It’s hard to keep good Watch Dogs down
By: Derek Mitchell
| Posted: Wednesday, Jul 02, 2014 06:00 am
Rating: M (violence, language)
Platforms: Xbox 360, Xbox One, PS3, PS4
+ Chicago is exciting to explore with merged single player and multiplayer
+ Cutscenes reveal great care and detail
+ Unique hacking helps you don the “silent protector” persona
- Storyline not as gripping as anticipated and lacked a serious tone
Though delayed six months, the highly anticipated Watch Dogs is worth the wait. Beautifully sculpted vistas are a joy to behold and explore while the hacking adds a unique element to the already exciting and fun formula. While some may see it as simply a rip-off of GTA V, there is enough unique material and minor shifts in game play and presentation to make Watch Dogs a great game in its own right.
Early previews of the game had me assuming that the game would be chock full of espionage, bringing down an Orwellian government of suppression and control. Instead, there are heartfelt moments where Aiden Pierce (you) must protect his sister and nephew, whom he hasn't seen since the death of his niece. A year ago, a botched hacking job meant Aiden was "sent a message" and his niece murdered. Now, as the scars have finally begun to heal, his family is threatened once again and he’s thrust back into the underworld of systems hacking. Armed with his trusty smart phone and a small band of allies, he’ll track down the threats to his family and bring down the corruption that is plaguing Chicago. Unfortunately, the deep, character-driven story hinted at during early phases of the game wasn’t effectively flushed out and much of the game’s plot lacks a real-world immediacy and intensity.
The most obvious element setting Watch Dogs apart from other sandbox games is the hacking of the barrage of technology the surrounds you. The smooth, streamlined hacking gives you an almost super-hero kind of feel and connects you – and players around the world – to the city in a special way. Need extra help while being chased? Hack some traffic lights or trigger underground steam pipes to help put some distance between you and the bad guys. Need some extra cash? Walk the streets and hack the devices of citizens, gleaning cash from their accounts as you go. Want to get the drop on some enemies? Hack a city camera, disable one adversary’s ability to call in reinforcements, and then remote detonate the grenade in the pocket of another gunman. Amidst all this is the choice the game leaves you: whether to go in guns a-blazing or choose the more rewarding, stealthy approach. Then there are hotspots sprinkled throughout The Windy City where other players leave gifts of cash or ammo; if you’re feeling generous, you can do the same. This is one of the many ways, including contracts and team gun battles, where the irresistible multiplayer is seamlessly blended into the single-player campaign.
As the game’s title implies, you are also a silent vigilante, protecting the citizens of Chicago. This urban sprawl is littered with citizens, and thanks to their cellphones, each can be scanned and a bit of information gleaned. Hours can be spent roaming the city and the outlying rural elements, either watching over others, or hacking into their lives and reaping the rewards of your curiosity. As awesome as it was to be racing through the underground tunnels and across bridges from the film The Dark Knight – partly filmed in Chicago – my favourite moments in the game were when I hacked a person’s conversation and realized a crime was about to ensue. I could then follow the suspicious person and intervene, not only receiving rewards as a protector of the city, but also a personal, humanizing reward for having helped out. This allowed me to feel a little more connected to the setting and the citizens compared to GTA.
It’s the nature of the gaming beast that a sandbox-style game like Watch Dogs, with its array of cars, characters, and gun-fuelled mayhem, will be compared to Grand Theft Auto. Despite the hit-and-miss plot, the presentation is glorious. Cut-scenes reveal highly detailed character animations with fantastic motion capture adding tremendous realism – a definite step up from GTA. Great care went into the visual subtleties: the seeming infinite draw distances, the way light and shadow play across characters and locales at sunset, the nuanced details in the walls and streets during a rainstorm. And though it’s not on as large a scale as Grand Theft Auto, it’s still massive and the overall quality-over-quantity approach, as well as the blending of single and multiplayer, yields a game that is at least on par with – if not supersedes, in many respects – GTA.
When he’s not teaching high school, St. Albert Catholic High School alumnus Derek Mitchell can be found attached to a video game console.