GaTSPod Reviews: Watch_Dogs
Since we first saw it at E3 in 2012, I’ve been patiently waiting for Ubisoft Montreal’s Watch_Dogs. Not even the release delays of the game bothered me since I knew that it meant they could only make the game better. Set in an alternate-reality 2013, where Big Brother is even more prominent than it is in our reality, you traverse Chicago as Aiden Pearce, the cookie-cutter anti-hero. Aiden is out for vengeance after a deal gone bad, with his partner Damien, gets his niece killed. Even though the story is one that’s been told before, Watch_Dogs still is able to completely immerse you in their beautifully connected Chicago.
I wanted to take longer with this review because a few hours into it I actually had a much different opinion from what I do now. Initially, I was confused at what year the game was set in. Because of the incredibly connected world, I told myself it was set in 2028 or 2048. So that made me annoyed by the music choices. There’s no way anyone will be playing 2 Chainz forty years from now. (Not to mention that the cars are models you would see on the road today.) Luckily, I found a graveyard (first time those words have been uttered, right?) and I saw my daughter’s headstone so I could accurately date the game. Even with this game being set in 2013, the music choices are still pretty lackluster. The soundtrack to you driving around the city isn’t bad…it’s just not good. That doesn't seems to be an overall common theme with the game, though.
The main character is effectively “create-a-player default #2”. While I thought the overall boringness of Aiden’s look would irk me, since the game is completely third person, I found myself identifying with him as he could ultimately be whatever I wanted him to be. Aiden is a blank canvas and you, the player, get to bring him to life with your own attitude and play style.
One of the many things Watch_Dogs does right is its cinematics. Cutscenes are done in-engine, so when you experience a mission’s prologue, you transition from cutscene to gameplay seamlessly. One of the many things I loved, because we're still new to this console generation, was how the game maintained that "wow factor" it delivered by keeping everything streamlined. When you take down an enemy, the game cuts to a short cinematic - which always looked superb - and it doesn't jar you out of the immersive quality the creators captured, even though you do lose control of Aiden for a few seconds. Everything about the gameplay felt natural, something I thought would be very difficult to do with the hacking element being in your face the whole time. The only time I noticed something wrong with the game was when the reflection in a glass door didn't match what was behind me. That was, literally, the only issue I found. (And even that was a bit nitpicky.) Even the camera was spot on. I had to retrain my hand to stop constantly trying to fix the camera while driving since it never messed up for me. The camera automatically rides a perfect line of action and precision.
Watch_Dogs may be the best open-world game that I've ever played, but because of Grand Theft Auto V, it's going to be tough to escape Rockstar's shadow. Just because it's tough doesn't mean it can't be done, though. This is the open world experience now. The world felt constantly alive, not just whacky characters all around you like the GTA universe. Mostly everyone comes off as normal at face value, but with the ctOS system you'll discover their darkest secrets and hear conversations meant to be private. Every once in a while you'll see something that’s way out there. I remember I was going to start a mission and was walking to my car. I get there and there's a guy standing next to the car yelling up to the second floor of an apartment building. He was arguing with his (now ex) girlfriend. He must've done something wrong because she was going to throw all his stuff out the window. The guy on the street just wanted her to not ruin his “collectibles", to which she responds by throwing them straight out the window. I just sat in amazement, watching the whole thing unfold, and then drove off like nothing happened. Just another day in Chicago.
To be honest, for me the only places Grand Theft Auto V outshines Watch_Dogs is in the main storyline and the music, but with much better gameplay I still prefer this story more just because it's so fun to play.
Ubisoft definitely meant for Watch_Dogs to be the kind of game you spend a while playing. There are so many side activities, collectibles, and Easter eggs that there's no way this is a game you'll only play for a week. The multiplayer, from what I played (when I could connect to servers as the game was still buggy when I reviewed) was fun. It maintained the same almost seamless gameplay. I could be walking around and then out of nowhere a random player could be trying to steal my data! The team-based games, like Online Decryption, were fun (when my team was cohesive). Trying to stop the other team with just hacking was my favorite way to play, but the fact that there was the option of different play styles was a surprising and refreshing thing to have in multiplayer. Even the offline mode allows you to do the same. You can be the criminal vigilante or the city's savior. I prefer to stop cartel shipments and save citizens in danger. (I’m basically Flashpoint Paradox Batman. Me, my gadgets and my gun will save this town, no matter what.)
Overall, Watch_Dogs was a refreshing take on the open-world game format. You’ll never feel bored in this tech-connected Chicago. Even where the game falls short is not enough to make you dislike the game. Watch_Dogs should be the poster boy for delaying a game, because this is a polished, full-fledged idea come to fruition. Giving it the extra time to bake in the oven obviously did this game well. If you like sandbox games, especially if you're on a current gen console (Xbox One/PS4), buying Watch_Dogs is a no-brainer.