Sorry this wasn't up sooner, but we were hacked

With Watch Dogs, Ubisoft brings us yet another open world game! Does it do enough to differentiate itself from the pack?
Author: Kyle Heimbigner
Published: July 21, 2014
Over two years ago, the premise of Watch Dogs sounded like a fresh take on the open world genre. A blend of a single player sandbox game with concurrent online multiplayer infrastructure, set in a fictitious, hackable version of Chicago, seemed like the shot in the arm that we needed. It would focus on internet culture, the over-reliance on technology, and personal privacy like no other AAA game had before. After a sizable delay the ambitious free roam action hacker is here, with a mix of of questionable design choices, but good action segments.

The location is a near future science-fiction Chicago. Playing as Aiden Pearce, a character that I have a real hard time being sold on. The story wants to play him up as a master hacker who also just happens to be really great at killing people, stealing cars, and hiding. How did he gain all of this knowledge though? We are never told this, other than his ďhackingĒ abilities, which amount to he simply stole a program from a corporation in Chicago. This corporation has setup a network that is linked to literally every single electronic object in Chicago; how this is doable even in the near future I have no idea but the game asks you to suspend realism a little too much here for my liking. The overall story is about revenge and discovering an underground crime organization, and thrown in there is a kidnapping and Aiden being coerced into doing some pretty illegal things with shady characters. It has all of the mixings for a thrilling action story but the dialog, pacing, and premise of this future Chicago just doesnít sell it.

If you followed Watch Dogs since its announcement two years ago, you were probably expecting a very beautiful looking game, especially on the PlayStation 4. The game isnít ugly by any means but it is dull looking. Use of ambient lighting would have gone a long way. Textures are detailed and clean looking animation is passable, and character models are justÖ passable. This didnít feel like the sort of effort I expect from UBISoft, especially after seeing games like Assassins Creed IV, we know they can do much better than this.

It also doesnít help that the world is boring and feels dead. NPCs are just there as fodder to hack their cellphones for easy money and information. This virtual world of Chicago feels like a theme park; everything feels artificial and unrealistic. The hacking can be cool though, messing with street lights, raising and lowering bridges, making things explode, it just isnít enough to bring anything new to the genre, which is what UBISoft was promising us from the start.

Open world shooters need good fluid combat in order to really succeed, and this is where Watch Dogs starts getting things right and justifies its existence. I always felt like the difficulty was just right, and the ability to approach missions in different ways was fun and challenging. There are always objects around you to interact with to give you the upper hand in shootouts. There is an aiming assist but it doesnít do a lot of the work for you, so it doesnít feel boring, and Aiden has just enough health where you canít be careless, making firefights feel intense.

I also liked the way character progress was handled. As you complete missions and some side content, you gain experience points put towards leveling up Aiden, and from there you get points that you can spend to improve skills, and create new items that you can craft together from other items that you find throughout the game. These craftable items help you in killing or sneaking past enemies and can be fun to use. I especially liked the one that creates an area wide blackout, or you can create little sound machines that give off a barking dog sound effect. One of my favorite things to do with the hacking though was setting off grenades that enemies were carrying. WHY they had grenades that could be remote hacked, I have no idea, but it did create for some memorable moments and chaos.

One of the other saving graces of Watch Dogs has been the multiplayer. The open world hacking and invasion mode is the selling point of Watch Dogs, and reminds me a lot of Dark Souls. Going into other players games, hiding among the NPCs and stalking a player is exciting. If you want a little more head on head competition though, there are street races, and decryption with two teams fighting each other to capture objectives. All of this is easily accessed from within the single player. I enjoyed the street races the most, these were laps around the city, putting players into random high speed cars and motorcycles and were a blast (sometimes quite literally) if everyone took advantage of their hacking abilities; being able to explode underground pipes, create traffic jams, raise bridges, etc. make the races more exciting. Other than long wait times to get into matches, I never had problems with lag or disconnects. Any launch day issues with the multiplayer service were resolved as far as I could tell.

Watch Dogs is a tough game to recommend; it has a problematic storyline and world, and parts of its advertising leading up to release were misleading, such as the hacking not being as important to the game as claimed, or the world not being nearly as alive and interactive. A game can still be good on its own merits but at the same time no game exists in a vacuum, and so you canít deny that there are other similar open world games that do what Watch Dogs does, way better.
The Verdict

Ubisoft knows how to produce an open world game and this one is certainly a good start, but it doesn't stand out enough from others in the genre. Maybe a sequel can bring this series into its own.


While it looks good by modern standards, it never pushes the envelope. Environments look great but few landmarks really stand out.


Some of those accents sound awfully Canadian to me... Aiden is the sort of gravely hero that we just don't want to deal with much, lacking a lot of personality. The supporting cast makes up for that void.


Slick controls and easy-to-hack-everything interface makes driving while on your cell phone a less than bad idea... most of the time. Shooting works surprisingly well, though driving can be too touchy.


Approachable missions and fluid combat make this game really fun to play, but hacking tends to get repetitive over time. While Chicago is expansive, the mission objectives are not.