Reaper's Gaming Reviews: Watch Dogs
Title: Watch Dogs
Developer: Ubisoft Montreal
Genre: Action-adventure/Third-person shooter/Stealth/Open world
Platforms: PlayStation 3/PlayStation 4/Wii U/Xbox 360/Xbox One/PC
Hype is a horrible fatigue in our worlds, and developers and publishers never cease turning it to their advantage. We are often given promises of big, world-changing features and formats, yet in the end, 90% of them appear to be total rubbish. In gaming, this is hardly new new, and it's common that the creators of highly anticipated games deliver only half (or much, much less) of what they promised, see Almost Human, Fable, Haze, Halo 5: Guardians and The Order: 1886 for example.
And here we have Watch_Dogs, a game that received unrivaled hype when it was first unveiled in 2012, turned its fanbase into crybaby kids when it was pushed from its original 2013 release, and then opened up to some of the more polarized critical reactions of 2014.
To quote Yahtzee on the matter: "The hype train for Watch_Dogs had all the grace and subtlety of a 19th-century steam locomotive dangerously overloaded with jizz cannons and jizz cannon maintenance equipment. Which, as we’ve often learned, can be the warning sign that the publishers don’t have a lot of faith in the game being able to stand upon its own merits." A bunch of gamers were heavily disappointed by it while others thought it was okay or good. What do I think of it? Bad? Good? Meh? Let's see.
Setting & Story
Watch Dogs takes place in a modern-day Chicago, where a system known as "ctOS" operates and manages the hyper-connected city. You play as Aiden Pearce, a hacker with the ability to use the ctOS for his own advantage, while searching for the men responsible for his niece's death several months prior to the game's events.
To be honest, the story is really not the hook here; it's gloomy, cliched, predictable and dull. It's a revenge tale with little true emotion or great characters. Aiden himself is a bland and dull protagonist mimicking the iconic gruff "Batman" voice while at the same time sharing the monologues of loss and progress. I don't mind a lead character's monologue now and then, but a good monologue is one told by an interesting protagonist and one with at least a little sense of wit and a fitting dark humor; Max Payne is also a gruff man burdened with harsh tragedies and loud thoughts, for example, but at least he is a deep, multi-layer character that was carefully written and treated by his creators, and also didn't mind to include some sharp and witty remarks between his mourning and shooting.
The rest of the characters don't fare much better either; most are just there because the plot demands it or because we needed more assholes for the mix. The only real exception is the bat-shit insane, sort-of mentor of Aiden throughout the latter half of the game, T-Bone; here's a guy who is sharp, funny, smart, cynical but not without heart. He steals the show in almost every scene he appears in and is undoubtedly the highlight of the cast. Give this guy a gam- OH, WAIT!
I will admit that the villains are not terrible, either, relatively speaking of course; they're not particularly memorable but are much more entertaining to observe and learn about than our wooden protagonist.
And I might be too critical on the story, but I do appreciate its seemingly effort to tackle nowadays themes such as social media, cyber terrorism and the the threat of technology on privacy. Those
However, as I said earlier, the plot is nothing special. It paints itself as a dark, tragic revenge story, and sure it has its moments here and there like when Aiden finds his nephew has been watching Aiden's recent slaughter of security guards, but really, it only serves as an excuse to hold the game and the set pieces together. If you want a good revenge story, you might just go check Assassin's Creed II, which is somewhat funny to recommend it; Ubisoft could very well take some cues from its earlier hit, or at least recycle Ezio's personality to Aiden's boring plank of a character.
Tl;dr? It takes itself too seriously, especially when considering how uninspired and cliched the story is.
Gameplay & Design
The core gameplay, not including the hacking element, of Watch_Dogs can be best described as future Assassin's Creed with a few Grand Theft Auto features thrown in, although that wouldn't be very fair to Watch_Dogs to say; in these days, all sandbox games feel a tad similar to each other.
The hacking element is the selling feature of Watch Dogs; with a small click of a button you can cause some disturbances, explode electric boxes, swiftly steal bank accounts and the list goes on. It's a simple mechanic, yes, and it doesn't get evolved behind somewhat generic level ups and the like, but it is very effective in action.
It gives you a surprising high level of choice when approaching your next objective, and whether you choose stealth or full-on gunfights, the hacking button proves to be critical in both situations. It can also lead to hilarious moments once one of these meat bags get close enough to your trap. "Hold on, Dave, why does the can machine randomly throw out some cola cans here? Oh, that's a nice electronic box. Help pick up my body parts now, Dave."
The ability to use cameras to spy on areas beyond your view and the usage of different objects scattered through the environment certainly adds more depth and dimension to the game's action, which in turn helps separate it from the rest of its fellow third-person shooter sandboxes. I appreciate it when a game also makes you plan how to approach your enemies, and consider your surroundings to be an ally and a weapon, too. Although the shooting somewhat pales when it happens, and the entire thing drops to the usual cover-based shooter game we're used to once we get discovered. That said, the shooting mechanics are solid.
I'll tell you what is not solid, though: them driving mechanics! I'm trying to understand the idea behind developers locking the driving camera in a forward-facing position. I'm sorry for harming your feelings, Watch Dogs, but I do want to take a brief damn look at that drunk helicopter chasing me down while I'm trying to escape! Christ, obviously Watch Dogs went to the same driving lessons Sleeping Dogs went to.
Also, would it really kill Ubisoft to include a drive-by shooting mechanic? I understand you want people to use the hacking gadget to escape, Ubisoft, and I do appreciate the idea of trying to do something other than shooting like a smallpox-dying baboon, but that really hampers a lot of the chasing sequences.
Given it's a sandbox game, Watch Dogs is packed with several side missions and features. Of course, by the same token, it suffers from the usual sandbox paradox of having a world disconnected from its story. That said, those activities are a lot of fun all things considered. I particularly enjoyed all the gang hideouts bits, where I fuck around murdering entire hordes of morons while one of them has to be kept alive. The stopping crime missions are surprisingly fun, as well, during which you have to stop a crime before it occurs. That said, I find them somewhat ridiculous with how they fail if you interrupt the soon-be criminal a second before the crime occurs, during which he goes "Well, you ruined all the fun, dumbass, I lost my mood for some law-breaking."
Okay, let's get this off our chest now; the game looks shit when compared to its 2012 reveal, lost all the shine and looks like my dad after a long night of gambling and drinking, whining about getting back to the old country. Well, it's solid-looking in general, although the city is annoyingly gray and gloomy in order to fit the game's equally gray and gloomy corpse of a plot.
It might seem like a minor thing, but I did like the way the map looks in the game.
On the sound department, I will admit that I liked the soundtrack as a whole, especially the licensed music available to put on even when on foot. It lacks the large variety GTA games have, but I think it picked up the right songs. The voice acting is common fare however, nothing remarkable or memorable.
Having said all that on Watch Dogs' laughable story and some of its gameplay features, I found the game surprisingly fun and engaging both inside and outside the main campaign; while the story is forgettable to say the least, it gives excuse to some mind-blowing and terrific missions and set-pieces, alongside a variety of ways to execute them. The hacking feature, while simple, allows for several methods to complete your objectives and fight your way through AI morons. And what its world lacks in cohesive, it makes up with tons of fun distractions and side tasks.
I give Watch Dogs a recommendation, if only due to its gameplay, interesting premise and soundtrack. It may not be the genre-defying masterpiece it promised to be, but it's also not that broken, ugly mess its haters claim it to be. Just go to the game with moderate expectations, and you'll find yourself having a good time in a virtual grey and depressed Chicago.