After making a great change in the industry of games with its parkour assassin’s back in 2007, big Ubi wants to repeat its achievement with its first game for both previous and next gen consoles. In its new attempt to bring a fresh, new open-world game, Watch Dogs was born, a game where your phone and hacking skills are vital to fight for what you hold most dear. The premise was simple: to “go beyond the limits of today’s open world games”, according to director Jonathan Morin. Did they manage to achieve their goal? Well, let me tell you… The hacking mechanics is something very original and does make you feel you have the power to control everything. However, that alone does not make it feel entirely unique. There’s something uncomfortably familiar with other games Ubi has released and even some ideas taken from other types of games.
We follow the story of Aiden Pierce, one of the “modern world magicians”, as he likes to call himself due to his hacking skills, in the modern city of Chicago. On a common day in Pierce’s life, he tries to steal some bank accounts with his phone and his friend, Damien. Suddenly, they find another hacker around their area who steals information from them. Concerned about what he might do with that info, Aiden flees with his family (his sister, nephew and niece) but a gang shoots the car which results in a car crash that eventually ends up killing his niece, Lena. He is now willing to fight for his own justice and find the people responsible for the murder.
All this is thanks to the one thing he does best: hacking his way through. The whole game revolves around that idea. Ubi gives you Chicago ran by the operating system ctOS, a phone with practically endless battery (everyone’s dream, right?) and the possibility to access all of the people’s information with the press of a button. It might sound scary in real life, but Watch Dogs makes it feel genuine for completely different gaming mechanics. Everywhere you go in the city of Chicago you will find remote access to cameras, explosives, and every single person’s phone so you can steal money or just have a little fun reading some of his private habits. However, all of it makes sense and becomes your primary weapon when you have to infiltrate some of your enemies’ hideouts. That way you can see through the cameras what is at your surroundings that can be useful, or even detonate some explosives via remotely to annihilate or just distract guards, giving you time to sneak in without making much trouble.
It’s always a lot of fun and there are a lot of ways you can sneak your way in. Nonetheless, if your thing is shooting your way in or out, you can always choose to do that. There are plenty of weapons that can enhance that experience. Now, if you combine those two, everything becomes better. If a guard hears you, you can either find another cover and move around, or hack anything from your surroundings that will catch his attention. There will always be a lot of things. Once you have set up your plan, it’s very much your call whether if you want to kill them or just ignore them. In addition, you will be asked to solve a puzzle once you have finally reached the file you are looking for (because it’s everything about computers) which never gets old. The whole hacking system is always entertaining.
That might be what the game does best but, sadly, it’s not enough to cover the whole thing. Everything else doesn’t exactly deliver a memorable experience. To begin with, the story lacks emotion, suspense, drama, etc. Also, Aiden is by no means a strong character; his personality is too cold. Sometimes it is justified and it is a good thing for the story, but sometimes it just makes him be obsolete. His voice acting doesn’t help, either. The real charm comes from her sister and some of his sidekicks, but they are never around so not many things motivate one to empathize with Aiden.
Making you feel like a real hacker was very pleasant, but the whole world makes you feel, on the other hand, that you have done these things before. There are some side missions that are actually quite original, like trying to find QR codes throughout the city, align them, and find some secret info, but everything else has its roots from Assassin’s Creed, yet, the painful part is how noticeable they are. The map will show you places of interests and collectibles after you have visited a ctOS tower (which acts as your viewpoint). Whenever you approach an enemy area, a message is displayed on the screen as “Warning: you are entering a restricted area”. Finally, right after doing your heroic stuff, it’s very probable that you will end your mission with a car chase, just like most AC games (except for the car).
The car chases are in part entertaining, actually, because even at driving you get access to use the streets as booby traps for whoever is after you. It comes in handy because it is very difficult to disappear from their sight without using the environment, as they are always too close from you. Albeit, it feels weird that you can’t shoot from the car. I understand it must be already hard enough for Aiden to drive with one hand and have his phone on the other, but when your enemies are shooting at you, and there are no traps around the streets, the situation becomes harder. I found myself crashing at them a lot of times until I had finally killed them. It is practical but, still, something felt empty.
There were also some minor technical issues here and there. They might not be that vital for the game to be tedious but sometimes it becomes annoying. I had many problems with the illumination, as, whenever I was trying to get out of a building, the game had trouble darkening the effect of the lights, which was a little bit of concern due to the fact that there were enemies outside waiting for me and I couldn’t see anything.
Everybody had a lot of expectations for Watch Dogs, including me. It delivers many good things, like the gameplay system and all the hacking mechanics that give you the power to control the whole city. But, unfortunately, the rest of the elements which the game is composed of don’t really live up to those expectations. The story is nor complex nor memorable and the protagonist doesn’t help much, either, and the world doesn’t have the sensation of being original. If you are more into gameplay, it should be a fun game for you. However, if your thing is the story of a game, you should probably look somewhere else. If you are neutral, you might have fun, but it surely won’t last the whole time.
Rating: 6.8 – Fair