Watch Dogs Review
6.5our score

Ubisoft, renowned for such titles as Splinter Cell and the Assassin’s Creed sagas, Far Cry and, on a more musing note, South Park: The Stick of Truth, comes to us with their version of _hacktheplanet, Watch Dogs.

Set to have been released in October 2013, it had its release date postponed to May 2014 to “give this innovative and ambitious open-world game the polish it deserves.” Yes… Polish. One would have expected the next-gen experience game of choice to have been much more than GTA V or Black Flag. Unfortunately for our beloved gamers out there, it isn’t, and all the major hype and craze about this game has gone with the wind as fast as the game copies were bought off the shelves.


Game mechanics, aka, Hacking

Let’s look at the mechanics of the game, shall we? The entire game is centred on hacking. Not the kind you’re thinking of, sitting behind a computer desk typing away like mad. Watch Dogs steps it up a notch and makes full use of the best technology a near-future Chicago has to offer: a city-wide Big Brother with a well-known security breach – a gaping hole in Citizen-OS’ (ctOS) visual recognition software that allows our story hero/vigilante, Aiden Pearce, to literally see and know everything about everyone around him, including what you do in the privacy of your own home. And this hacking comes in three forms:

  • The ability that you have, when you pull out your phone, to hack traffic lights, bollards and road spikes at your whim. These things come with a cost, of course, and that is your phone’s battery, which is magically recharged over time and can be augmented. There are things for which you do not need battery power, however. Like hacking other people’s phones for money and mission objectives.
  • The hacking mini-games. If you have ever played flowing games, these are exactly like them. You flip a few corners to make sure the data flows go where you need them to and you’re set to proceed. Incredibly simple mini-games that require mere seconds to think of before proceeding.
  • Multi-player hacking. You can basically hack the same things as you’d normally do on single-player, but when other players hack you, you are placed in a temporary area, with no loading screens in-between, in which you need to find the hacking player and kill them before they finish hacking you. The opposite, you hacking them for data, can also happen and you need to be stealthy about it. The best way to do it is find a place where you can go above or below ground and hide in a corner while your opponent is frantically searching for you.
Flow games, anyone?

Flow games, anyone?

Stealth?

Now, a hacker that can disrupt traffic and disable other vehicles like our hero does surely doesn’t need stealth, does he? Well, you’d be surprised. See, the same hacking abilities that let you do those things can also prove their use when you’re trying to be stealthy or stay undiscovered, such as distracting a guard with text messages, turning on their music players, or an actual prank call. On the off chance you are discovered, you can even detonate explosives on said guards and disrupt their communications, all so you can get close and neutralize them.

Wait, wait… Detonate explosives with your phone? You heard me right! Anything in the city with electronic components and a wi-fi receiver can be hacked and forced to do something, be it go haywire or explode.

watch-dogs-kill

However, the game doesn’t like you being stealthy. Rather, it promotes violence over stealth. And this is painfully obvious when you score, say, 40 points for a headshot, but a meagre 10 for neutralizing a guard. Oh, they made a point that hacking is still the main mechanic, but only when you kill anyone or destroy something. 40 points for exploding something on a guard’s face or detonating any explosives on said guard. 50 for totalling a car on a crossroad where said car violently veered right straight onto a second car that’s not even moving! Yes. That’ll happen a lot, trust me.

In short, the game favours mass destruction over a stealthy hacker. Considering the hero is a vigilante, the scoring system falls in line with Ubisoft’s design for a murderous Aiden. Not quite what I expected from your average hacker.

Vehicles

And that brings me to vehicle driving. There’s one of everything. Well, almost everything. You have half a dozen motorbikes to choose from, a couple dozen cars of varying size and performance levels, pickups and lorries. No bicycles, tricycles or 18-wheelers, for those that like them. All to traverse a city that takes a mere 5 minutes from edge to edge in a performance car. Riding cars unlocks them, but you still need money to buy them. And finding people to hack for money is a lengthy, albeit profitable process, if you’re done with the main missions.

Money hoarding

Of course, hacking and storyline missions aren’t the only thing giving you money. Multiplayer events (races, hacking, etc), Fixers assignments (side missions, such as killing someone, retrieving data, etc.) and Vigilante missions also give you a decent amount of money as well as reputation. However, killing civilians quickly makes you one of the bad guys, someone the good Chicago PD will hunt down. The good deeds you make for the general populace (prevent crimes, killing the bad guys, etc.) earns you positive respect and might make the police turn the other way on some occasions.

The Men in Blue

And now we approach the sensible subject of police chasing for when you bust out of a prison or allow pedestrians to call the police. CtOS helps the CPD a great deal by providing them with the visual recognition software they use to locate you before the hounds are set loose. But don’t fret; should they actually find you, they’re easy to lose – very much unlike the real CPD. They’ll chase you with a handful of cars and, maybe, a chopper (I’ve never seen more than one chasing me throughout my game experience, so I could be wrong), which is very disappointing when compared to other open world games, such as GTA, in which they would even stick tanks on you.

Flying pigs.

Flying pigs.

The bright side is that you can force police cars into the same crashes I previously mentioned and you can temporarily disable the helicopters as well. Easiest way of losing the police? Drive into alleys and hide in your car.

Skill Tree(s)

Lastly on the gameplay details are the skill trees. Yes, not just one. A total of four. There’s one for Hacking, Combat, Driving and Crafted Items.

Notoriety, despite giving you extra skills, requires constant victories over multiplayer events. If you lose a match, you lose Notoriety XP and, should it drop far enough, the Notoriety skills you just earned disappear. Now, for the actual trees:

watch-dogs-skills

  • Hacking is possibly the most important tree in the game. It allows you to gain extra hacking skills (like neutralizing helis, triggering road spikes or exploding transformers), extra battery life (as I said earlier, tripping traffic lights or bollards costs you battery) and access to bridges (it is Chicago, after all).
  • Combat skills reduce your recoil and weapon swap speed, decrease reload speed, increases your health and reduces your incoming damage. This is also the largest tree in the game, once more, shadowing the main mechanic of the game, hacking.
  • Driving skills should be self-explanatory. Unlock cars, reduce vehicle damage, improves handling… Fairly basic skills that have little effect on your game, overall.
  • Crafted Items are a mix of Combat and Hacking abilities. You can craft explosive devices (grenades and IEDs), even in the heat of battle, and digital hardware, such as blackout devices (these create a ctOS blackout on the district you are in, so be careful when and where you use them), Comms Jams (these disrupt any phone communications, preventing citizens from calling the police and enemy guards from calling reinforcements), amongst other shinies.

Multiplayer

The little time I have played in online sessions, I have had nothing but good experiences. The random people I have played with were mostly rookies, as was I (likely a consequence of the Steam Summer Sales). The same bugs you see in single player are also present there, but nothing that would really threaten your gaming experience. The Disrupt engine does, indeed, provide a seamless transition between single and multiplayer, provided your connection is good enough. I purposefully tanked my own connection just to see how bad it would get and I daresay that, even with a basic DSL connection, you’d be able to play online fairly easily.

Where other people can hack you.

Where other people can hack you.


Ups and Downs

It all sounds neat, so far, doesn’t it? Aside from a few odd things here and there, nothing of major concern, it looks like a solid, typical AAA game. Except, the downsides of this game are completely unacceptable on a title that is considered the next-gen experience, has been delayed for 8 months, AND has had fans gripping their monitors with anticipation for its release. Graphic and sound issues that could have been resolved, even considering the delay given on the release date, have not.

Graphics

The bane of all artists. The graphics in Watch Dogs, however, are excellent, worthy of a AAA title. The lighting is magnificent, giving the game an almost realistic ambiance whether you’re in the midst of towering glass-covered skyscrapers or out on the quiet and peaceful suburbs or under a bridge on a hobo camp. Even the shadows, if your machine is powerful enough (mine, unfortunately isn’t, as the second I maxed shadows, my FPS tanked to 25-28), are seamless. The textures themselves are fairly exquisite, if you find yourself unfortunate enough to be stuck, killed or crashed against a detailed wall.

Surely my initial rant on bugs is unfounded, considering all this. Unfortunately, the largest problem is in the water. There is no splash from bullets hitting it. You can splash around the water yourself, creating a water splash animation that’s cut off from the water surface, or if your car goes into the drink. But bullets? Realism? Immersion? Consistency, even? No, sorry, you won’t be seeing any of that on this new-gen title, folks.

Everything reacts to everything

Still on the matter of graphics, and not one to beat on the blind guy, I went to investigate a little on the ubiBlog and found a shiny piece, spoken by a Dominic Guay, Senior Producer at Ubisoft Montreal, who said: “The electricity is simulated. The water is simulated. The wind is simulated. Everything reacts to everything.” What got to me was the “Everything reacts to everything” and, after seeing the game, he’s only half right.

You do, indeed, see NPCs reacting to the cold wind by tightening their jackets. If you caused an accident and end up causing a traffic jam, you can see them honking their horns and even leaving their cars to investigate the gridlock. Rain? Just stay at home, I’ve rarely seen NPCs out in the open during the game’s rainy days. These are very interesting details that tell you a lot of the AIs’ behaviour.

… including vehicle damage…

However, the wrong side of that sentence is that some things do NOT react the way they should. If you crash against a tree, both the tree and your car are going to get heavily dented, if not totalled, right? That doesn’t happen, here. Both the tree and the car (depending on speed) remain untouched. I’ve even seen events where NPCs ended up crashing against a tree and continuously repeat the process, honking at it, as it the tree would actually move aside… Frontal car-on-car crashes usually end up with the NPC car on fire and blowing up, whilst yours just rides on through, regardless of whether you’re in a pickup or a performance car made of plastic. Bollards stopping NPCs? Yes, they do. They don’t, however, stop your car.

… and hit detection

There are worse things in the game, however, and that includes hit detection. You think you can go past a fence and a wall? You might be able to. Or you might not. Alternatively, you might get stuck between the two of them and be forced to reload your last save. Take your pick, really, it’s an even chance of any of those options whenever you’re faced with low walls next to boxes. NPCs are not without their lowest points, as well. Enemy guards/policemen tend to get stuck on something, every now and then, whenever they’re right next to you, or right around a corner, as if they’re afraid to aim their gun at you.

Unfortunately for us all, there are a very high number of these issues in the PC version of Watch Dogs. And, unfortunately for Ubisoft, that’s a rather serious stain on their record sheet. On the flip-side, we do need to emphasize that this game is being done on an entirely new game engine, so some of these bugs are expected to happen and, possibly, be resolved within the coming weeks or months.

Sound check, 1, 2

Another part that irked me was the sound. Both in a good way and a bad way. The sound in Watch Dogs is a bit like its graphics. Amazingly well-made. The ambience the sound brings, when coupled with the lighting, situation, and environment around you create a breath-taking experience. When you find yourself surrounded by people, you hear both that annoying ring of a crowd talking and, if you’re close enough to random NPCs, you can hear snippets of their own conversation. The cackling fire where you heat your hands and rain hitting your windshield is also very well made.

Vehicle sounds are just as good as most modern-day non-racing games, where acceleration is not always a mirror of a car’s performance. And by that, I mean that, at high speeds, you hear low-revs, as if the sound is looped every now and then. Moreover, hit detection ruined it. If you ever find yourself driving over several lawns in the suburbs, you’ll notice straight away that the game doesn’t like it and just spits out the same sound file whether you’re driving over grass, sidewalk pavement, the brick floor leading up to houses, or any other surface. The problem is very visible, er, audible, when you cruise through various surfaces simultaneously or at a very fast pace.

I’ve noticed that, if you do that often enough, you start hearing tarmac noises on grass, as well, but I’ve only succeeded in doing that once, so I can’t be entirely sure if it was coincidental or an actual glitch. Either way, tarmac sounds on grass is… rather disturbing, if you ask me.


Conclusion

So that’s that. Watch Dogs. Ubisoft’s disappointment of the decade. For a game that’s been delayed 8 months, I can’t imagine what it looked like when they made that decision. Regardless, I shall eat my own words if and when Ubisoft fixes all these issues and provides a seamless game, as they advertised.

Was it right of me to direct my speech at the game’s mistakes instead of the good things? Considering the title itself and all the hype behind it, absolutely and, in my honest opinion, the decision of spending money for a next-gen experience that’s more backwards than GTA V is entirely up to the reader. In short, it’s an amusing and innovative game, but certainly not worth the AAA branding.

Pros:

  • Excellent ambiance
  • Seamless multiplayer transitions
  • Innovative gameplay
Cons:

  • Hit detection issues
  • Invulnerable driving
  • Over-hyped by publisher

System Requirements

Minimum:
OS: Windows Vista (SP2), Windows 7 (SP1) or Windows 8 (Please note that we only support 64 bit OSs.)
Processor: Intel Core 2 Quad Q8400 @ 2.66Ghz or AMD Phenom II X4 940 @ 3.0Ghz
Memory: 6 GB RAM
Graphics: DirectX 11 graphics card with 1 GB Video RAM – Nvidia Geforce GTX 460 or AMD Radeon HD 5770
DirectX: Version 11
Hard Drive: 25 GB available space
Sound Card: DirectX 9.0c Compatible Sound Card with Latest Drivers
Additional Notes: Broadband connection and service required for multiplayer mode.

Recommended:
OS: Windows Vista (SP2), Windows 7 (SP1) or Windows 8 (Please note that we only support 64 bit OSs.)
Processor: Eight core – Intel Core i7-3770 @3.5 GHz or AMD FX-8350 X8 @ 4 GHz
Memory: 8 GB RAM
Graphics: DirectX 11 graphics card with 2 GB Video RAM – Nvidia Geforce GTX 560 ti or AMD Radeon HD 7850
DirectX: Version 11
Hard Drive: 25 GB available space
Sound Card: DirectX 9.0c Compatible Sound Card with Latest Drivers
Additional Notes: Broadband connection and service required for multiplayer mode.

the author

Three years ago, a good friend of mine asked me "Why Oryngton? Why not your real name?", to which I answered him: "I'd love to see you try to say my name properly: Diogo. Have fun chewing your tongue out." To this day, he's yet to accomplish this feat.