Watch_Dogs PS4 Review
Publisher: Ubisoft Developer: Ubisoft Montreal Genre: Action, Stealth Players: 1-8
Age Rating: 18+ Other console/handheld formats: Xbox One, Xbox 360, PS3, Wii U
There are so many open world games these days that use the Grand Theft Auto mould, and that’s why it’s nice to see some that do something slightly different. Ubisoft’s Watch_Dogs was much anticipated after its unveiling at E3 two years ago, as it promised to take the Grand Theft Auto mould and then attempt to shape it into something else.
The well acted storyline has a vigilante hacker trying to get to the bottom of an hit which resulted in his young niece being killed. Aiden Pearce is the hacker’s name, and as it always goes with such storylines, he wants answers, and won’t rest until he has them. His sister and nephew also factor into the story, and there’s also a cast of nasty bad guys. The story is certainly intriguing enough, and it gets more complicated the deeper you get into the game.
Watch_Dogs takes place on the streets of Chicago, and, like Grand Theft Auto, it combines driving and shooting, but, as this is a Chicago that has an advanced ctOS computer network holding it together, you are also able to make use of Pearce’s hacking talents within the city through the use of his Smartphone, and this all makes for a rather unusual game, albeit one that is also very familiar.
At its most basic, Pearce’s hacking abilities allow you to find out snippets of information about the people of Chicago, as well as to hack into bank accounts, and intercept phone calls and text messages. But as much as all of this makes the city feel more alive and even reveals secrets and unlocks music and helpful items at times, it’s the use of the hacking during the action that is the best use of Pearce’s amazing computer knowledge.
The driving is certainly enjoyable enough, and whenever you are speeding behind the wheel, things move along at a consistent 30fps. The police system has you racing to get outside of a search zone, and it’s even possible to get out of sight, and slump down in your vehicle to avoid detection. Because Ubisoft wants you to make full use of the hacking, you are unable to shoot while driving. This means that during chases (whether you are being pursued or you are the pursuer), a single button allows you to do a number of things when you or your victims are in range of the urban weapons at your disposal around the city. Traffic lights can be manipulated causing high speed crashes at junctions, bridges can be raised to shake pursuers off your tail, steam pipes can be blown up on the road, gates and garage doors can be opened for you to slip through, and barriers can be raised and so on. It’s a fun way to get rid of whoever you are facing, and it brings to mind the Power Plays in Split/Second: Velocity.
As there’s little skill involved in taking out your pursuers or the vehicles you are pursuing though, and it’s a simple case of pressing a button when “neutralise” appears on the screen, some may find this feature too simple for its own good.
The shooting is very tidy, with a responsive point-and-move cover system. For those used to making use of blind-fire tactics though, blind-fire is an absent feature here. Still, during shoot-outs cover is a must, as Pearce is certainly no Superman. He might not be a superhero, but he’s certainly a super hacker, and, with that said, he is able to use his hacking skills to his advantage, using the environment to take down enemies, distracting them, blowing them up with their own grenades and so on. It’s like being God with a Smartphone.
The game often gives you the freedom to play in the way you deem most suitable, allowing for noisy and messy gunfights or for a more clinical stealthy approach. The stealth also gives you plenty of leeway, and hacking into cameras and riding from one to the next, and surveying the area to decide how to proceed is always helpful during such situations, or you could always just make use of a silenced pistol. As you can perform your expert hacking from the sanctuary of cover, you can actually cause chaos and confusion amongst your enemies, which never fails to be a lot of fun.
The main storyline is lengthy and there’s also a nice variation of missions, which means that these main missions never feel as if they outstay their welcome. The side missions on the other hand are also huge in number, and have you doing everything from stealing cars and delivering them safely to a new destination, infiltrating or storming into gang bases and giving the gang leader a good hiding to send said gang a message, accessing ctOS towers (which reveals secrets on the map), and there are also side stories which can be followed by doing different things as well as the weird and wonderful Digital Trips, which I won’t spoil by going too much into here. There’s also other distractions offered such as Chess and Poker, amongst other things. Typically, as with most side content, some of this optional content will likely become boring for some, but Watch_Dogs does prove to be rewarding if you stick in there with some of the tasks, and you’ll unlock new weapons, cars and trophies as progression rewards thanks to your persistence.
Yes, there may be a lot to do in Watch_Dogs, but there’s little to spend your virtual cash on. The game allows you to amass money easily through various means and to purchase weapons and cars, but other than feeling smug about having such a bloated number, you’ll feel pointlessly rich most of the time. Also, there’s a reputation system, although it feels bolted on as opposed to anything of any real worth, and would certainly have benefited to have been given more depth.
You’ll also level up throughout the game and are able to make use of points you earn to enhance Pearce’s abilities. The hacking, the combat, the driving and the crafting (for creating helpful items) can all be upgraded via a skill tree. The game doesn’t offer the deepest set of customisation options in the world, but there’s still a pleasing amount of options for you to toy with.
When it comes to multiplayer, Watch_Dogs certainly has some nice ideas. It’s possible to quickly access the multiplayer options, and it’s then a simple case of choosing your mode and returning to single player until a match is found for you. Alongside a Free Roam mode, there’s online races in which you are able to make use of your hacking abilities, which really does bring Split/Second to mind, and lots of chaos and enjoyment is certainly to be had during these races. The Online Decryption mode on the other hand is a team-based mode that has you fighting to decrypt a file by picking it up and holding it until the file is finished decrypting, although the other team are obviously attempting to do the same thing. It’s a brilliant mode, and definitely one of the highlights of the online options. There’s also a ctOS Mobile Challenge mode, which has one player racing to get away from another player, while another player with a Smartphone or tablet with the companion app installed uses the city against the other player in an attempt to stop them escaping. This is another fun and chaotic mode.
Online, there’s also the tail and hacking modes, of which are also excellent modes, and have players invading the single player games of others. Both these options are tense and exciting, and I certainly felt major satisfaction when I ended up in another players game in which said player was being hunted down by the police at the very same time as my attempted hack. As the hacker, you have to stay hidden away by any means necessary while the other player has to track you down before the hack is complete. Tailing on the other hand has you following and observing a target, while the other player has to find you before it’s too late. If you prefer your single player games to remain single player only, this invasion feature can be turned off entirely.
Visually, Watch_Dogs is nice enough to look at, although it’s nothing outstanding by any means. The game looks at its best during wet weather as well as at night, but it certainly doesn’t graphically match up to the first showing of the game at E3 two years ago. While the weather and night time visuals are impressive and there are some lovely effects elsewhere, it’s the rock solid 30fps frame rate that is the star here, at least in the PS4 version I tested. This is one of the smoothest open-world games you could possibly ask for, and definitely the smoothest one I’ve ever played.
While some elements may prove to be undercooked for some players and others may be a little too simplistic, Watch_Dogs is a hugely enjoyable game that allows you to use its open-world as a weapon. The hacking abilities do add another layer to the game, and also gives you more options when it comes to everything from car chases, shootouts to the more silent approaches, while the online options are also brilliant. As good as this first game is, I’m guessing that Watch_Dogs could turn into something very special indeed in any future sequels.