The hype surrounding this game was pure insanity. From the concept to the E3 2012 demo, Ubisoft’s Watch Dogs was billed as the first must-have game of the next generation. While the final product wasn’t as graphically or technically impressive as the early demo, it still is a visually impressive open-world action game set in Chicago.
You play as Aiden Pearce, a hacker who is out to avenge the death of his niece by connecting the dots to uncover the reason behind the initial attack. While the game is an open-world GTA-ish clone with it’s roam the city stealing cars to complete linear missions, it’s the hacking elements that make it much more interesting. The entire city of Chicago is controlled by a single operating system, “ctOS,” a centralized operating system developed by the Blume Corporation that controls everything from traffic lights to phones to the 780 million cameras that have been installed throughout the city.
You are able to freely spy on citizens, access personal information, profile criminal activity and hack bank accounts. It almost seemed unfair as to how easy it is to obtain money in this game as all you do is walk by a person and boom, take $2000 from their bank account. This made acquiring weapons and components needed to perform additional hacks within ctOS.
Back to the profiling element for a second, you will immediately notice a pattern in the race of the citizens who are suspected of potential criminal behavior. I would have appreciated a bit more diversity since it felt a bit excessive at times.
The hacking element is the saving grace in an otherwise bland storyline. A typical revenge storyline with boring voice acting, stereotypical characters and lackluster writing wrapped around an open-world that is mildly restrictive. Buildings that are more than a facade are rare and most of the exploration takes place at ground-level so running along the rooftops of Chicago performing parkour-like moves reminiscent of another Ubisoft giant, Assassins Creed, doesn’t happen.
The game is also fairly easy, with multiple checkpoints to aid in missions I rarely had a difficult time advancing and the ease in obtaining money in the game meant I always had the best weapons, cars and components needed to craft hacks. The core story is short with most of time spent driving or running around, I think the end credits took up more time than most missions.
Despite the less-than-spectacular story, the side missions, trophy-acquiring ventures and online elements make it interesting. While playing in single-player mode you can be hacked by an online user who will attempt to steal your information resulting in a mad scramble to scan the area trying to find the bastard interrupting your game. Most of the time I was hacked while being chased by cops so not only did I have to avoid getting gunned down by helicopters, I also had to find the random person interrupting my game. It’s an interesting concept but it gets a bit annoying when you aren’t initiating the online interaction and have to deal with the consequences.
The cyberpunk hype surrounding this game was grossly exaggerated as outside of the “Cyberpunk Outfit,” and the evil corporation running the city, it’s an unnecessary label placed on this game and it’s unfortunate since that was one of the reasons why my interest in the game was so high. They tried to tap into that world by featuring the Anonymous ripoff group, Dedsec and include a hacker who seemed to be modeled after Deadmau5. It’s for the kids.
Is this game worth the hype? Not really. It’s nice to look at and the hacking element gives it a slight edge over other open-world GTA clones but the weak story and restrictive gameplay only make it worthwhile if you can grab it on sale. Have fun.