Gaming: Watch Dogs

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In my first few hours with Watch Dogs, I was pretty bored and disappointed. It played like a Grand Theft Auto clone with a hacking gimmick and really poor driving mechanics. But after I got past the first few side missions and finally took on the main story line in full, I discovered a sandbox game with more fun stuff to do than in any other one I can remember.
The story is average for the genre, which is actually a step up for Ubisoft. After the disastrous scriptwriting missteps in the Assassin's Creed series and the abysmal second half of Far Cry 3, I was convinced that Ubisoft was incapable of tying a story together coherently. Watch Dogs doesn't take many chances in completing its arc, but it's acceptable.
You take on the role of Aiden Pearce, a master hacker living in the “Smart city” of Chicago. Yep, all of Chicago is wired into the network, called ctOS, and hackers like us are all over the place taking advantage of the situation. For all the rhetoric I've read claiming that Liberty City is the main Character of Grand Theft Auto 4, it pales in comparison to the living, breathing Chicago in Watch Dogs. Any time you have your phone out, which you almost always should, you can get basic information on every citizen in the city. Some of them have decent bank accounts, so you can hack their money right into your account and make a withdrawal at the closest ATM.
Your phone also clues you into potential crimes in the area, and some of these missions, especially “Gang Hideout,” are just as fun as anything I played last generation. Ubisoft has managed to take the very best aspects of GTA, Deus Ex: Human Revolution, Assassin's Creed, even Metal Gear Solid (!) to create a unique sandbox experience. It's usually a bad idea to go into missions just blasting away at everything; there are all kinds of things in the environment that you can hack to confuse the enemy, blow him up, or knock him down.
Of course, you can play shoot-'em-up if you want to, and some missions require you to kill enemies to get through. This game is NOT for anyone under the age of seventeen. Amazingly, the combat is as intense and brutal as some of the best third person shooters out there. You have the classic “bullet time” ability, called “focus” in Watch Dogs, which lets you slow time for a little while so you have the upper hand in battle. What makes focus so cool in this game is the ability to use it while driving. As you're escaping a group of enemies or chasing some down, there are many objects in the environment to help you in your task; hack a streetlight to get traffic moving in both directions. Open a drawbridge and make a wicked getaway jump. Some of these opportunities come and go very quickly, so when you're driving in slow motion, you can arrange some awesome set-pieces of virtual mayhem that never disappoint.
The music in Watch Dogs is top-notch as well. The tunes are just fine when you're driving around, but it's the contextual music that is special. When you're approaching a possible crime scene, trying not to be seen, the music is straight out of Deus Ex: Human Revolution. I took on an infiltration mission in an abandoned part of town, and the ambient tapping of synthetic drums fit the scene perfectly.
A lot of missions involve hacking your way into high-security areas for sensitive information. Getting in undetected, without killing anyone, is an absolute high. In some of the missions, you're discovered by default after getting the information, and the escape scenes are pure gold. I felt like I was Jason Bourne at times, using all kinds of crazy driving techniques and special hacking abilities to get away.
"Damn. I can't breath in this thing!"
One of the main problems in Watch Dogs is the hero Aiden. We never get a clear picture of who he is or why he's motivated to do so many things that are contradictive to how he acts in the main story missions. There are even a few baffling side missions involving psychedelics that seem liked they were focus-grouped into the game in an effort to imitate Saints Row and a few missions from GTAV. It's not game breaking, but there's a lot of room for improvement.
The graphics are nice, especially when you consider how much memory and processing power is going to making the entire city come alive. I played Watch Dogs on my Playstation 4, and the videos I've seen of the last-gen versions certainly take a graphical hit in the lighting department, and there's a lot of pop-up, making fast driving sequences even more difficult. Gameplay, as far as I could tell, was not different at all from the current generation versions.
Online play is a blast, which shocked the hell out of me. I usually like to keep my game experiences private and offline. But instead of having a bunch of stupid Team Deathmatch or Capture the Flag online quests, Ubisoft went in a much smarter and fun direction. After you complete about 20% of the story missions, you will be able to participate in a variety of online contests like street racing. The best part about online play is the ability to hack and be hacked. One time I was minding my own business, and I get a message that a real life person jumped into my game, stealing information from my account. Hey man, this stuff is personal! I tried to hunt him down, but he got away. I wasn't punished for failing to catch him, it just changed my online profile numbers a little. I even jumped into another person's game and profiled him for some bonus profile numbers. It's a great idea and very well implemented.
I don't blame Ubisoft for wanting to cash in on this wonderful new IP. Not only are there versions for the 360, PS3, PS4, and Xbox1, but they're going to be releasing a WiiU version later this year. They're going to make a lot of money selling it on all those platforms, and I'm happy that so many people will get to experience it. Naturally, the gamer in me wants to know what it will look like when they're developing the inevitable sequel exclusively for current-gen consoles. With sixteen times more memory and a whole lot more processing power, Watch Dogs would have been even better.
I recommend this game for anyone who wants a deep gaming experience. The controls will take a few minutes to get used to, but it certainly doesn't have a punishing difficulty or learning curve. Before you know it, you'll be hacking all over Chicago, loving every minute of it.
- by Tom McDaniel

A second opinion by J.G. Barnes

The hype for Watch Dogs was through the roof after E3 2012. It hadn't begun to subside until a couple of years later when footage lacking the same ultra-high-end graphical polish of the E3 reveal started to emerge. My hype skyrocketed and crashed along with the drip feed promo material leading up to its release. Nothing was impressing me anymore. The game looked dull beyond redemption. Upon the day of release I just happened to win a contest which afforded me Watch Dogs for exactly three whole dollars and some change. Why not?

What began as a pretty good passage of time slowly became my absolute favorite game since the launch of the PS4. Watch Dogs is an addiction.

I hadn't rewatched the 2012 gameplay reveal until just recently after enduring outcries regarding a supposed failure to deliver on promises. I highly recommend anyone do themselves the favor of giving the reveal another watch and realize that the biggest thing missing from the version we have in our homes is the gorgeous visuals. Nearly 100% of the gameplay mechanics are entirely replicated in the full game and then some. Something can indeed be said for the all-too-common practice of overpromising visual fidelity at E3 presentations, but I can't help but call out the irrationality of the argument that the gameplay itself has somehow been nerfed. The amount of high-quality content available to you in Watch Dogs is legitimately intimidating.

I can't get enough of it.

"How did you not see that the bag
said Aiden's lunch?"
Online hacking is an adrenaline rush unlike anything this generation so far, rekindling my unabashed adoration for rare gems like Pandora Tomorrow's exquisitely crafted multiplayer. Being able to complete entire missions without setting foot inside of a target complex, bouncing tactfully between surveillance cameras, and luring enemies into perfectly timed traps is an exhilarating, visceral puzzle you simply can't get anywhere else. After playing more than half of the game on Realistic difficulty, I find it hard to side with the notion the game devolves into a traditional third-person shooter, because if you don't want it to, it most certainly does not. Even on the hardest difficulty setting, there's only been one brief mission objective which was very tough to complete without using firearms. If I had more patience however, utilizing lures, and stealth it could have been a much cleaner execution if I had chosen so, but shooting stuff can be so much darn fun! Seeing the tires pop and spit, or the headlights burst, or blood splatter on the inside of a windshield after taking out a suicidal driver as he tries to ram you makes me feel like I'm Neal McCauley from Heat. Even if the core of my playtime is spent meticulously hacking through a web of cameras and servers, the shooting mechanics are a gigantic, juicy cherry on the top of an already hugely satisfying espionage game.

This is why the comparisons need to Grand Theft Auto need stop. GTA is as appropriate a comparison as Halo is to Call of Duty. That's the problem with much of the critiques against Watch Dogs, it's not being judged for what it actually is, but what GTA does and Watch Dogs does not. The gameplay True, Ubisoft should have done more to set itself apart from the horde of previous sandbox titles, but considering that development for many IPs typically start off as one thing and ultimately end up being another, Watch Dogs being no exception, it should be perfectly understandable that its unique tone/style wasn't quite figured out until much later in its production.

While the story is just average for Tom, I found it just above average. There is some lost deeper cyberpunk potential in the story following back alley hackers in a subtle big brother atmosphere which I hope to see cranked to 11 in the next iteration. Granted, it's very slow, but once it gets kicking, Watch Dogs goes into some pretty dark territory that I think would serve a sequel very well. Then, perhaps, we'll get those unbelievable graphics, and a stronger identity that is truly and only Watch Dogs, and comparisons to anything else will be trite at best.

Watch Dogs is a must play. While I agree completely with Tom's final decision on the score, as there are some frequent nuisances in the controls and subdued overall potential, the fun factor alone gets a 10 from me and lives up to the hype. Stop missing out. Stop regurgitating the hate spewed on the internet, buy a copy yourself, experiment with as much as possible, dive deep into it, and you'll see just why we can't stop gushing over it.