Watch Dogs Review: Hack Everything

Our Fegelein Puching Zhang reviews Ubisoft’s Watch Dogs. He dives deep into this hacker-revenge world based in Chicago.

aNewDomain.netWatch Dogs is a crazy, tech-savvy, downright-awesome game. It shares quite a bit with Mafia II, the GTA series and LA Noire, but it’s the campaign and premise that make Watch Dogs truly unique. This new franchise marks a fresh start for Ubisoft, a company that needed to step outside its iconic Assassin’s Creed series. See the in-depth review below.

Watch Dogs

Image credit: Ubisoft

A Fresh Start

First things first — the premise of Watch Dogs. The player assumes the role of protagonist Aiden Pearce. He’s a tech-savvy hacker from Chicago who wants to avenge the death of his niece. He attempts to accomplish this goal by using his uber-tech skills to hack into endless networks — Internet, communications and even private records.

This hacker characteristic allows the player to see personal information about every NPC they encounter. I’ve seen all kinds of traits — from secret Scientologists to under-wraps perverts. All useless, absurd and noteworthy info comes from hacking.

Of course the classic cliché presents itself: Will the player use said power to fight crime or follow in the footsteps of the NSA and hack into the privacy of innocent citizens? Well, in this game, you can do both. During the campaign, Aiden has a reputation meter that measures whether he’s perceived as a protector of the city or just another criminal. His reputation is entirely determined by the player’s actions, so think of Watch Dogs as a classic form of video game existentialism.

Aiden’s hacking device (his cellphone) can detect criminals, which lets the player intervene and successfully subdue evil. This builds Aiden’s reputation. Now, early on this makes the player feel like a classic, high-tech batman. But the player’s virtual morality gets questioned often — for instance, I jacked a random guy’s car on my last criminal car chase. Not exactly a super-citizen.

Watch Dogs

Image Credit: Ubisoft

Sandbox Chicago

The free roam of Watch Dogs mimics the epic landscape pioneered by Grand Theft AutoWatch Dogs comes complete with a huge variety of cars available to choose (or steal) from, and addictively fun police car chases. However, in Watch Dogs, getting chased by the police has serious consequences. After all, stealing cars and running half of the Chicago police through downtown isn’t very upstanding.

The high-tech theme of the game adds a new dimension to car chases, which is greatly needed. The player is able to trigger garages and roadblocks with Aiden’s ctOS cellphone, sending pursuing cops off the road or into each other. You’ll need the hacker tricks, too — the cops in this game are a persistent bunch, not like the relative pushovers in GTA.

Image Credit: Ubisoft

Image credit: Ubisoft

I love the setting of this game for a number of reasons. Being a native Chicagoan, I despise the traffic of downtown Chicago. It is an absolute labyrinth. However, the impressive work the designers put into this stunning game makes the virtual drive feel like a real tour of my city’s downtown. Of course, in this Chicago, I drive like a crazy taxi, and police chase me every other minute, so it’s not necessarily a peaceful tour.

To reiterate, though, the sheer amount of details Ubisoft put into Watch Dogs is terrific. It feels like a second coming of GTA, which is a good thing.

On free roam campaigns the player has the ability to ride or highjack almost anything — metros, boats and cars, you name it. The player can also hack into subway cars, controlling when they go and stop. The details are spot on and capture the feel of the real Chicago from the downtown high-rises to the bucolic countryside.

Watch Dogs Car Slide

Image credit: Ubisoft

The player roams a complete sandbox when exploring the city. The famous riverboats and taxis are all there. However, the number of features aren’t as diverse as GTA. The only real free-roam features are exploring the beautiful city, getting into car chases and crime fighting. Sure, the hacking aspect gives all of that a whole new level of enjoyment, but other games allow for more player activity.

Story is Everything

Watch Dogs is interesting as it unfolds, but overall a little clichéd. It focuses on a quest of family vengeance akin to a classic Western. The story introduces a host of personalities, such as goofy best friend, Jordi Chin, who has good intentions but clumsily screws up many times over. He’s like the bad guy from any Hong Kong action film (Enter the Dragon anyone?). There are some classic mob bosses, too, like Dermot “Lucky” Quinn, the antagonist of the game. That and the family tragedy with our hero, master of tech, unlocking the world until he gets to the bottom of it — we’ve all seen it before.

To me, Aiden might be Mr. Cool throughout the storyline, but he can be a bit dry at times and lacks spunk. The story feels like a rendition of the Dark Knight Rises — but a really good one. When I drive through the streets of virtual Chicago and beat up the newest criminal, I am tempted to say, “Can’t stop me, I’m Batman!”

Multiplayer, of Course

Multiplayer in Watch Dogs has a number of modes, each with a unique feel. Online players can hack into another person’s single-player campaign and essentially attempt to control their cellphone. The player whose cellphone is being hacked then attempts to find the other player and kill them, while the other player escapes.

This makes for some hilarious car chases, with two crappy drivers rampaging their way through the city. It’s a nice multiplayer mode, but falls a little flat after a while. The game also includes a mobile mode where Player 1 tries to escape from the police, while Player 2 controls the police and tries to take Player 1 down.

“Decryption Combat” is a classic capture-the-flag multiplayer with a twist. In this mode, players attempt to capture a code and decipher it while trying to hold back another team from deciphering the code first. As with all multiplayer modes, this concept is built into the single-player world. Cars and hacks are integrated into gameplay, making for awesome and downright-hilarious events.

Overall, I’d have to give Watch Dogs 8/10 for its epicness. Sure, the free roam is good, and the multiplayer is spectacular, but its mundane features on free roam and the archetypical storyline make it fall flat against GTA. However, this is a game worth getting, and I think Ubisoft has done a great job expanding outside its iconic Assassin’s Creed franchise.

Until next time, this is Fegelein Puching Zhang for aNewDomain.net signing off.

Based in Chicago, Fegelein Puching Zhang is our gaming scribe at aNewDomain.net. Read more of his work here or contact Fegelein at puching@anewdomain.net.

 

About the author

Puching Zhang

Based in Chicago, Puching is gaming editor at aNewDomain and our sister pub, BreakingModern.com