Watch_Dogs – Game Review and Analysis
By Dan Maurer
Developer: Ubisoft Montreal
Director: Jonathan Morin
Producer: Dominic Guay
Designer: Danny Belanger
Programmer: Francis Boivin
Writer: Kevin Shortt
Composers: Brian Reitzell, Peter Connelly
Engine: Disrupt, Havok Physics
Platforms: Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, Xbox One, Wii U
Release Date: May 27, 2014
Modes: Single-player, multiplayer
After a lengthy delay from developer Ubisoft, one of the year’s most anticipated games has finally been released. Watch_Dogs is the highly anticipated game from developer Ubisoft Montreal (also famous for its Splinter Cell games). In development since 2009, Ubisoft Montreal has built an all new engine for the ground up for this game and it shows in the results.
You are Aiden Pearce, a hacker out for revenge after a crime goes horribly wrong which puts his niece in the grave. Donning his iconic baseball cap and trench coat, our hero takes to the streets of a near future Chicago monitored by an omnipotent program called the ctOS. The ctOS controls just about every city function, making it a potent weapon for someone with a serious vendetta. You’ll spend most of the game staring at your insanely powerful handheld, which you’ll use to alternately terrorize and protect a city dominated by the connective tissue of technology. At the press of a button, you can tap into nearly any device, listen in on phone calls, read private texts, steal ATM PIN codes, and even jam communication altogether. You can just as easily access the city’s infrastructure, raising and lowering bridges, toggling traffic lights, and blowing up steam pipes. You’re a creepy voyeur, a concerned citizen, and a godlike city controller all wrapped into one. Still, exerting control over an entire city’s electrical grid can be intoxicating. You gain new abilities over time. By the halfway point of the game you’ll be disabling police choppers and blacking out large chunks of the city. Watch_Dogs is at its best when it puts you in situations where you really need to leverage your power over technology to succeed.
Watch_Dogs taps into paranoia, one in which potential victims are stalked based upon their status updates to social networks. Aiden even encounters a woman on the street who dismisses the notion from a friend that she’s sharing too much online, offering as evidence that an Internet bookseller isn’t intelligent enough to recommend to her a title she wants to read. She says this as her account is being drained of everything. But Aiden’s phone can do a lot more than intrude. The device essentially allows players to explore the city and its skyscrapers while standing still, resulting in surprisingly thrilling action sequences. Aiden can hack a security camera, then a cell phone camera, and then jump back and forth and up and down while moving through Chicago essentially as a ghost. Traffic lights can be flipped, construction equipment can be set into motion, bridges can be raised and Chicago’s El train can be manipulated. Early on the game teases us, encouraging players to buy Aiden a gun that he ultimately doesn’t need to use for at least the first part of the game. When he has to hack into a computer system, it’s sometimes best to find a cell phone resting around in the palm of a security guard. Now with a hip level point of view, Aiden can activate an electronically controlled door that was initially out of sight, thus inspiring the guard to turn around. It turns action scenes into gun free puzzles, so much so that it becomes a momentum jolt whenever the game backs away from its hacking innovations.
Though the graphics aren’t quite as impressive as those promised at E3 two years ago, they are solid. The gloomy world of Chicago which protagonist Aiden Pearce inhabits sets the scene for a battle of morality, as a vigilante who can hack into practically anything seeks revenge for the murder of his niece. A nice touch is that information on people’s personal details such as “widower with three children” might cause a guilty pang before stealing their money. But the delay doesn’t last long. There was a lot of controversy surrounding Watch_Dog’s graphics approaching its launch but it appears to have been based on a few videos, not firsthand gameplay. Some gamers believe Watch Dogs looked better back in the 2012 E3 trailer versus more recent gameplay trailers or the graphics seen in the beta, but the former used console gameplay instead of PC and the latter was downgraded to reduce the size of the download. Whatever the case was, the game looks amazing when set to ultra on the PC. The visuals are spectacular whether you play on a console or even a high end gaming PC.
Watch_Dogs is an amazing game and a good glimpse on the kind of games we can look forward to going into the next generation of consoles. With a solid 20 hours of gameplay (100+ hours if you complete every side mission in the game according to the developer), you will find plenty to do and plenty to destroy in Watch Dogs.
PunchDrunkGamer.com Final Score: 9 out of 10
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