written by Jay Hammon (@Gravity_Flux)
As is typically the case for a new console launch I pre-order just about everything. So when Watch Dogs was pushed back and was no longer a launch title for the Xbox One, I figured I’d just keep my pre-order and get the game after Ubisoft had more time to polish the final product. They may have wanted to get another can of polish before shipping this game out.
I picked up my copy from the local Best Buy and tossed the disc into my Xbox One and dove into the world of Watch Dogs; excited and with high hopes. I really enjoyed the opening of the game, the introduction of two of the main characters (Aiden and Jordi) and my first interactions with hacking; surveillance cameras, ATMS, junction boxes… all fell victim to my supreme hacking skills as Aiden Pearce. I was about 45 minutes to an hour into Watch Dogs and I realized two things. One, I was way more excited for the inevitable sequel than I was for this game. That’s a sad statement to make in regards to Watch Dogs but it’s true. I love the characters and the story but the game just wasn’t that fun to play and felt broken throughout. The second thing I realized was that this should have been a GameFly rental and not a purchase. I can’t remember the last time I enjoyed the characters and a story so much so that they’re the reason I played through a game I would otherwise say fell just short of being excruciating to play. Damn you, Aiden and Clara!
I made the majority of my money in Watch Dogs by hacking cell phones. It became my own little mini-game since I would spend 15-20 minutes just running around or hacking cameras and searching for phones to jack which would unlock new songs, money and give contextual missions. Now I have a bunch of money so what should I do with it? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. I bought all the clothing options that were available within the first 2 hours and changed my outfit twice since it was just a different color schemes of the same thing. There is zero reason to buy weapons or craft materials in this game. Just go kill bad guys and you’ve got the weapons. Explore areas the bare minimum and you’ll have all the materials you need for crafting. As far as the gadgets you can craft… I started using them towards the end of my time with this game only because I felt like I needed to make use of a part of the game that didn’t appear to really add to the game or assist me in my missions. I would use the environmental objects like lifts, garage doors and protectors to lure enemies nearby and then hack and explode power meters or steam pipes. Using headshots with the silenced pistol took care of the possibility of reinforcements and even if reinforcements arrived it was just a matter of scurrying around till they lost track of me and then going back to luring them towards something I could make go boom.
So money and crafted tools were pretty useless to me. The same can be said for the skill points. I honestly kept forgetting about skill points because they affected the game so little. I’d often complete a mission and realize I had 10 points to use and I’d just buy whatever took them up the quickest because none of the skills really intrigued me. Once you’ve unlock the ability to make some stuff explode and can hack DOT systems to escape cops you don’t need any of the other skills. Like so many things in this game it felt like this was just tossed in to give the game an RPG element. Speaking of something else that felt like it was added just so Ubisoft could say it was in the game… the morality meter. Let’s make no quips about it. Aiden Pearce is a good guy. He may be an anti-hero due to his hacking but he’s not a bad person. Playing him as “evil” just doesn’t make sense or feel right. But that doesn’t really matter because the story doesn’t change and not much of the game does either... other than the morality meter at the top of the screen. Shoot a civilian, don’t shoot a civilian. It doesn’t really matter. If you go really bad then you may find civvies start calling the cops on you but if that’s the extent of how the good/evil choices effect the game, maybe that time should have been devoted elsewhere in the game. Just sayin’.
You know what’s really fun in Watch Dogs? If you said driving then you’d be incorrect. It’s some of the sloppiest and least enjoyable driving you’ll experience in this type of sandbox game. I dreaded any time I had to do a mission that required driving. Typically I would fast travel to the safe house nearest to a mission’s starting point and then make my way from there to limit my driving to the bare minimum required. I also found that numerous missions would intentionally populate P.O.S. vehicles at the start just to make driving during a mission even more infuriating. I’m talking about vehicles that I hardly ever saw in the game… would all of a sudden have made sweet love like a pack of horny bunnies and I’d be surrounded by 4 or 5 of them and nothing else. Whaaaa?! Oh, and don’t think that you’re going to run past these crap box cars and drive the enemies’ vehicles. You can’t. Never mind that you play Aiden, a master hacker who hacks cars all over the place, you can’t get into their cars. Confused? So was I. I would suggest driving along the indicated pathway as quickly as possible and then getting into something a bit less craptastic at the earliest chance.
Watch Dogs also employs a rather simplistic cover system which, while not on par with current offerings from other games, fit just fine into this game. Your character can’t jump but he can duck and “climb”. Not everything that looks like you should be able to climb it will allow you to do so. Just like everything that looks high enough for you to crouch under is actually not. I can’t count the number of times I was trying to climb a low wall or piece of architecture and couldn’t... even though it was lower than something else I had just climbed. This just added to the frustration of playing a sandbox game that left me little reason to explore. At one point I had to laugh because one of the hints Watch Dogs gives you during the loading screen is to use vehicles to get to higher places so you can climb them… which never worked any of the times I tried it. Most of the buildings you see are not fleshed out so you can enter them; they’re just facades. So, you have this large world to run around in (and I say run because you won’t want to drive) but there’s really no point. I had a lot of moments early on that went something like this: Hey! Look at that building! It sure is neat looking… I’m going in there! Oh. No I’m not… the doors don’t open. Sad face. I then looked at Lil Bub photos on Instagram and it made the world just a little brighter than it had been moments before.
The graphics were decent, and in the realm of most of the next gen games that have been released so far... it isn’t really saying much. You won’t have any wow moments here but you also won’t find yourself having problems being immersed into the world of Watch Dogs due to graphics unless you’re expecting to see a reflection. Yes, everyone in this game appears to be a vampire that is immune to sunlight because none of them have reflections. The Daywalker has risen!
The sound is good and I love the soundtrack for this game. I wish the controls for picking the music were a bit easier to use but that’s a small price to play for such a great game soundtrack. One of my favorite tracks, if not my favorite track, is Acrobats by Gods of Fashion. That is getting added to the playlist I use when I go for a run. Thanks, Watch Dogs! It did seem like Ubisoft took a lot of care when it came to the conversations you can overhear or snoop on when you hack a cell phone. There was a lot of variation for both the conversations and voice actors. This added to my mini-game of hacking phones for a good chunk of my play time. Some of the conversations are hilarious. The dialogue and voice acting for the main characters is spot on. For me, the overall audio for Watch Dogs is one of the only high points of this game.
There is a multiplayer aspect to Watch Dogs where other players can hack into your game or vice versa. I found this to be a nuisance and turned it off as quickly as it was activated. I’d be trying to start a mission and some jackhole would hop into my game and start hacking my life. I’d go deal with that and then get back to what I was doing. Luckily there was the option to turn it off. I appreciate the whole concept of players hacking other online players and how that could be cool, but broken gameplay and wonky game mechanics had me trying to get through this thing as quickly as possible, making online multiplayer a distraction I just didn’t care about. You can also download an app Ubisoft made that “adds to your Watch Dogs experience”. Honestly, if they had just made use of Xbox Glass I would have used it but having to sign up for another app and deal with all the spam that would have forced on me just wasn’t on my plate for a game I wasn’t planning on keeping for very long anyways. BUT… I do have to say that I love the fact that games are making use of tablets and mobile devices to add elements to games. I used that quite a bit in Dead Rising 3.
So what’s my bottom line for Watch Dogs? Assuming they work out the kinks we should all be excited for the sequel but the current game is 3-day weekend rental material. If you find yourself lacking a game to play then the story and characters are worth killing time with but that’s the extent of it.
+ Cool, well developed characters
+ Snooping on people's phone conversations
+ It's a new IP
+ I'm in love with Clara (because she's awesome)
- Sloppy and broken gameplay
- Lots of features add little to nothing to the gamer's experience
- Numerous possibilities for thrown controllers
- I'm in love with Clara (because she's not real *sad face*)