Thursday 22 May 2014

Watch Dogs

During E3 2012 there were two words on our lips: “Watch” and “Dogs”. It came out of the blue and completely blew our socks off. In the wake of its unveiling it completely dominated the E3 competition, which included titles such as Assassin's Creed 3, Call of Duty: Black Ops 2, Tomb Raider, Crysis 3, Halo 4 and The Last of Us. They were a distant memory in the presence of Watch Dogs, the hacking centric open-world Ubisoft title. So, with around 5 years of development behind it, Watch Dogs is finally on the horizon. Are you ready? You better be.

Developed by Ubisoft Montreal and released on the 27th of May for Xbox 360, PS3, Xbox One, PS4 and PC (with the Wii U version slated to be released later in the year) comes Watch Dogs, the best, most exciting and original new franchise of the year. The story is simple and is one of revenge. You take the role of Aiden Pierce, a former thug and hacker that, after the death of his niece, vows to take revenge on the culprits responsible. However, this isn't Ubisoft's Assassin's Creed, your weapon at hand isn't the trusty assassin's hidden blade, as Aiden your weapon of choice is turning the city against itself. Watch Dogs is set Chicago, yet this is Chicago that is a little different from our own. After the creation of a supercomputer known as Central Operating System (CtOS), every person in the city is under constant surveillance, while every piece of technology is linked to CtOS. From smartphones to traffic lights, the people of Chicago are within the grip of this technological web. Hacking into this system and bending it to his will is Aiden's weapon. Well, that and many, many guns too...

The main story took me around 25-30 hours to complete. Sadly though, the story doesn't feel as interesting or as innovative as the gameplay concept that surrounds it, and ends up being quite boring at times. Don't get me wrong, it isn't awful by any stretch of the imagination, but from a game that brings so many fresh ideas to the table, I expected more narratively. The main missions that Aiden must take part in are pretty fun, and once finished allow the player to upgrade their hacking, crafted, combat and driving skills trees. Using Aiden's smartphone, the player can control the various electronic devices throughout the city, which comes in handy early in the game, allowing you to even steal funds right out of a person’s bank account. Or have fun randomly switching the traffic lights from red to green. There's nothing like sitting back and watching the mayhem ensue. Hell, you can even cause a citywide blackout! Needless to say, while the story is bland, the hacking gameplay mechanic is fresh, fun and an absolute joy to dick around with. Whether it's small or large scale hacking, Aiden's smartphone is vital. However, keep in mind that the media and citizens of Chicago form an opinion of you, and depending on your actions, they'll see you as a either a mere criminal or noble vigilante. This reputation system has repercussions throughout your game experience, so be mindful of what kind of hacker you'd like to seen as.

The open-world Chicago in Watch Dogs is absolutely awesome. Both from a visual and design standpoint, it feels real, alive and, much like it should, under the watchful eye of CtOS. The city is cut up into various districts, with each one having a different design and approach. The central city is breath taking to behold and it's where most of the action will take place, but out in Pawnee, which is essentially the rural area of the map, is a wonderful far cry from anything I was expecting to see in Watch Dogs. Getting around the city is mostly done via driving, but compared to the many, many other open-world games that populate the market; you'll find that simply walking around in Watch Dogs may give the best rewards. This comes in the form of the various side missions located around the city. While these often range from more action packed missions such as stopping crimes, they can also cover more interesting ground such as the “digital trips”; various drug-like hacks that transform Chicago into a number of different and bizarre locations. The most memorable digital trip I played was called Madness, and placed Aiden behind the wheel in a mini-game that looked quite a bit like Carmageddon, but with added demons to squash!

Multiplayer mode is a bit of a let-down, because if you're expecting features akin to, say, Grand Theft Auto V, you'll be sorely disappointed. But while Watch Dogs may lack Grand Theft Auto V's mission based structure to its multiplayer, it does try and seamlessly merge both its single player experience and multiplayer on the fly. For instance, much like being invaded in Dark Souls 2, it's possible for players to hack into your game. This can play out in a number of ways, but using CCTV cameras to try and spot the hacker and the chase that inevitably happens afterwards, can be utterly thrilling. There's also an 8-player free roam mode in place here, while some of the modes cover the three keystones of gameplay- racing, hacking and shooting. You may not be able to go on long, in-depth 8-player hacking missions with your friends, but it delivers a great, if potential squandering multiplayer experience.

Overall Watch Dogs is a fantastic start to an exciting franchise. From it's beautifully designed city that is a true joy to simply stroll around, to the epic hacking gameplay mechanic put in place, Watch Dogs has delivered on the promises it made during E3 2012. While the game isn't earth shattering, it's something that you'll end up pouring hours upon hours into. Whether it's reading the profiles of the countless inhabitants of Chicago, stopping crimes before they happen, jerking around with traffic lights, stealing money right from someone’s bank account, or cruising through the many city districts on offer, Watch Dogs is your home for the next few months. 

Watch Dogs delivers on high expectations and gets a 5/5


Alex Hunter

Watch Dogs at CeX

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