Watch Dogs casts you in the role of Aiden Pearce, a hacker-for-hire living in a futuristic Chicago that is completely controlled by ctOS – an operating system connected to everything in true Big Brother fashion. Very quickly you come to realize that there really is no idea of “privacy” in Watch Dogs – cameras, cellphones and tablets are all hooked up to ctOS and provide a convenient access point to anyone with the right tools.
Watch Dogs begins with Aiden and a partner robbing the Merlaut hotel – Aiden walks among the rich guests while his partner is siphoning cash remotely from their accounts. Of course, what begins as a small job quickly spirals out of control as other parties take note of Aiden. By the time you’re given control of his character, Aiden’s niece has been killed in an attempt on his life and the story suddenly becomes a cliché tale of revenge.
All the traditional story elements are there: the unlikely ally, the distraught family member, the former-partner-turned-rival and many more worn-down and overused clichés. In fact, while the campaign is long and the missions themselves are fun, the story itself is lackluster in every way. There is no growth, there is no real “soul” to the story and there really aren’t any surprises. It doesn’t make the story bad, though – just predictable.
Luckily, Watch Dogs’ Chicago is filled to the brim with other activities Aiden can partake in. On the traditional side, there are street races, poker games and an assortment of hidden packages to collect. On the much more fun side, however, are AR (augmented reality) games that will have you shooting purple aliens hovering around or bounce across the city from flower to flower. You can even transform into a giant spider robot and go on a spree.
Watch Dogs is remarkably open. The entire city of Chicago is yours to explore from the moment you begin the game and Aiden’s skill tree is almost entirely available once you complete a scant few story missions. This degree of freedom is quite consistent during the game – it is rare that an encounter will have just one solution or approach. It’s up to you to decide whether you want to just rush in guns-blazing, stalk the enemy and pick them off one by one with your favorite silenced weapon or even use ctOS to your advantage and distract or preoccupy the enemy while you slip by unseen and unheard. Such variety is where Watch Dogs really shines and begins to feel like a game unto itself instead of being the new kid on the block, trying his best to match the veterans shot-for-shot.
If combat is your thing, Watch Dogs will provide you with an arsenal of pistols, SMGs, assault rifles, shotguns and lots more tools to put holes into your enemies with. This is before we bring ctOS into the mix. Need to take down a heavily armed guard holding a choke-point? Remotely detonate his grenades and watch him panic for the rest of his short life. Need to shake down a pursuer? Why not blow up an underground steam pipe, sending their car flying off and away from being a concern. An enemy behind cover is sniping you? Why not tap into a camera behind them and see what’s on the other side? More often than not, it’ll be something you can exploit with ctOS to get that extra advantage.
Unfortunately, all these lovely abilities accessible right from the start have a detrimental side-effect. They make the game easy. I would even go as far as to call it unchallenging. Add to the mix Aiden’s regenerating health and myriad of non-ctOS utilities (like Focus, which slows down time for a few seconds) and tools available and there really isn’t much of a challenge to be had. Except maybe for any self-imposed limitations you choose for yourself (for example, after the first few missions, I’ve decided to forgo all weapons except the silenced pistol and baton to add a bit of an extra challenge).
Anyone familiar with the Souls franchise will immediately recognize Watch Dogs’ multiplayer component: player A hacks into Player B’s game and needs to accomplish an objective before B finds A and eliminates them. Simple as that. There are also multiplayer races and 2-vs-2 hackfests (which turn real chaotic, real fast). The reward ladders for multiplayer and single-player are separate, XP gained in single-player campaign can’t be used in multi and vise-versa, which should encourage the 100% completionists to try MP mode at least for a while.
Overall, Watch Dogs is a good game. It’s a new IP which provides something fresh and innovative to gameplay while keeping it relatively familiar and does not stray too far from the genre. The real highlights are, of course, the ctOS and all the things Aiden can do with it around the city. Sure, the story is a bit too cliché, and the combat offers very little challenge, but there’s a lot more there to make up for that. Watch Dogs has its stronger sides and its weaker sides but they are all fun to do and watch.Some of our posts include links to online retail stores. We get a small cut if you buy something through one of our links. Don't worry, it doesn't cost you anything extra.