For those of you who haven’t heard of Watch Dogs, welcome back from the rock you’ve been living under. Here we are, playing what was supposed to be 2013’s biggest release in 2014. So, how did it stack up?
Let’s start with the story. A hacker named Aiden Pearce gets himself into enough trouble that some sketchy people end up messing with his family. What’s next? Without spoilers, I can confirm the standard double-crossing, retaliation, ups, downs, and everything else that can make a video game fun.
The storyline isn’t the only thing that will be keeping you busy; Watch Dogs is a massive game. Side missions consist of racing, breaking into high security areas, car chases, digital trips, and online play. The car missions get stale fairly quickly, but the on-foot based missions continued to get better and better as I unlocked more abilities. Leveling up is very important; I found that the missions went by faster and were more enjoyable once I unlocked some key abilities. If you’re playing online, they make quite a noticeable difference there as well.
Speaking of abilities…
The way leveling up works is that you have two main sets of unlockables. One holds Combat, Hacking, Driving, and Crafting abilities. On this wheel you can choose what you want to level up first by spending Skill Points. The point system is pretty flexible; You acquire them by completing missions, side quests, and winning online matches. If you don’t like playing online, or you’re just bad against human opponents, you can blow through missions, and vice versa. The other wheel of abilities you unlock by winning those online matches and completing said side missions. For example, once you’ve won ten online racing matches, you get a handling upgrade, etc etc…
Play loud, or stick to the shadows
Being an open world game, Watch Dogs is pretty versatile in terms of transitioning between action and stealth.. I started off playing mainly stealth (which once again is much easier after you’ve unlocked most of your crafting and hacking abilities) but after I got the hang of using the guns, I ended up having no problems blazing through with my AK-47. Gunplay was some of the best I’ve seen for its class. Usually when you play an open world game, you can safely bet that it lacks the shooting mechanics a FPS would have. This isn’t the case here, though. The cover system made sense and worked well. Aiming was nothing new or special, but I never came across any hiccups; overall it felt very polished.
Vroom vroom (kind of…)
You have a pretty broad selection of cars you can request and unlock by hacking pedestrians in Watch Dogs. That being said, driving was still one of my least favorite parts of the game. Handling was messy most of the time and, despite your enemies being able to shoot while driving, you cannot. This means that most of the time you’re stuck trying to getting moving and hide rather than leave your car for cover in the middle of the highway. Another downside to the poor handling is you end up plowing through pedestrians thus damaging your hard earned reputation.
Online play is seamless
Ubisoft added a cool feature that allows online play to seamlessly leak into your story mode experience. If you select “Online hacking,” Watch Dogs selects a player to invade that’s not participating in their campaign or missions and generates you as an NPC that they must track down. The game uses an algorithm that estimates how many times you would want to be invaded so it keeps things fresh while not being annoying. Aside from Online Hacking, there are also four other modes: Racing, Tailing, ctOS mobile challenge, and Free play, which features up to eight player participation.
The ctOS app for Android and iOS
One of the coolest things that’s happened to video games in the last decade is its connectivity to mobile hardware. With Watch Dogs, Ubisoft nailed it. Comparing it to another open world game that had a companion app, it crushed the competition (looking at you GTAV). In the app, you can play against console players online in two different modes: Race and Free race. With only a few differences in the two game modes, the main gameplay is the same. The mobile player does real-time tower defense style combat by sending helicopters and squad cars to the console player in hopes of knocking them out before they hit all of their checkpoints. In the app, you can also create your own levels and invite your friends to play. The best part of all of this is that it’s all free with no micro-transactions at all and you don’t even have to have the game to play on your device.
Watch Dogs has a strong start for a new IP but it’s nowhere near perfect. It’s in much better shape than the first Assassin’s Creed was, but ultimately still needs some work. I’ll be looking forward to what I hope is future entries in Ubisoft’s new series.