After a delay that lasted half a year, the game that stole the show at E3 2012 has finally graced us with its presence.
With its E3 reveal, Watch Dogs promised a revolutionary open world gaming experience that not only featured hacking based gameplay but a fluid merger of single and multiplayer experience.
Has Ubisoft been able to match the hype created by its unveiling or is this another case of unrequited expectations and broken promises?
While it is not the much hoped revolutionary piece of gaming experience, Watch Dogs manages to provide a superb open world sandbox experience that puts more focus on stealth than any of its peers.
Watch Dogs is set in the modern-day city of Chicago, which is managed through a centralized computer operating system called CtOS.
CtOS controls not just the administrative and municipal activities of the city but acts as an information repository on profiles, activities and communications of the city’s residents.
The game’s story revolves around Aiden Pearce, a skilled hacker, who can hack into CtOS to obtain and control information and the city to his advantage.
Aiden uses his gifts for nefarious purposes, which land him into trouble and results in loss of a family member.
This leads to a narrative of thrill and intrigue strung under auspices of revenge that takes Aiden across Chicago to interact with characters that use this absence of privacy for their own purposes.
The narrative of Watch Dogs explores groups that work outside the law, which in this case, revolves around control, use and access of data.
Whether you look at it in terms of its story, presentation or gameplay, at its heart Watch Dogs is a postmodern Grand Theft Auto game.
Ubisoft has created an open world sand box game where most of the activities performed its main “protagonist” are at worst, self-serving and illegal or at best, anti-establishment and the primary mode of traversal is via motorized vehicles through a metropolis.
As Aiden, players have the freedom to act as anti-socially as possible and move through the city by robbing people of their cars and money.
Moreover, the game’s mission structure, world map, way point system, weapon upgrades, attire changes, safe house use, side missions and mini-games all hearken back to the gameplay mechanics established by the GTA series.
This leads to a lot of comparisons to the well-established Rockstar series for anyone who has had the fortune of playing the modern band of GTA games in the past.
While the game mirrors each of the aforementioned gameplay aspects quite competently, it does not match GTA V in the variety of different side missions, mini games, weapons, clothes and vehicles.
Speaking of which, players might also find the driving mechanics in Watch Dogs a bit more floaty than what they are used to with the GTA franchise.
However, the driving system appears to be quite competent in use and only requires a few tries to get used to new handling.
The core differentiating gameplay element of Watch Dogs is Aiden’s ability to hack the environment. Using his trusty smart phone, Aiden is able to easily change certain environmental parameters to his advantage.
These hacking abilities range from stealth elements like surveying through security cameras, unlocking secured pathways and disrupting communications to aggressive tactics like blowing up environmental items and blocking enemy path.
While each of these actions varies a lot in its utility and use, however, their execution is mapped to just one push of a button.
While some might consider the single button, context-sensitive hacking mechanic of Watch Dogs dumbed down and overly simplistic, I would consider this simplicity as the core element that makes the game a success.
The fact that most of the hacking gameplay is mapped out to one-button makes hacking not a technical but more of a tactical part of the gameplay experience.
The context-sensitive hacking allows players the freedom and ability to strategize and choose hacking methodology on the fly during hectic activities like overwhelming firefights, tense infiltrations and chase sequences.
However, there are certain cases where it becomes a bit difficult to target a specific person when faced with a densely populated area, or triggering one hack instead of another.
Nevertheless, it is quite commendable how the developers could keep the contexts behind these hacking abilities unique enough that these issues don’t surface on a frequent basis.
Aside from these tactical and stealth options, another area where Watch Dogs differs from the normal GTA-fare is the ability to upgrade Aiden via a skill tree system.
Through the XP gained by completing story actions and the myriad of side missions, players can gain various abilities related to driving, hacking, combat and crafted items.
Yes, Watch Dogs also allows players to gather materials throughout the play through and craft temporary items that can be used for combat as well as stealth purposes.
These options really drive home the element of sand-box gameplay, as the players usually have a boat load of options on how to complete a mission rather a single defined route.
The game also manages to visually differentiate itself from the standard-fare open world games and just like Assassin’s Creed, Ubisoft has made Watch Dogs its own universe when it comes to presentation.
While it does follow the open world tropes of day-and-night cycles and changing weather system, the overall feel of the Watch Dogs universe is always there.
Whether it is in gameplay, during cut scenes or within the game’s menus, the player is always greeted with glitch effects and an abundance of hack-able information lines.
These information lines play a huge part when Aiden has the ‘Profiler’ app equipped, which allows a player to view information on every single citizen in the character’s vicinity.
Though a pretty simple feature, it adds greater depth to the NPCs inhabiting this virtual Chicago and really creates an illusion of portraying a true organically working open world environment.
Speaking of environment, Ubisoft Montreal has done a pretty decent job rendering the city of Chicago.
Though not as big as the GTA V’s Los Santos, Watch Dog’s Chicago is filled with recreations of real landmarks, urban areas and the country side.
At first glance, the city itself looks about as good as the last GTA, however up close, the game offers better lighting, textures and weather effects if viewed on the next-gen systems.
However, one place where Watch Dogs stumbles is its draw distance.
Even on the next-gen systems, Watch Dogs’ draw distance is inferior to GTA V which, as everyone knows, was a PS3, Xbox360 game.
While the problem is not bad enough to uproot player from the gameplay experience, however, seeing as the game was synonymous with the launch of PS4 and Xbox One, it is certainly a visual disappointment when compared to games like inFamous: Second Son.
Though nothing stands out as particularly spectacular, Ubisoft has done a pretty commendable job when it comes to the game’s audio.
Like most AAA urban open world games, Watch Dogs offers great background music, nice selection of licensed songs and effective sound effects of guns, explosions and vehicular carnage.
Unlike the recent open world franchises like GTA, Red Dead and Assassin’s Creed, Watch Dog’s lead Aiden does not exude much personality and is akin to Cole from the first inFamous game.
Bulk of the characterization is presented through Aiden’s supporting cast which is, thankfully, much more expressive.
Lasting five Acts, the story campaign offered by Watch Dogs is a fairly lengthy one.
The experience is further expanded by myriad of side-missions that involve solving crimes, mini games like Poker, Chess and Augmented Reality games, investigation missions, collectables and unlockable skills.
Moreover, Watch Dogs also contains an asynchronous multiplayer portion.
Akin to the multiplayer portions in recent GTA games, while connected to the Internet, player can choose to partake in multiplayer activities that take place in the same map as the single player portion of the game.
Players can participate in action-filled online contracts, races, a capture the flag like decryption mode and mode where the player has to evade obstacles created by another player ( on a tablet device) who controls the city’s infrastructure and police.
While these options are fairly standard in contemporary online multiplayer arena, one mode that differs from the rest is Invasion missions.
Harkening to online gameplay of the Souls games, the Invasion missions allow other players to Invade the player’s “city” and try to hack them while the player tries to identify the invader via the profiler and not let them escape.
These online missions offer their own XP system that unlocks certain perks that can be utilized in its online portion.
However, these perks are not as robust as what is available in other online games or even the game’s single player skill unlockables.
While the game offers several fun multiplayer modes, it falls short of the E3 promise revolutionary seamless multiplayer experience.
And perhaps this is what most players might take away from the overall experience offered by Watch Dogs.
While it is true that Watch Dogs is not a revolutionary enhancement of gameplay, graphics and online integration as what we were led to believe, if the players are able to look past the exaggerated promises of the past, they might realize that the game is still an extremely well made piece of entertainment.
Even though it’s inevitable sequels might meet and surpass those promises, this initial installment of Watch Dogs franchise provides a blend of open world sand box action with tactical stealth gameplay the likes of which we have never experienced before.
Through its sandbox hacking gameplay mechanic, Watch Dogs offers a unique blend of stealth and action that adds a bit of tactical vibe to the regular open world gameplay.
There is still room for improvement and further polish to the hacking mechanics and implementation of online components.
Might not stand up to its 2012 reveal but it is still a pretty looking game with great lighting and good textures on PC and the next-gen systems.
While not too noticeable, the game does stumble a bit when it comes to its draw distance.
Watch Dogs offers a nice mix of sound design with great sound effects, good song selection and quite competent voice acting from its supporting cast.
However the stoic nature of the main character makes the vocal performance less arresting and leaves the player wanting for more energy and personality from the character they are controlling.
The game owns its presentation style, with every effect, cinematic, menu, information and signal depicting the unnatural glitch quality of the hacking theme that is at the core of this new franchise.
Aside from its lengthy story campaign, Watch Dogs offers countless hours of entertainment with its variety of side-missions, mini games, collectables, upgradable skills and a fairly large online multiplayer component.
While definitely not the revolutionary open-world experience it was expected to be, Watch Dogs offers a remarkable achievement in its offering of a cohesive open world, sand box experience that focuses more on its stealth elements than all out action.