I was excited for Watch Dogs to come out for a long time. I actually had it pre-ordered to come with my PS4 on the system release day last November, so when it finally arrived in May I couldn’t wait to jump in. An open world game centered on hacking? It sounds right up my alley but unfortunately, it wasn’t. Watch Dogs has a couple of “whoa, that was cool as hell” moments, but the story progresses at a painfully slow pace and devolves into a pseudo-Grand Theft Auto game so quickly that I didn’t even finish it.
- TL;DR: Repetitive missions and an unemotional story make me pine for what could have been
- Platform: PS4
- Score: 6.0/10
- Hours Played: 17
- What I Played: About 2/3 of the story, netting enough side missions for 40% completion
- Recommended?: To GTA fans, but not to people looking for something more than that
Aiden Pearce used to be a big-time hacker, until he got caught up in a job that went sour and ended with his niece’s death. That wasn’t enough for the thugs, though, as they come back into Aiden’s life again, threatening his sister and nephew. It’s on Aiden to use all of the 21st century technology at his disposal to figure out who is messing with his family and why and to put a stop to it.
The very first mission in Watch Dogs has Aiden hacking his way through a baseball stadium mid-game, ending with the entire stadium being blacked out and you escaping in a getaway car. “Alright,” I said to myself, “if this is mission #1, I’m gonna like this.” Hacking in Watch Dogs is about as easy as it gets as it only requires you to face the object in question and hit a single button. It’s Hollywood-level ease. I get that a game about hacking can’t require a small puzzle every time, as later/more difficult hacks present a Bioshock-style fluid puzzle, but simply running around the city hitting a single button to control whatever you want is too easy. I would have liked less, more difficult objects to hack much more than the unending stream of point-and-click hacks.
Nearly everything can be hacked into in Watch Dogs. Security cameras, routers, door locks, street lights — the list goes on and on. Trains can be started and stopped on command, helicopters can be brought down, you name it. But again, all of these require only a single press of a button.
That single press of a button can reveal a ton of information on just about anyone in Chicago. The overarching network of the city, ctOS, gives you the name, occupation, salary, and a small fact about anyone you point your phone towards. Aiden wears a bandanna over his face when hacking near security cameras to avoid detection, but there’s no explanation for his gritty, “WHERE’S RACHEL?!” Batman voice. Anyway, hacking into random passersby can net you all sorts of goodies, like transferring their money into your back account or picking up materials for crafting.
Oh yeah, there’s crafting in Watch Dogs. There are five different, generic crafting materials, like “electronic components” and “unstable chemicals”, that can be used to make a variety of things like communication jammers, grenades, and focus boosters. “Focus? What’s that?”, you may say. It’s Watch Dog’s version of bullet-time.
Naturally, you’ll be using this bullet-time mechanic in combat. You have the cliche gun array of varying sizes and power at your disposal, which you’ll need to fight off both cops and gang members. I was really hoping that hacking into things around Chicago would play a larger role in combat, but most sequences go the same way. First, you’ll jump between security cameras, scouting the area and taking out a guard or two. Maybe you’ll trigger a grenade in a guard’s pocket, taking him and another guard out. Finally, you use your silenced pistol to take out a few more enemies until you are spotted, when you bust out the big guns and go Rambo. The all-powerful gun machine isn’t something I was hoping to find in Watch Dogs.
My biggest complaint with Watch Dogs is that it tries to do too many things, but does none of them exceptionally well. Jumping between security cameras before a gunfight has a Batman: Arkham stealth feel to it, but it’s not quite as tense or powerful because … well, you aren’t Batman. Aiden can free-run and climb short objects, but it’s not quite as well done as other running games like Assassin’s Creed. You can unlock more missions in the city by finding electrical boxes on top of control towers, but it’s not as fun as Far Cry 3.
Driving, which has very jumpy and twitchy controls, is also very hit and miss. Hacking an underground steam pipe (what the hell kind of digital device is on a steam pipe, anyway?) at the right time to blow a chasing car into the sky is always fun, but there is a giant flashing icon to let you know when that time is. Also, your phone can run out of battery while using these big-hitter hacks like steam pipes and transformers. Thankfully, your battery recharges (awfully slowly) as you drive around. I guess Aiden carries a mobile car charger with him at all times? You really don’t have any option aside from evading cars in pursuit as you wait for your battery to charge.
Although I haven’t played much of it, multiplayer is a nice distraction. One player invades another’s world, forcing the prey to locate and kill the predator before a timer runs out. As time goes on, the search area gets smaller and smaller, raising the tension on both sides. The predator can hide on a rooftop or in a car, try to blend into a crowd, or even take off — whatever it takes to not be found. One of the few times I was invaded, it was pretty damn exciting to find my hacker in a parked car, pull him to the ground, and take him out.
Between multiplayer and various side missions, there is plenty to do in Watch Dogs. After a while of chasing down checkpoints, racing cars, and taking out gang members, you want to dive into the main story. Unfortunately, the story moves at such an iceberg pace that it’s just not that fun. In the first act alone, there are at least three different story arcs going on at the same time that have nothing to do with each other. Most of these arcs follow a similar pattern, too — just when you think you’re going to find what you’re looking for, you need to do a fetch quest for another person before they will help you. That fetch quest leads to another person, who won’t help until you help them out first. It’s annoying and slow, period.
For a game that had so much promise and potential, Watch Dogs falls flat. It’s a huge, open world with truly next-gen graphics and a lot to do, but the actual story is pretty emotionless. Missions end up being one of the three or four same types each time, while every game mechanic lifted from other popular games feels half-assed and unfinished. Watch Dogs is another I’m-all-powerful-and-have-a-ton-of-guns type game with some hacking thrown in. Maybe that’s your thing, but I won’t be going back to this version of Chicago any time soon.