“Haven’t you heard? I’m the vigilante. I clean up mess like you.”
When the trailer for Watch Dogs was released last year, it looked like a step into the next generation, with its creative and new take on an open world game. Then it was revealed that the graphics in the trailer were not as they seemed, and the game was made to look very different to the reality. The internet took a huge turn on this game, rating it poorly, but is it really that bad?
Watchdogs is an open world stealth shooter set in the city of Chicago. The game starts and we take control of Aiden Pearce, a vigilante who can hack into various electronic devices tied to the city’s central operating system (ctOS). We learn about his backstory and the motive that fuels him for the entire game. In October 2012, Aiden Pearce and his mentor Damien Brenks launch an electronic bank heist at the Merlaut Hotel, with Aiden transferring the funds through his smartphone. When they come across a strange file and alert another hacker, Damien tries to find the hacker, giving them both away. Unable to talk Damien out of it, Aiden stops him by leaving. Fearing for the safety of his family—sister Nicole, and her children Lena and Jackson—Aiden decides to drive them to safety under the guise of a surprise trip. However, on the way, two hitmen are hired to intercept the car and take Aiden out. One of the hitmen, Maurice Vega, fires the shot that crashes the car and puts Lena in a coma, and she dies two months later.
A year later, Aiden, now a vigilante known as “The Fox”, or “The Vigilante”, tracks down Maurice in the Parker Square district. After a fruitless interrogation about Maurice’s contractor, Aiden leaves Maurice in the hands of Jordi Chin while he hacks the ctOS to help them escape unnoticed.
Before I start with anything else, I have to talk about Aiden. He is probably the most boring main character ever. I was reluctant to write this review because I didn’t even want to talk about him, I just really don’t care for him at all. He has no personality, and at the very beginning he promises his sister that he won’t put his family in danger anymore but then – without spoiling the ending too much – let’s just say, he does just that. His lack of care for his family is never explained, it just seems he simply doesn’t give a shit and absolutely has to know who was responsible for his nieces’ death, whether it causes his nephew or sister to die additionally in the process. I hope in the next game they let you at least create how your character can look, because just picking basically the same outfit in a variation of colours made his character boring to look at as well as everything else.
Gameplay is where this game really shines for me though. Aiden’s in-game Smartphone has a multitude of applications to help you control the world around you and the people in it, with it you can change traffic lights to cause collisions, burst steam pipes to slow down pursuers, hack people’s bank accounts, conversations and profile npc’s to learn about their lives in a short but intriguing sentence. It’s definitely unique in being able to control your surroundings on such a large scale, but as you progress throughout the game it does begin to feel repetitive and the illusion that hacking is complicated disappears when you realise you’re really just pressing a singular button over and over again.
My favourite part of the gameplay was crafting, in addition to hacking and weapons, crafting makes you basically unstoppable. Using different components you can find or buy in the city, you can create Blackout, which allows you to completely shut down a section of the city and plunge it into darkness (definitely the one I used the most), A signal jammer to stop npc’s from calling the police or from enemies using their radios, different types of IED’s and grenades, plus other unique and helpful tools.
Combat is similar to many other games, as in you can choose to go in guns blazing or choose stealth. Although in Watch Dogs it’s much more fun to be stealthy and use cameras to hack objects around you to distract or incapacitate your enemy. Unfortunately you’re unable to freely melee random people as you please, and can only do so in an automated takedown against enemies. Car chases are a big part of the game but may I suggest instead of triggering events to slow foes down: to truly outrun the police forever, just ride a boat into the sunset because apparently there is no law out at sea.
It’s here I have to make two more complaints, but both are about aspects of the game that should be enjoyable. The first is the car radio, it’s terrible, it makes you unable to have an awesome ride to the next location, and you just want to get out the car as soon as possible. The second is hacking, but most specifically hacking puzzles. They’re tedious and annoying as hell, it feels as if they exist to just make hacking feel like more of a big deal, which it doesn’t. I never felt accomplishment completing them, I just felt relief.
Even though Aiden’s character sucked, there were other characters I felt were underutilized, for example two of his companions are Clara Lille, a tattooed French-canadian hacker who has way more sympathy for Aiden than he deserves and T-Bone, a highly skilled, laid-back hacker, with a junkyard full of elaborate traps should the wrong person come around.
I enjoyed the gameplay and combat system, but for someone who plays more for storylines I found Watch Dogs to be lacking. I didn’t really care at all about what was happening, and nothing helped engage me into feeling anything for the characters. I actually sometimes created my own little inner monologues for Aiden so I could try to make myself feel something towards him. Yes, controlling the world around you is pretty fun, but it does get old and looking back at how I felt at the beginning where everything felt fresh, it’s pretty impressive that with so many different and unique aspects to the game I can even feel this way. But I do. So, the answer to my question, is Watch Dogs really that bad? Actually, no. It’s not. It’s definitely fun, and different but it’s not as expected and definitely was a struggle for me to finish. Hopefully Ubisoft take on board all the many criticisms and make the sequel everything this game should have been.