VERSION REVIEWED: XBOX ONE
Andrew Larder contributed to the PC Performance Report section of this review.
Watch Dogs arrives with the baggage of a media blitz spanning several years, and a profile intrinsically tied into the launch of a new console cycle. It was, a year ago, one of the main reasons people started to put money aside for an Xbox One or Playstation 4. It has just enjoyed the most successful opening 24 hours of any Ubisoft game in history, and in the first hour or two, none of that feels warranted.
The problems start with the protagonist, Aiden Pearce. He’s thoroughly unlikeable, his technological abilities never fully explained and his personality utterly bland. He spends too much time starring at his phone, and acts like a bit of an ass to everyone. The game never really solves its Aiden problem, forcing the player to ignore the massive contradictions his character raises.
Initially, the disparity between the game’s visual splendour and what was promised in the first videos that emerged grate. Watch Dogs is a good looking game, but it’s certainly not the mind-blowing, console-justifying extravaganza we were told it would be. The moment you first get in a car and come to grips with the game’s weird, arcadey controls and terrible crash modelling as the world struggles to stream in around you is heartbreaking. After all these years of excitement, Watch Dogs gets off to a pretty unimpressive start.
But once you get past this, and spend some proper time in the game’s digitally recreated version of Chicago, the nature of Watch Dogs’ ambitions start to properly click. While in many ways the game feels like a fairly standard open world action experience, the much-vaunted hacking abilities genuinely start to change your combat and driving experiences after a while. Jumping around between cameras before diving into a combat scenario proper, tagging every enemy for your mini-map and setting off explosions and distractions wherever possible, is a neat way of encouraging a stealthy approach to situations – most missions in Watch Dogs can be played quietly if you want, and the game is at its best when Aiden has a silenced pistol in hand. Chases start to feel like Split/Second, one of the most underrated racers of the last few years – setting off traffic lights, raising bridges, closing gates behind you and shutting down choppers with your hacking abilities are all genuinely exhilarating.
Even if you ignore the hacking abilities during missions though, this is still a mechanically solid action title. The shooting never offers much innovation, but as cover shooters go, this is a good one – the enemies are a little thick but Aiden can’t take many shots, so the challenge balances out nicely. The cover system works well, and moving around strategically to open up your hacking options and attempt flanking manoeuvres is generally satisfying. It doesn’t reinvent the wheel when you’re under fire, but firefights are always welcome distractions.
These mechanics fill in a lot of the blanks left by the fairly uninspired mission designs and plot. The writing is never strong, but then the story won’t end up being the focus for most players. There’s just so much to the game beyond its dopey plot and silly characters – more and more options and mini-games become evident as you go, and some of them feel incredibly fleshed out. There’s a full series of chess puzzles, numerous poker games to play through, cool AR games to experience, cars to steal, gang hideouts to bust, secrets to find. There’s not as much in here as there was in Grand Theft Auto V, but the hit to miss ratio is probably better here. After ten hours of play it sank in that the only parts of the game so far that I really disliked were one or two poorly balanced driving sections and a single mercifully short tailing mission, which is pretty damn impressive considering the sheer wealth of experiences on offer. Not all of it is great, but as you play it reveals just how much there is to Watch Dogs.
And then, every now and again, something will really stand out. It might be a neat little environmental puzzle, a mission that really works for you, a series of hacks you pull that substantially thins out enemy numbers – sometimes something truly great will happen in Watch Dogs. The online modes will be filled with these moments for some players – jumping into a random person’s game and ‘hacking’ them for information, trying to avoid detection, is thrilling. For my part, I love the ‘Digital Trips’ on offer, in which Aiden experiences bizarre virtual reality experience games complete with their own skill trees and leaderboards. The Spider Tank game, in which you lay waste to Chicago in a giant wall-crawling mech, could easily be spun off into its own game and sold separately. Another one is basically Carmaggedon – the game is crammed full of effective little amuse-bouches, many of which are worth hours of your time. There’s just so much to do in Watch Dogs, and a lot of it is really great.
PC Performance Report
The PC version of the game was tested using two configurations. The first configurations specifications are: i7 2600K Processor, AMD 6950 2GB Graphics Card, 12GB RAM and the game was installed on a Crucial M4 SSD. The game ran somewhat smoothly (40 – 60fps) at 1920×1080 with a few hitches commonly occurring while driving in the game. When driving at high speeds texture pop-in was an issue.
The second configurations specifications are: i5 4440 Processor Nvidia GTX 760 2GB Graphics Card, 8GB RAM and the game was installed on a Seagate Barracuda 1TB mechanical drive. The game ran well on high settings (50-60fps) and was tolerable at ultra settings (30-40fps) at 1920×1080. This configuration also experienced hitches while driving in the game. Texture pop-in was not an issue on this system.
The first two images below are from the first configuration running on medium settings, the third and fourth images are from the second configuration running on ultra settings.
Although disappointing in its opening hours, Watch Dogs eventually emerges as a grand example of why it is we still get excited about big videogames with huge budgets, despite so many of the more interesting ideas emerging from the indie scene these days. Watch Dogs reminds us that there’s a capacity for games to really go all out, to fill their spaces with amusements and interesting diversions, to overload us with sheer craftsmanship and evidence of effort. Watch Dogs feels like something that a team worked extremely hard on, and it’s hard not to appreciate and enjoy their efforts to entertain you.
- Buy it
- Wait for discount
- Don't buy