During E3 2013 there was a game trailer debut that had everyone talking. It showed a man hacking the world around him to create a situation that called the cops, and then he just walked away leaving confusion and chaos behind. It looked and played like nothing anyone had seen before. That game was Watch Dogs. The more people spoke about it, the more the hype machine spun. Watch Dogs is now here but is it worth all the hype it garnered in the past year? I feel a quote from Hackers might be appropriate here, "Remember. Hacking is more than just a crime. It's a survival trait."
In Watch Dogs you play as Aiden Pearce, a grey hat hacker. The story opens with Aiden, and fellow hacker Damien, performing a bank heist via the network in a nearby hotel. When Damien attempts to hack a strange file it alerts another hacker who starts to back-hack them. Aiden decides it's no longer worth the risk and stops the job by walking out of the hotel's network range. Fearing that the unknown hacker got enough information for him to be in danger, Aiden convinces his sister and her children to leave town with him for a "vacation." Aiden's fears are soon realized. As they are driving out of town, two hitmen intercept them and shoot the car causing a major accident. Aiden's young niece, Lena, gets killed.
The story picks up eleven months later. Aiden has tracked down one of the shooters, Maurice Vega, and is "questioning" Maurice on who hired him. Maurice pleads that he doesn't know who hired him, but Aiden does not fully believe him. Aiden asks his new partner, Jordi Chin a "fixer," to hold Maurice somewhere for further questioning. Thus begins Aiden's quest for revenge against those responsible for Lena's death.
Controls and Gameplay
In Watch Dogs control really comes down to a smartphone and a heavily connected city. While Watch Dogs is essentially an open world sandbox game, your in-game smartphone becomes your key to practically everything. Need a car? You can either call your "car service" for a specific model (if you have it unlocked) or just walk up to the closest parked car, hack the security, and drive off. But your phone is more powerful than that. You can use it to profile every person in the game. I do mean every person. If a person happens to be using their phone then you can also hack them for things like money, music, or pieces of code. Alternately you can eavesdrop on conversations that can sometimes unlock side quests to stop a crime or intercept stolen goods or money.
Remember that car you stole? Well if, while driving it, you happen to get in trouble with the law you can again use your trusty phone to help get away. You can activate pop-up barriers, stoplights, draw bridges, and even burst underground steam pipes to slow down and stop pursuers. This is helpful because, in my opinion, the car controls are a bit loose.
I confess I have not finished the campaign yet because I find myself constantly drawn to other things in the game. Watch Dog’s other things include: mini games, side quests, or just plain walking around scanning people. The thing that I found the most fun to do was to hack the ctOS hub buildings. It was while I was trying to figure out how to get into the second hub without being seen that I inadvertently did it. I did it without stepping one foot inside the building. It was then the game clicked with me. Use the cities wired system against its self. Up until then Watch Dogs seem pretty much like your usual sandbox game with some extra flash. After it clicked, the game really started to open up and show its fun side.
There is a multiplayer mode that is integrated seamlessly into the game. In the multiplayer mode are a few things like a capture the flag style game that has teams chasing down a file to decrypt, various races across town, or hacking other players. It is this last option that I found to be the most intriguing, hacking other players. You can be either the hacker or hackee. If you are the hacker your goal is to steal info from another player while not giving yourself way. So you have to do your best to blend in with the rest of the non-player characters (NPCs). If you are the hackee you won't find out another person is in your game until they install a virus on your phone. After that it's a race against time to find them and stop them before they steal info from your phone. You can opt-out of the multiplayer if you don't want random people showing up in your game.
Graphics and Audio
The realistic graphics certainly look beautiful on the next gen consoles but they do have some problems. There is a point where the fun of the game ends and the glitches take over. Pop-in seems to be the worst offender; in most cases this is prevalent in the drawing distance. Lag also seems to cause odd problems. For example: I went to take down a guard who discovered me non-lethally, but as I swung the bat his reactions were about a second behind. It was like watching a badly choreographed kung-fu movie. I did have one odd instance where I was running then suddenly I stopped moving forward and was running in place like there was an invisible wall. Then within a couple seconds two people suddenly popped up in front of me.
The voice acting is good, with only a couple over the top performances. Since the game takes place in Chicago, the dev team added a nice touch where they went to Chicago and recorded all the NPC voices there to get the authentic accent. The extra soundtrack selections span quite a range of genres and I like the way you unlock them in the game. There are two ways. Either you can "steal" music from random NPCs on the street or use an app on his phone called Song Sneak that adds any song it hears to your library.
When I first started playing Watch Dogs I was less than impressed. The first instance where I had to escape the police left me confused and it was only dumb luck that I was able to escape. I didn't quite understand the scanning system (both the police's and my hacking abilities). The second time I got into a police chase I kept dying and restarting. It was annoying. It wasn't until I got further in the game, after I unlocked some abilities, and performed a complete infiltration without physically entering the building that things started clicking for me. Once it clicked, the game became more enjoyable.
As I said in the beginning, I have not finished the campaign, but that is because Watch Dogs gives you so much more to do and explore. The mini games span genres. You can play poker; Coin Run, which is like a platformer style game; Spider Tank, where you are a virtual robot spider destroying waves of Chicago police; or Psychedelic, where you bounce from flower to flower across the city and many more.
The only real problem I encountered so far is the graphics problems. They are annoying to be sure especially the pop-in since you never know when it will happen, but that did not keep me from enjoying the game. I foresee many, many hours just wandering the streets of Chicago. I give Watch Dogs a 4 out of 5.
Watch Dogs is rated M for Mature for Blood, Intense Violence, Nudity, Strong Language, Strong Sexual Content, Use of Drugs and Alcohol by the Entertainment Software Rating Board.
For more information see the official Watch Dogs web site.