Review: Watch_Dogs

It seems like an eternity since Watch_Dogs was announced at E3 2012, I remember watching the footage and being awestruck by how gorgeous the game looked. However, the games development seemed to be on a slippery slope after being delayed and missing the launch window for the release of the PS4 and Xbox One. With many being sceptical over what the end product would yield, I’m pleased to say Watch_Dogs succeeds – even with a few flaws.

Developer: Ubisoft
Publisher: Ubisoft
Reviewed on: Xbox One
Also Available On: PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Wii U, PC
Release Date: Available Now (TBC – Wii U)


Watch_Dogs puts you in the shoes of Aiden Pearce, an elite hacker with a troubled past. The entire plot of the game revolves around Pearce’s quest for vengeance following the death of his niece. Along the way you’ll run into a myriad of characters with their own goals and intentions. From fellow hacker Clara Lille, mob boss and philanthropist Dermot “Lucky” Quinn and self-proclaimed “fixer with principles” Jordi Chin – my personal favourite character in the game due to his colourfulness and not a care in the world attitude to situations and who definitely needed more screen time.

As a whole, the entire overarching story in Watch_Dogs is a shambles. The plot is manic and jumps around all over the place way too often. On more than one occasion I’d be questioning why I was in a certain situation or why I was all of a sudden trying to take out a guy I’d never heard of.

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Watch_Dogs’ gameplay revolves around hacking the systems of the hyper connected city of Chicago by using the city’s operating system; ctOS. There are a large variety of systems to hack, from traffic lights and transformers to road bollards and trains. You can also cause a blackout in a small portion of the city to escape from sticky situations. Hacking is fairly basic and you have the ability to use it from the start of the game. To hack an object all you need to do is hold “X” (or “Square”) on your controller whilst looking at it. You can also hack objects when looking through security cameras, essentially allowing you to daisy chain between cameras in an area to hack objects that would otherwise be out of sight. You still need to ensure Pearce isn’t in a compromised position when hacking though as you can most certainly be found and killed.

Combat in Watch_Dogs also flows nicely, though I would have liked the game to put a bigger emphasis on stealth based gameplay as there are very few situations that you can’t shoot your way out of. Even when a mission seems to be based on stealth you can sometimes run in guns blazing with no penalties. However, there is a certain thrill to be had by triggering a blackout, taking out a few guys and then disappearing before the lights come back on. Enemies can also be hacked in some cases, with some carrying cameras, ear pieces that can be disrupted, phones that can be set off and grenades that can be detonated. There are a wide variety of weapons to use, however there is very little in the way of customization for these weapons. “Spec Ops” variations of weapons can be unlocked through progression, allowing you to stay concealed better, but that’s really about it. Pearce’s clothes can be customized however, if that’s your kind of thing.

Watch_Dogs employs a “focus” meter which allows you to slow down time during combat or driving for more precision. The meter refills gradually over time and can also be refilled by using a focus boost item which can be crafted on a whim. Most gadgets in Watch_Dogs can be crafted – or bought from a certain character later on – using components found in the world or bought from a pawn shop. Grenades, IEDs, blackouts, scans and com jammers all come in useful at various points in the game and allow you to switch up your play style on the fly. Com jammers in particular can be used to avoid the cops when they are scanning for you and can also be used to stop enemies calling in back up and civilians calling the police.

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Every NPC in Watch_Dogs has their own unique identity which you can profile, allowing you to dig up dirt on extra side missions, crime locations, convoys and also allows you to usurp money from more well off citizens. After a while, you’ll definitely start to notice people’s occupations and facts about them repeating themselves, and it seems the majority of Chicago’s citizens are slightly degenerate and scumbags.

Aside from side missions, there are also a variety of online modes which tie directly to single player in terms of your progression. Online hacking is the most prevalent of these, allowing you to sneakily invade another players’ game – completely unbeknownst to them at first – and attempt to steal their data. Other players can also invade your game and attempt to steal your data too. There’s a real tension involved, as you never know when another player might be stalking you, waiting for the perfect moment to initiate their hack. It’s a lot of fun and can come completely out of the blue when you’re cruising around Chicago. There’s an also an online free roam, allowing you to jump into a game and explore Chicago with 7 others. Another game mode worth noting is Online Decryption where yourself and three others team up to decrypt a file whilst another team attempt to stop you and decrypt it themselves. There’s a whole lot to do in the game, and by the time I’d wrapped up the main story, I’d already invested about 30 hours of play time. There’s still a lot to do and I’ll most definitely be going back and cleaning up, but my one gripe with the structuring of the missions is that they all seem to be the same. There’s definitely some repetition going on with the constant tailing missions and “take this guy down” mission. It’s all a bit uninspired.

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Watch_Dogs also has a variety of mini-games known as “digital trips”. These are alternate versions of Chicago which allow you to do a myriad of things such as control a giant spider tank and wreak mayhem. It’s a nice addition which allows you to let loose without affecting your in-game reputation. Reputation increases by stopping crimes and decreases by killing civilians and police. Having a high reputation brings the citizens of Chicago to rally behind you, whilst having a low reputation will make them fear you and entice them to call the police when they see you. Whilst it’s not the greatest of morality systems, it does change gameplay and the story marginally.

Progressing throughout the game also allows you to level up and earn skill points which can be placed into a variety of skill trees specializing in areas such as hacking, driving and combat. It’s a nice touch, allowing you to unlock extra abilities such as disrupting helicopters or giving vehicles better tyre durability. Vehicles, for them most part aren’t the best I’ve ever seen in a sandbox game. There’s a wide variety of them, but most of them handle like a walrus on a skateboard. Some of the most fun you can have in Watch_Dogs however is being in a high speed chase and using the hacks in the environment to lose your pursuers. Opening a garage door, closing it and then triggering a blackout so you can’t be followed is a whole lot of fun.

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I’m of mixed opinion when it comes to the music and the sounds in Watch_Dogs. On the plus side, the original score is pretty nifty and fits the tone of the game well, but when you jump in a car and turn on the licensed music for the radio you’ll probably – like myself – be enticed to turn it off in the game settings. It’s not awful, but there are better things to have graced my ears. The car horns also let off a horrible noise not even entirely representative of a horn, I’d advise not using them when you can.

In terms of graphical capabilities, Watch_Dogs on next-gen consoles doesn’t hold a candle to what we were shown at E3 – with the PC version more than likely being an exception. Whilst it won’t bother many people – myself included – that there’s been a graphical downgrade, it’s sure to disappoint many others. The game also seems to suffer from some obscenely long loading times in some cases. The initial loading screen after the main menu can sometimes take more than two minutes to reach 100%. Frame-rate holds steady at 30FPS for the majority of the time, even when there’s a lot of commotion on screen. However, there were cases when the frame-rate plummeted significantly on more than one occasion, at one point for a full minute when I was getting no more than 5FPS. That problem was quickly resolved by pausing and unpausing however.

Hackable open world fun
Massive replay value
Some great characters
Uninspired mission structure and sloppy plot
Technologically, it’s going to disappoint some people
Not enough Jordi Chin

It’s hard to say if the six month delay for Watch_Dogs has been worth it. I dread to think what the game would have been like if it released last year as I’d assume it would’ve been a mess. The game might not necessarily be representative of the one we saw two years ago at E3 and in no way tries to reinvent the wheel in terms of gameplay, but Ubisoft have brought us a unique sandbox game that fans of the genre won’t want to miss.

Review copy provided by Ubisoft

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Official Game Site


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  1. Great review. A bit more forgiving then I would have been. Watch Dogs is a competent open world game. It excels at nothing though, except maybe being really pretty when the weather kicks up. Driving is unresponsive and heavy. Shooting is bland and AI is dumb. You can’t jump at all. The games two best characters, Jackson and Jordi, have the least amount of screen time and dialogue. Aiden is a hollow every man anti-hero we have seen a billion times. The story is not very engaging with zero stand out moments.

    Clara, the defacto pretty girl hacker with a french accent just makes you roll your eyes. The soundtrack is awful and control over it is taken away constantly, leaving you to play in silence or listen to the super bland mission music when a mission even has any. For some reason Aiden’s own human vision gets “scrambled” like he’s in the matrix during certain missions and it’s super annoying. The “hacking” feels more like magic than hacking. You can’t change your clothes really, they all look pretty close to identical minus some color changes and different hats and frills.

    Digital trips and side missions get old fast once the initial cool factor wears off. The game clearly took notes from GTA, Sleeping Dogs and Saints Row, but hits none of the high notes those games did. If this game never gets a sequel I’d shed no tears. Worth the money if you already have the rest of the current next gen library.

  2. I can see where all your complaints are coming from and they are genuine. Contemplating things further, it’s really just a nice little filler at the moment, but nothing more. Once I’ve gone back and mopped up some of the achievements etc. I’m not sure how much more I’ll play it.

    But for what it’s worth, I definitely had fun with the game – more so after I found the setting to disable the damn car radio.

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