Watch Dogs is a game that’s had a good deal of controversy surrounding it. From bitcoin miners to Uplay; it’s no wonder that it’s been so hard finding an impartial view of the game. Considering the fact that I’ve done my fair share at creating the controversy that’s surrounded Watch Dogs, maybe it’s time to take a look at the game from a point of view that doesn’t result in 40,000 Russians visiting my website while I’m asleep on a Sunday morning.
The action in Watch Dogs starts out pretty quickly. You play as anti-hero hacker Aiden Pearce, a man hell-bent on avenging the death of his niece; a girl whose death can mostly be blamed on his less-than-legal career choices. Through the use of technological wizardry (and a few guns), we’re tasked with seeking revenge and uncovering the mysteries behind the underworld of Chicago.
The story in Watch Dogs is well mostly executed. While some reviews have criticized the story and characters in Watch Dogs, I feel as if it has more to do with Grand Theft Auto than Watch Dogs itself. From a game design standpoint, it’s profoundly difficult to create a story such as Watch Dogs that doesn’t include some stereotypical characters along the way. Movies, books, games, and real life have conditioned us to some degree to expect characters like the tattooed hacker girl with piercings or the yakuza-looking Asian guy.
What the writers did manage to do was create a game that wasn’t all about offending every race and gender of person that happens to be within earshot of the person playing the game. Where Grand Theft Auto feels as if it was mostly written by a team of 22 year old white males that exist solely on a diet of Mountain Dew, Watch Dogs manages to tell an engaging and mature story without so much offensive language and covert racism. There lies the big difference between the two often-compared games. Watch Dogs creates more believable characters, instead of the stereotypical caricatures of humans that Grand Theft Auto commands a mastery of.
The combat portions of Watch Dogs manage to come across as being more realistic than Grand Theft Auto as well. Watch Dogs does a good job at driving the point across to the player that guns kill when you shoot them at people. Maybe it’s the closer third-person view compared to Grand Theft Auto, or maybe it’s the excellent sound and feel of the weapons; whatever the reason, shooting and killing people feels more real in Watch Dogs than anything I’ve seen out of the Grand Theft Auto series to date.
The big gimmick in Watch Dogs is of course the hacking. As somebody with a security background, I was somewhat apprehensive about the whole thing. Thankfully, Watch Dogs pulls it off in a purely fictional way that kept me entertained without also insulting my knowledge of technology. The hacking aspect of the game adds so much interactivity to the world; players will find themselves missing the hacking the next time they go back to Grand Theft Auto. If you play Watch Dogs for any reason, do it for the hacking.
Say what you will about GTA V’s vehicle physics, at the very least they managed to make each car feel unique. Most cars in Watch Dogs somehow manage to drive like go-karts. It feels as if the game designers built the entire system around the fastest cars in the game to ensure they drove well. Once the fastest cars were in the game, they just took whatever cars were left and lowered the numbers for each tier. What we’re left with is a car that looks like a Peugeot but drives like it has drag radials, weight reduction, tons of bolt-ons, and something massively wrong with the suspension. As a car enthusiast, I could not be more disappointed with the driving in this game. Watch Dogs’ driving can only be compared to Grant Theft Auto or Need for Speed in the sense that it’s far worse than either of them. Considering how bad both titles are when it comes to realistic driving physics, that says a lot.
It becomes pretty clear as you play Watch Dogs that some corners had to be cut to get this game out on time, even after a delay. It surprised me that some corners were cut very early on into the game though. In one instance, during the opening 20 minutes of gameplay, you can hear a barkeep repeat the same 2 lines of dialogue over and over again each 15 seconds or so. In an area that I’d imagine many players hung around for more than 10 seconds, I felt as if a bit more quality control could have been in place. Also, no matter how many times I saw it, the DEDSEC logo looks like a covert tribute to The Misfits by some sneaky graphic designer that wanted to see if he could slip it into the final copy. It’s little things like this that make Watch Dogs a title that misses the mark, if only by a hair.
It’s all to easy to sit back and compare Watch Dogs to something like Grand Theft Auto, god knows I just did it for 900 words. It’s important to remember that Grand Theft Auto is now on its 15th game in the series. Rockstar has had 17 years to perfect the storytelling, physics, and graphics behind the series. There’s no doubt Ubisoft would do some things differently the second time around if they get the chance to. It takes a huge amount of time and money to create a virtual world based off a real location, populate it, and then tell an entertaining story inside that world. It’s one thing to do all of that when you’re guaranteed to break sales records like Rockstar does each time, but it’s another thing entirely to take a chance on a game like Ubisoft has done here with Watch Dogs. Instead of casting stones for not being perfect, we should be applauding Ubisoft for making something new and doing a mostly damn good job on it.
As a PC gamer I mostly enjoyed my time with Watch Dogs, I even purchased this game at launch. It’s troubling to see that we’re once again forced to endure another proprietary delivery system by the publisher thoug. Just as Origin does for EA, Uplay damages the overall perception of Ubisoft’s products. While it’s understandable that companies as big as EA or Ubisoft are jealous of Valve’s success in digital distribution, they’re insistence on running proprietary systems is only the consumer at this point.
Summary: Watch Dogs offers an alternative to players that want a more mature open-world action game. The hacking in Watch Dogs is done so well that it may be the best use of it thus far in video games.