Watch Dogs will make you fear for the Smart Chicago of tomorrow, but it won’t change the way you play video games today. Watch Dogs does a lot right in its packed set of features and oddities - including a new set of ways to roll with a multiplayer experience. It also forgets to carve new paths in many places other than online.
It’s not likely I’m going to dissuade you from picking one platform over another with Watch Dogs as Ubisoft has opted to release the game for every major system on the market today. You can play this game on the PC, Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and eventually Wii U.
As a game born in the same family as Grand Theft Auto, it feels natural to play Watch Dogs on the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. I was made to understand that if you’re running around in a third-person perspective, you’ll want to do it on a console. As such, we’ve made certain to test out - and this review includes impressions of - Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and a gaming PC as well.
As it turns out, it’s slightly more difficult to play the game on a PC. It’s easier to aim, and it’s easier to cycle through some commands, but it does feel like the controls for Watch Dogs were built for a console.
Above you’ll see us controlling a video camera in the game. This feels a lot more natural with a joystick than it does scrolling back and forth with a mouse.
The PC brings on a much, much nicer picture, on the other hand, and can be just a bit smoother in its transitions and action. It’s the visuals here that make the difference - have a peek at our recent NVIDIA GeForce GTX GPU upgrades for Watch Dogs article to see the difference. We were also given the run down on this upgrade back near the end of April, at the start of April, and in October as well.
The big differentiator between this title and its very similar opponents - like Saint’s Row - is that you can hack the city and your fellow citizens. This can be very entertaining, and can lead to some unique moments of gameplay.
Above you’ll see one of the key elements in your ability to hack the city. An early mission in Watch Dogs has you hacking into and activating a ctOS station in a certain section of Chicago. This demonstration also shows one of the least common forms of hacking in the game - a simple puzzle.
The most common hack you’ll likely inflict in Watch Dogs is the citizen hack. You can hack into the personal life of anyone in Chicago that’s carrying a phone. In the surveillance camera video above you’ll hear a woman on a phone suggesting that "someone could be listening in." She’s right.
In addition to hacking radios to change music, hacking street lights to cause crashes at intersections, and hacking a train to start or stop so you can take a ride*, you can also do odd things like hack a talking fish. Shield your ears, children, this fish is vulgar.
You can set up a skill to hack city transport - hack a train to stop or go, for example. This hack is especially helpful when you need to hitch a long ride to give your trigger finger some rest.
One especially easy way to escape the police in Chicago is to hop aboard a train and keep it moving whenever it reaches a pre-determined stop. The police lose track of you because although they can be impressively smart AI at times, they can’t reason especially well.
Another relatively useless-yet-entertaining hack is the infiltration of street signs. You’ll find these signs all bringing you enlightening messages from the developers of the game at Ubisoft Montreal - it’s them you’ve got to thank for the words, which are randomly generated.
Above you’ll also see a hack similar to the talking fish. This is Ubisoft, so it should be expected that you’re going to find the occasional Raving Rabbit here or there.
Back in December of 2013 it was revealed in an interview with IGN that Watch Dogs wasn’t originally going to be as diverse a title as it ended up being. Instead, Ubisoft Montreal built the engine this game is based on - Disrupt - was made for a driving game. Ubisoft owned the Driver license (no pun intended) and intended on creating a driving-centric game.
Because of this, Watch Dogs driving experience is finely tuned. It’s not as easy to drift in this game as it is in Saint’s Row - but it’s not as much of a cartoon, either. Instead you’ve got a much more realistic experience that still allows you to have fun. Driving off of a cliff can result in you exploding - but it doesn’t always do such a thing.
Keep an eye out for ramps - they’re everywhere, and generally have you landing in the most awe-inspiring locations.
You’ve got four different points of view while driving - 2nd person, 3rd person, in-dash, and behind-the-wheel, each of them bringing you a different automotive experience. We’re generally in 3rd-person mode as this affords us the least amount of mayhem and the most amount of crashed villains and/or police.
You’ll be dealing with a long string of increasingly difficult missions throughout the game. Traveling from one mission location to the next will include a number of suggestions to leave your pre-ordained path and either create havoc or inflict justice. You choose what you do.
This is an open world - and like we were told earlier this year by Ubisoft, this game is about customizing gameplay, not aesthetics. While you can choose what you wear (the link in this paragraph runs the whole collection down), your main choices rest in your wishes to get rich, save the day, or create anarchy - and you don’t have to choose just one.
The plot line for this game is interesting. Voice acting feels solid and the script for this game is believable. Even if the activities we’re asked to live aren’t entirely real-world, the dialogue makes it all seem real enough.
Missions don’t push you face-first into learning the controls. Instead you’re given one relatively short mission (which you can see in the first video in this review), and you’re set free. You can choose from there whether you progress or run amok.
With Watch Dogs it’s as if Ubisoft kept brainstorming ideas for odd gameplay experiences until they were satisfied they had the number they were looking for. If a Spider-Tank in Digital Trips doesn’t prove that, nothing will. You’ll also be asked to run through lines of pixelated, floating coins, partaking in drinking games, and even assisting the police from time to time.
It’s very, very easy to get the attention of the police, mind you. If you shoot a civilian on the street and there’s someone nearby with a phone, they’ll call the authorities. This game takes realism up a notch by creating a situation where you see cause and effect - but of course there’s a hack which allows you to block outgoing phone calls in your area, so go wild!
If you catch the attention of the police, you’ll want to get in a car and drive away fast. Driving over a set of pylons, activating them at just the right time will stop the police with a very satisfying crunch. A similar event occurs as you activate a set of stop-lights as you pass through.
You can also hide. You can get out of your car and run, crouching behind a shed. You can also - more importantly - hide in your car. Once you’ve hidden, there’s a circle of relevance around you outside which police cannot see you - if you’re lucky. This works best at night.
If you’re out in the middle of the street and you duck down to hide, chances are you’re still going to get seen. This game is smart - you’ve got the be smarter.
Progression in the game requires - or strongly suggests - that you fill our your Skill Tree. This can be done by collecting experience and using points on the skills you think you’ll make the most use of in battle and in your day-to-day hacking lifestyle.
You can see every single skill in this Skill Tree in our Skill Tree rundown from April of this year. Though filled out earlier this year, this tree remains entirely accurate to the final version of the game.
I’ve had some small amount of experience with multiplayer at the time this review is published. I had some first-hand experience back at our first-impressions session this April on a PlayStation 4 in a local network, and there have been enough people over the past couple of weeks playing with the early review copies that I’ve gotten a couple of sessions going - but not enough to make a final judgement.
For that you’re going to have to check back. For now what I can see is some unique opportunities to turn this hacking feature into a selection of games which can’t be replicated. One example of this unique multiplayer action is in "Online Decryption."
Several players will agree to be set in a section of the city with a digital file. The file is marked with a yellow symbol at first, accessible in a matter of moments to the first player to happen upon it. From there it’s a game of keep-away. If you find the person with the file, you have only to stay close enough to them over a short period of time before you’ve hacked them and stolen the file for yourself.
Online Race is just that - a standard race around a track with checkpoints. In Online Tailing you’re sent to capture your opponent in a set amount of time - they can escape you quicker than the larger clock as well.
Online Hacking will bring you face-to-face with your opponent in a one-on-one battle. Inside this battle you’ve got to either hack or identify and kill. What you’re about to see is a successful attempt at defending one’s self against being hacked.
Next you’ll see what it’s like when you commit crimes while you’re attempting a mission - during Online Hacking, in this case. It doesn’t matter what your mission is, the cops are out there. You can’t just go around shooting people and stealing cars, expecting no one will call the police on you.
You’re going to get shot - especially if you run up on your opponent when they’re standing next to a police officer with a machine gun.
Free Roam is the most unique iteration of multiplayer in the game, allowing users to move in and out of other players’ universes relatively seamlessly. This mode of gameplay can be very entertaining - and extremely frustrating. Use cautiously if you’re prone to road-rage.
The Watch Dogs ctOS app is free and usable by you - even if you don’t own Watch Dogs - just so long as you have an Xbox Live, PSN, or uPlay account. What you’re going to see here is a demonstration of the app given to us by Ubisoft this April - we’re going to have to reserve final judgement for this app for later as it’s only being released the same day this review is being published.
What you’ll see is two versions of gameplay - one is a race, the other is a free ride competition. With Checkpoints you’ll watch your opponent move through the city through a set of checkpoints, while you - a helicopter - flies overhead with hacking abilities.
You control pylons, police, traffic lights, and whatever else you’ve earned through extensive gameplay. Customized gameplay can be created - weather, distance, time of day, and length of contest are all at your fingertips. This sort of app integration is fantastic for Ubisoft to upgrade gameplay beyond the one, single platform - and should provide a how-to guide for Nintendo in the near future.
Watch Dogs is a great step forward for Ubisoft. It plays in a way that’s recognizable - we wouldn’t be surprised to see an Assassin running by - but it’s built on an engine that allows for a real diverse experience. In a few years time when we’ve got the processing power, we’ll be expecting Watch Dogs hacking to be expanded to every building and every piece of electronics.
Imagine an open-world Watch Dogs with a more traditional multiplayer experience - all buildings accessible and all players up against one another. Imagine how useless the stop lights will be!
Until then we’ll be excited to see how well this title does in the field. Watch Dogs is, after all, the first in a franchise.