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Experience with Watch Dogs (PS4):
  • Completed the main story line.
  • Reached 89 per cent total game completion.
  • A few hours of multiplayer.

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What separates Watch Dogs from other open-world games like Grand Theft Auto and Sleeping Dogs? Press ‘Square’ to hijack a closed-circuit television camera. Press ‘Square’ to hack a lift bridge. Press ‘Square’ to burst a metal pipe in the ground somehow. Press ‘Square’ if you see what I’m getting at. I’ve never seen so many versatile uses for the square button in my 25 years of gaming. One-button hacks galore.

Of the 16 possible hacking options (i.e. Disrupt Comms, Hack Camera, and Explode Grenade), I only found half of them useful during my playthrough. The most visually spectacular being the ‘Blackout’ option which shuts off all the lights in a certain area, apartment buildings and storefronts included. So what did I do the rest of the time then? Well, I shot people, of course. Sometimes I would extend my baton and stealthily beat someone down with it or park my car on their face. Watch Dogs’ only gimmick, hacking, felt like a cherry on top of a sundae you’ve eaten thousands of times.

The game teases the player with the possibility of stealth through the use of hacking, but too often you’re forced into situations that erupt into a shooting gallery. You also can’t truly hack things without tipping the enemies off. If you hack an electrical panel to explode as a guard passes by (which I would consider an act of God in real life), all of the enemies are sent on high alert and begin searching for you. They instinctively know that someone is out to get them despite being hidden in a dumpster a block away and observing them through a hacked camera. It didn’t make much sense to me.

It doesn’t help when the enemy’s line of sight is unpredictable at the best of times, making it difficult to sneak past guards without causing alarm. Thankfully, to Ubisoft’s credit, pumping rounds into flesh feels fluid. The shooting mechanics is one of the only aspects the game does better than its competitors, in my opinion. Shooting people in third person hasn’t felt this good since Max Payne 3.

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Based on the city of Chicago, I had a hard time feeling immersed in the game world. Worldbuilding is extremely important in an open-world game, for obvious reasons, but with Watch Dogs, I can’t say Ubisoft pulled together a truly convincing city to play in. The game has scripted events that play out as you walk around the city, which undoubtedly add life to the otherwise bland cityscape, but outside of those events, the game’s shortcomings are easily noticed.

To give some examples, every person I hacked for income or saved from a crime had similar character models – namely the facial features. A pair of glasses or hat doesn’t mask the busy clone factory that’s apparently pumping pedestrians into the streets. Another example is the complete absence of animals – not even a single bird can be seen flying around. I guess Aiden Pearce (the game’s protagonist) hacked them out of the city. When you’re driving around Chicago, you rarely see a police officer. The second someone calls the cops on you, they’re spawning a block away and swarming in like a cloud of insects. I can suspend belief with the best of them, but come on. Some things feel lazy and rushed, which is interesting considering the game was pushed from its original street date. The bottom line is the game doesn’t feel as alive and cohesive as GTA, for instance.

Graphically, you should have already heard all the hoopla surrounding the game’s original 2012 E3 showing compared to the inferior quality that we’re actually stuck with years later. If you haven’t, it’s a simple Google search away. Until developers fully commit to next generation consoles and abandon development for two different console generations, games won’t pop like they should. Until then, we’re stuck with upscaled ports. Ouch, harsh.

I’m the fence with the story. There are some interesting scenes sprinkled throughout the game surrounded by a ton of social commentary on man’s love affair and dependence on technology. Most of the story is based on themes of paranoia and Big Brother-lite, so it doesn’t add much to the conversation. The story would be a little easier to swallow if the characters acting it out weren’t so flat and predictable. Aiden is one of the most boring characters I’ve had the displeasure of controlling in any game. He’s cosplay Batman petrified by the tragic abyss that is his life. The only time I felt like Aiden was in character was when I played the poker minigame. His unflinching “my daughter was murdered and taken from me” expression would convince anyone that he always had a Royal Flush in hand. Funny enough, most of the supporting cast are far more interesting and overshadow Aiden’s role entirely – there could be hours of DLC following Jordi around, for instance.

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If you can manage to look past the Man in the Iron Mask, you will find an interesting array of missions that tell a story in innovative ways. For instance, one mission asks you to guide a VIP out of a hot bed of enemies by using cameras to give move orders reminiscent of a real-time strategy game. Utilizing the game’s unique mechanics, like hacking, creates an interesting narrative approach that works. However, when coupled with the side missions, the story objectives begin to feel repetitive. You’re basically getting a car to drive to a wall panel you need to hack, while fending off a few bad guys and eventually evading the cops. Repeat.

Story aside, Ubisoft rammed an insane amount of side missions and collectibles into Watch Dogs. If you thought the Assassin’s Creed games were bad for feathers and flags, think again. There are 78 side missions, 95 investigations/puzzles/pseudo-collectibles, and 224 collectibles. I’m a completionist, so I always give it my best to do everything in a game, but Watch Dogs got the better of me. I completed and located practically everything, but ran out of gas with 10 fixer contracts and, in my opinion the worst collectible of all time, 15 unlockable songs left. To unlock the songs, you either needed to hack someone with it on their phone, which is rare, or use an in-game app called Song Sneak (similar to Shazam) to “recognize” it while it’s randomly playing in a bar, store or someone’s car. Why is this a problem? Firstly, songs randomly play at these locations. If one does play, you need to realize that it’s not part of the original unlocked soundtrack/playlist just so you can use Song Sneak on it. The whole idea is laughable and not worth my time. I found the soundtrack to be horrible at best anyway and turned it off immediately, so there wasn’t a chance in Heaven or Hell that I was going to unlock all 23 hidden songs. Dear Ubisoft: Tone the collectibles down. You’re trying too hard to extend the lifespan of your game.

As the story unfolds and Aiden indifferently rages his way through Chicago, you gain experience points to level up and gain new skills. Again, not a new concept, but I was really hoping that progressing through the skill trees would eventually make me the king of hackers. Nope – higher level, God-like digital prowess was never part of the game’s progression system. Instead, you unlock more smartphone battery power or Kevlar vests to wear on your way to max level. Aiden can effortlessly hack anything he sees – a mystery because they don’t address where he attained these skills – but instead resorts to hacking traffic lights and stealing money from pedestrians. He could take down corrupt corporations from his sea-can container hideouts without getting out of bed for crying out loud. Instead, he goes on a grand adventure of revenge because he can. Well, that’s what a sequel is for.

Watch Dogs’ multiplayer offering ends up being another simple distraction from the story. The multiplayer borrows some ideas from the Demon/Dark Souls franchise by allowing other players the opportunity to invade another player’s game to tail, observe or hack them for experience points. It’s pretty much two player hide and seek. The experience gained from a successful invasion levels up your online skill tree unlocking marginally useful skills that transfer across to single player. Although the thrill of hunting someone down or hiding from a gun-wielding maniac is exciting, it ends up getting annoying when players can invade whenever you’re freely roaming around in single player with a high wanted level. Admittedly, I didn’t touch the other multiplayer modes: Race and Decryption, which is similar to Capture The Flag. Been there, done that.

Now watch a few of my bloopers and glitches the PS4 decided to record!

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What I liked:
  • Flairs of innovative story telling through gameplay.
  • A good first attempt at a new open-world IP.
What I didn’t like:
  • Way too many side missions and collectibles. Like, way too many. /gives Aiden Pearce stare.
  • The DeadMau5 ripoff.
  • The whiny soundtrack.
  • The longest, unskippable credits in history. Ten minutes in, I was screaming “Why won’t you end?” at my TV. Twenty minutes later, I hacked my brains out.

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No Time 4 Reading (NT4R) Game Reviews is an attempt at writing short, concise reviews without going into insane detail. There’s no sense in competing with gaming sites where full-time staff have the luxury of fully-realizing their review, and, as a writer who plays copious amounts of video games, I enjoy contributing my two gaming cents without spending hours pulling together a work of art that nobody reads.

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