a way that you could try to go in guns blazing, or you could stick to the shadows and hack your way to victory.
For instance, in an early mission, I was trying to gain access to a CTOS terminal located in a guarded construction site. Without even entering the restricted area, I was able to hack a security camera, then use it to get a line of sight on another security camera, then hack that, then set off a grenade in the pocket of guard, killing him. In the ensuing confusion I dropped a shipping container on some other guards and overloaded an electrical panel to take out a couple of others. By the time I physically entered the building, there was only one guard left. Not every mission is as intense, but some are quite memorable.
When your hacking options aren’t as plentiful, you can always rely on stealth. Watch Dogs has a surprisingly capable stealth system which you can take advantage of and have Aiden take out enemies quietly. There are a number of different weapons and explosives available to you, but going loud is rarely your best option. Using the Grand Theft Auto approach in Watch Dogs is a good way to get yourself killed.
Aside from the main campaign, which will run you about twenty hours, there are an absolute ton of extra things to do. Side missions abound in Watch Dogs, whether they are eliminating gang hideouts, chasing down random criminals, or taking a digital trip inside your own brain, there is just so much else to do. Even simply checking in at all of the city’s hotspots is a fun little secondary game. Those who are so inclined could spend an indefinite amount of time exploring Chicago.
Along with the many, many, things you can do offline in Watch Dogs, there are a number of ways you can play online as well. Accessed off of the world map, the Online Contract section houses a handful of one on one modes as well as the larger scale races and online decryption modes. Decryption serves as a type of team deathmatch merged with a type of capture the leader mode and can be a bit of fun if that’s what you’re looking for. For those who just want to wreak havoc with friends there is also a Free Roam mode for up to eight players.
Possibly the most interesting online mode is simply called online Hacking, where you can invade or be invaded by another player while playing the single player campaign, a la Dark Souls. Players must try to track down who is stealing their data and kill them before the time runs out in a one on one game of hide and seek. Not incredibly deep, but still a lot of fun.
The Watch Dogs main story fails to suck you in but there are a ton of other reasons to keep playing. The stealth and hacking elements are a refreshing addition to a familiar genre and there are an immense number of side missions and activities to take part in. Watch Dogs isn’t perfect, but it is a great start to what I hope will be a prolific series.