After its release was pushed back several times, Watch Dogs was finally released on May 27, 2014. Originally, it was supposed to be a launch title for the PlayStation 4 and the Xbox One. Development of the game went on longer than expected and the release was pushed back. Set in a fictional version of Chicago, you play as a hacker named Aiden Pearce who is trying to find the man that was involved in the death of his niece. The problem is, all he knows is that he was a voice on a phone, nothing more. You, as Aiden, use your phone to hack into Chicago’s central computing system called CtOS to control street lights, blow water pipes and cause blackouts to get what you want. As a game that was pushed back for development purposes, some parts of the game are just not as good as they should be. Many parts of the game are very enjoyable but the weak parts take away from the games experience.
The main game mechanics the player can make use of is hacking. Using Aidens phone, the player can hack street lights, doors and cameras to get around Chicago. The hacking is really well done and works flawlessly with driving or running. You get satisfaction from using the hacking within the game. It feels like you are in control of everything in the city and it is all at your finger tips. With the push of a button, the city goes into blackout and you can go to town on the police with melee attacks or your gun. It makes for some memorable moments within the game. When I had just begun playing, I had to stop my target from getting away. I chased him in my car for around a mile when we came to a bridge. I used my phone to raise the bridge, hoping to stop him. But he jumped the bridge as it went up. My heart raced as I hit the accelerator following him over the bridge. It was something out of a movie when a car has to jump a bridge to escape the villain. It was a great moment that only happens once in the game.
Along the same lines, is the AI of the enemies in the game. They are very smart and use group tactics to track you down. But they excel in vehicles. When you try to get a target in a car or when you flee from a scene, enemies are great in chase tactics. They will get their cars next to you and try to run you off the road or box you in to make you slow down. It surprised me, finding such good enemies in the game because usually they will not try to ram you or run you off the road. This makes using your hacking skills to escape or trap your target much more important than just charging in and taking him out.
Some parts of the game just take me out of the experience. One is the driving. It is a major part of the game, because the map is so big, but it is awful. The cars are slow to react and turning is a nightmare. I found myself leaning a lot more toward motorcycles simply because they were more nimble and could corner better. Stopping is still a problem. After playing other open world games that have great driving, like GTAV, it pales in comparison. Also, you cannot shoot while you drive and have to rely totally on hacking and clever driving to escape the cops or take down a target. This becomes very annoying in the crime convoy missions. During these missions, you have to stop a convoy of criminals from getting to their destination. Without being able to shoot at them from your car, you have to hack things along the way or ram into their cars in the hope of breaking them. But this just does not get the job done very effectively. Also, as soon as you step out of your car, every single one of the enemies has a machine gun aimed at you and riddle you with bullets.
But the thing that really eats at me the most about Watch Dogs is Chicago itself. It feels soulless and flat. When you drive through the city you don’t get the sense that its alive and moving. You feel like all the NPC’s you see on the street are just there for you to see once then disappear once you leave the area. Again, open world games should have a sense of wonder and feel like everything is alive around you. The developers got the look of Chicago down perfectly though. My dad, who was born in Chicago, took one look at the skyline and recognized the city as Chicago. But for a game that had been pushed back for development purposes the feel of Chicago is not well done to me. It doesn’t make me want to search around every corner and alley looking for new things, just for the fun of it. An open world game needs this feel to pull in the gamer to bring them back to play through the 35-40 hour campaign.
The Bottom Line
While large parts of Watch Dogs are not well done, a lot of things in this game are really fun. The hacking is great and feels like you have total control over the world. The things you can hack are creative and are a ton of fun to use. The guns and stealth are awesome and you feel great when you manage to clear a gang hideout or a mission by using your silenced pistol to take down enemies with headshots. The cover system also is very smooth and is locked to one button. It even auto moves you to cover. But the feel of the city ,while great looking, just doesn’t feel right and doesn’t pull me into the world. Watch Dogs has some awesome parts to it. The animation looks great and your hacking abilities are fun, but the novelty of knowing little facts about everyone wears off quick. The game is not terrible and does have enough fun parts to keep pulling me back into the story but the feel of the city and the driving really halt the experience for me.
Its good but not great and with all the hype I was expecting more from it. For a game that was supposed to be a launch title, Watch Dogs, to me, still needs some work.