Watch Dogs Review For Xbox 360
Watch Out For Generation NeXt?
Watch Dogs promises much: a next generation gaming experience, great graphics and an immersive plot.
Does it deliver, or is it just another shooter or a Grand Theft Auto?
I don't know if it offers a true "next gen" game experience, though it looks pretty enough on the 360.
I will say it gives a unique take on hacking, with the focus being on the outcomes, not the mechanics.
It's the first game on the Xbox 360 that comes with a separate installation disk, which must be copied to the hard drive before you can actually begin playing.
This doesn't take long (about 5 minutes) and before you know it, you'll be watching the opening movie and then getting your bearings in a virtual Chicago.
Aiden Pearce, the game's protagonist, isn't the most exciting hero/anti-hero, but the gameplay is where it counts.
On the surface, Ubisoft's new IP plays like any other open world game.
There are indicators on the map to show you the next story mission, but there are countless other diversions to keep you entertained:
- Hacking into control towers (reveals more activities on the map)
- Preventing crimes
- Take down criminal convoys
- "Virtual reality" games
- All manner of other oddities
You can even take part in chess challenges and check in to historic landmarks throughout the city.
Watch Dogs Side Missions
Having played much further into the game now (I am towards the end of "Act 2"), I am finding that a lot of the side missions, extras and distractions are just that: distractions.
The problem is that there are so many of them, and yet, so few of them are actually related to what Aiden actually does.
Amongst the tower and gang hideout takedowns, there are chess matches, virtual reality games, and so on.
While they are fun and provide light relief, they just don't match up to the core hacking gameplay elements.
Even the fixer contracts, which are all variants on the driving/escaping/takedown/hiding themes prevalent elsewhere, get a bit samey.
Some of them are annoying, forcing you to take down a "boss" character non-lethally (for no good reason, other than that's what you're told to do), while putting up with a hail of bullets from his friends.
With a bit of lateral thinking, there are ways around this, which can eventually make it more satisfying - but not always.
One could argue that this is a fault with all open world games, but on the whole, I beg to differ.
It's the way that very few of the side activities feed back into the main campaign.
There are one or two activities that must be completed to a certain level in order to unlock certain skills or perks, but otherwise, its all just superfluous nonsense.
Other titles like the Batman Arkham series manage to tie all the side missions into extra ways of gaining experience.
This means that there is a direct incentive to doing them, if you want to improve all your gadgets, etc.
Watch Dogs, on the other hand, manages to take something like the Spider bot digital trip, which is a joy to play, and turn it into something almost completely irrelevant.
Ubisoft, next time try to make things more cohesive and make sure that a game about hacking has it in everything, ok?
Driven To Distraction
In the first part, I found that what many games forums are saying is true: the driving sucks.
The cars all seem quite heavy on the steering, but once you've had a few goes, it gets better.
Just don't floor the accelerator and expect to make it round corners on a whim.
I spent a fair amount of time with the side activities, just to see what I could do.
While this was fun, it took a while for me to really understand what was going on.
Once I went back to a couple of story missions, certain gameplay aspects were explained to me that I could have done with knowing before.
This wasn't terrible by any means. Ubisoft have been criticised before for overlong tutorial sections (see my Assassin's Creed 3 review), so it's perhaps unfair of me to mention it, when they have tried to make things more open from the start.
That said, some of your skills can't be unlocked until after you have played a specific story mission, so you can only get so far before the game nudges you along.
Hack 'Em Up
And what great skills they are!
You can change traffic lights on the fly, blow up steam pipes in the road, set off explosives that guards happen to be carrying in their pockets, or just distract them with a text message on their mobile phone.
As far as I'm concerned, it's these options that raise the bar for gaming (dare I say it, isn't that what "next generation" is really about?)
Now, you could play through as though it was a straight shooter or sneak 'em up, but you'd be missing out on the best that it has to offer.
Every game has some kind of gameplay conceit to differentiate it from others and in Watch Dogs, it's the way you can take over cameras and 'jump' from one to the next.
This is the first game I have played where you can fully and effectively reconnoiter a place before you even enter it.
As you scope out the target, you can see where hacking opportunities may be and 'tag' all the guards so that they show up on your radar map as you proceed through the mission.
This makes Watch Dogs the thinking man's (or woman's) shooter and the feeling of power that it gives you is unparalleled.
Do Not Adjust Your Set
This has a downside too, in that the game can unwittingly telegraph its intentions to you.
The best example of this was where I had off to break into a system and I found myself in a deserted alleyway.
My suspicions were immediately aroused because it looked like a great spot for an ambush, plus there were cameras everywhere, explosive panels on the ground and other stuff to make a good defense.
Sure enough, all was quiet while I made my way into the place, but as soon as I had the info I needed, all hell broke loose with gunmen charging into the area in vehicles and on foot.
It didn't matter in the end, because I crouched down in cover and used the environment to my advantage, taking out most of the bad guys via hacks, and accidentally removing two in one go when the grenade I threw sent a nearby car up in flames.
I made my escape having fired only 2 shots from my gun. - Genius!
If you're not sure if the hacker life is for you, Deus Ex also features those kind of skills, so you can try them out for less cash.
They are represented in a different way, of course, and in this conspiracy there are multiple paths to multiple endings.
You may or may not like the story, the main character or all the side activities, but it's these moments of empowerment that make the game a worthwhile purchase.
My best so far was where I had to get information from a laptop on the second floor of an office patrolled by more of those pesky guards.
I stayed hidden near the entrance on the ground floor and found a handy camera, but quickly discovered that while I could see most of the guards, I couldn't get a line of sight onto the upper level.
I managed to take out some of the guards using an explosive panel and the like, but by this time the rest were searching for me and there seemed too many to tackle head on.
Then I spotted one of the guards had a mobile phone in his pocket, so I jumped to its camera.
Obligingly, he finished his search, walked up the stairs and proceeded past the bosses' office.
One hacked laptop later, I made my way out of the building, having completed the entire assignment without even moving...
Don't play it like a standard shooter and don't play it like Grand Theft Auto.
It's neither of those things and it really is better for it.
The video below is from the PS4, so the graphics are naturally better than on the 360, but it shows a good selection of gameplay mechanics, which don't change between platforms.
The player starts off mid mission, attempting to sneak past some guards, followed by hacking into a "mainframe" and then some of the activities in the city.
You can also see how bad the driving is... ;)
© 2014 Tim Bader