As the Ubisoft plane came plummeting to the ground, they threw out everything they could in an attempt to get a few precious moments to call their loved ones and beg for forgiveness. One of the offerings was Watch Dogs, a game about hacking. That is, the movie interpretation of hacking.
Watch Dogs is hacking game focussed on Aiden Pearce, a man in a trenchcoat with a phone. The setting is real-world Chicago, with an unreal Skynet that runs everything, from traffic lights to bollards to helicopters, in the later game. They did manage to get the super network of CCTV cameras right though, so maybe ctOS isn’t that outrageous. What follows is a fairly bog-standard 3rd person shooter, with waist high cover mechanics and a hacking mechanic tacked on when necessary.
Admittedly, in some situations, the hacking mechanic can be quite useful. You can zip between the CCTV cameras to get an aerial view, methodically plan your route and see exactly who will riddle your spiffy trenchcoat with machine gun fire. You can do some other things as well, like make steam happen and explode a box on the wall or even make a phone beep.
Watch Dogs is also, obviously, an open world game. You can drive cars, run over pedestrians and explore Chicago for little, random events to intervene in. Although Ubisoft scammed their audience out of the experience shown in E3, you can find mods that will bring the HD experience back. Still, the regular experience isn’t too bad, the city is expansive and interesting, there’s always something to find when you’re slumming it on your feet.
With an open world game, split between driving and walking, comes the inevitably reckless and single minded police chases we’ve grown to know, love and expect. Hop in a spawned supercar, run over a policeman and hoof it into the distance. Look out for the flashing symbol and you can catch your pursuers, be they police or gangsters, on some spring loaded bollards or between some improbably responsive cars at traffic lights. If you manage to evade the police, they will lose interest, give a half-hearted attempt to look for you and go back to scoffing donuts (probably).
The hacking mechanic extends to the streets, allowing you to peek at other peoples phone’s, nosing through their texts or draining their bank accounts. This is hindered as you progress, with moles who will attempt to alert security that you’re being naughty. One of the online features in the game takes this to an extreme, bringing another player into your game (secretly) and has them attempt to hack your phone. You then have the opportunity to look for them and tell them to bugger off.
The first time was fine; I got a little message saying someone was hacking my phone (secretly), so I marched over and told Baiden Bearce to go away. The second time, Caiden Cearce was sat in a Lamborghini on the pavement and, when I noticed him, ran me over at 700 miles an hour. The third – and final – time, Daiden Dearce had managed to park himself on the roof of a 3 story building, which I’m fairly certain you can’t reach through normal means, and I got fed up and quit.
After that I turned on offline mode because if I wanted to be tormented by teenagers, I’d buy Call of Duty.
Unfortunately, the game has another method of tormenting me with teenagers in the form of a mobile tie-in and my soon-to-be brother-in-law wanted to try it out. Now, to be fair, this was just a bunch of races, where the assailant can call in the police and set off traps to stop you. However, through my absolute and undeniable skill coupled with his inability of foresight, these were pretty easy to complete. That was, until, he made his own course which including jumping over a half-built bridge.
And then going back over it.
All of this interactivity really distracts you from the story which is good, because it’s dull. Aiden Pearce was naughty and got his niece whacked by the “mafia”, so now he is angsty and has a gravelly voice. After so many years of thinking about his niece who was killed, which is bad, Aiden takes it upon himself to kill a load of dudes to make up for it. To do that, you are ferried along a story full of cool teenagers and their AIM nicknames, dyed hair and piercings, between a shoot-out here and a car chase there. Occasionally there’s an opportunity to hack a server room, where you can snoop on the unsuspecting public and find little easter eggs.
I eventually gave up on Watch Dogs when the only thing that made it more difficult was making sure every wave of enemies included at least one Brute. Essentially, a big man covered in armour that could unload several clips of ammo in to and they’d still be able to quip at you in a staticy voice.
Overall, Watch Dogs is an okay 3rd person cover shooter. The concept was a cool idea, but the execution let it down. Everything feels a bit “by the books” along the way, there’s nothing outstanding that jumps out at me. The online factor could be an interesting addition but, when exposed to the internet, easy to take advantage of. As long as it stays as a one-off from Ubisoft, I’ll be happy.