(Spoilers are high in the Story and Afterthoughts part of this review)
Like most people in the gaming world, I have been anticipating Watch Dogs for quite some time. I first heard about it during E3 2012, and since then I have been drinking in every trailer and every gameplay. Last week we saw the release of this highly anticipated game out into the open market. Despite some initial mixed reviews, I went in with nothing but my excitement and my willingness to accept any bumps in the road.
I have always been a huge fan of Ubisoft. From their aesthetic to the company, this was really one of the first publishers I ever started playing when I started gaming in my teens. So despite certain bumps in the road, I’ve always had faith in Ubisoft, and I can depend on them to give me games that I can love with stories I can relate to.
With so much hype, I expected the reviews to be mixed. I can normally stand on the side of leniency with a game that I have anticipated for so long and forgive it for not living up to my extremely high expectations, but the game took some turns that left me wondering, is this the cyberpunk hacking game that I wanted?
The open world element allows me to choose how I game outside of the story, I can hack my way into buildings discreetly or fight them head on guns blazing. But within the story, I was forced to take on the harsh world of driving. After spending time playing games like GTA V and Sleeping Dogs, within 10 mins of the game I found myself in a high speed cop chase after accidentally stealing a car and setting off all the alarms.
Whether or not you are good at the game, you learn pretty fast there are some things you just don’t do, hijacking a car is one of them. Sure you can jam them with your coms, but it’s just easier to take one of the many parked cars.
The graphics are gorgeous on the PS4, though I can’t normally tell that much of a difference between systems. Sure when I see them side-by-side I can see some differences and nuances, but other than that, it means very little to me. As long as the people look more realistic than blocky and it doesn’t hinder my play, I am good.
I’m not sure if the new engine that they built the game on has made that much of a impression on me. I’m no expert in gaming, that’s for sure, but none of the new next-gen games look that different. Not the ones that have been released, not the ones that will be. The difference feels like it is semantics, and I am just looking for a good story that I can play through.
So as far as gameplay goes, this is easily the most frustrating game I’ve played in a while. Maybe I am accustomed to the the unrealistic life of gaming where I get in a car, drive off, and I’m safe if I just push the pedal to the metal. It’s not so easy in this game. Cops seem to have a sixth sense about where you are and helicopters materialize out of thin air to attack you with their snipers. I’m not the best driver, coupled with the need to hack traffic lights and blockers while driving at top speeds, I failed quite a lot in the beginning.
I think it was the fault of Ubisoft in placing so many driving heavy missions in the beginning, where I almost felt like quitting the game because I most definitely did not sign up for a driving game. Not all the cars are the same when driving them, which makes me want to say, do not pick the fancy cars. Pick heavier trucks and muscle cars if you need to do damage, or jump on a bike.
Honestly the bike is the best way. I found myself stopping mid chase if I saw a bike on the road and just jumping onto the bike to chase my prey. Thankfully the waters are safe, and in a moment of panic when I have 20 cop cars chasing and shooting at me with two helicopters tracking me, I am happy to soar into the hands of a speed boat and make my way to safety. It makes for an annoying reality, but after accepting it, the game went smoothly.
What had really excited me about the game was the hacking. In the trailers, we saw a lot of Aiden’s work as the vigilante hacking into systems and leaving without a trace. Despite all the shitty driving and annoying chases I had to take part in, the hacking was great. The open world element lets you go in as purely a hacker to take down as many of your opponents as you can before you jump in with a silencer and take out the rest of them.
I loved the element of hacking, and I loved getting so deep into a building while hacking and leaving without ever having been in. It’s hilarious walking around the city and seeing people’s personal lives, though there do seem to be a lot of criminals. I also love puzzle solving so I loved that aspect of the hacking. I loved it when it was in Assassin’s Creed IV and I loved it even more here.
I ran through the main storyline and I’ve yet to play much with the open world or with the online element, but I am excited to see what else the game has in store after the main storyline.
Story (HERE [AND FURTHER ON] THERE BE SPOILERS!!)
Speaking of storyline. I am actually pretty impressed with Aiden Pearce’s story. I love a true anti-hero, one that is willing to go down a dark path if it is necessary. I loved that about Edward Kenway, and I love it about Aiden. He’s not pure evil, he feels guilt and he feels regret, but he’s not setting his phasers to stun, he’s killing to get his revenge. Sometimes that just what you need to do.
As a character, he’s pretty much like every protagonist, a little boring compared to the secondary characters, and has an easily relatable storyline. He lost his niece and he’s been killing his way to the truth ever since, Marv style. There are some great villains, like treacherous Damien Brenks, the slippery Lucky Quinn mob boss, and gangland kingpin Iraq. You also get three awesome allies in snarky Jordi Chin, hot young hacker Badboy17 aka Clara Lille, and bad ass hacking legend T-Bone aka Raymond Kenney. Are all hackers this hot in the future?
The shadowy corporation Blume is a character within itself. It is omnipotent. The entire game relies on ctOS and yet we know Blume is responsible not only for a massive breach in privacy but also for murder.
There are a few easter egg moments that link Blume to Abstergo, the modern Templar company in the Assassin’s Creed universe, but until Ubisoft speaks about it, it seems just to be cruel cruel easter eggs. I’d love to see the next game centered around Aiden becoming an assassin and linking past with present, but that might be too much to ask?
Seeing all the aspects of the ctOS infected Chicago brings a lot character to the game. Certain scenes, like the ones involving the Viceroys or the Auction are supremely well done. Walking through a crowd at the Auction we see everything from teachers and volunteers to philanthropists and actors. It’s a disgusting reality, and yet it reflects our reality.
It’s enough to make you want to be a vigilante.
Aiden’s interactions with Jacks, T-Bone, and Clara ultimately made the game that much more enjoyable for me. He is not the vigilante with Jacks, he’s just an uncle who seems like he’s lost his way. Despite how the story ends, some part of me hopes that Aiden will see his nephew after all of this and teach him how to hack and help the kid heal a little from his PTSD.
T-Bone, aka Raymond Kenney, was such a great addition. He’s eccentric, paranoid, and hilarious. Not to mention, I’d bone T-Bone ( #idbonetbone). That man is somehow so attractive to me. Plus the scenes with him in Pawnee are just golden, especially his damn taco van. He’s everything you’d expect a hacker legend to be, which is exactly what you wouldn’t expect. Some country acented, dread haired, trucker hat wearing dude who could probably drink you under the table.
Then of course, there is Clara. If you’ve read even one of my reviews on anything, you know romance is pretty much my hook, line, and sinker. I get drawn in when there is a female character, probably because I can relate to them the easiest. And the gorgeous french Clara, with a mysterious past? Sign me up for that ship. Despite all of the chemistry between Clara and Aiden, we don’t get enough scenes of them together. And yes, I was totally vying for the riding off into the sunset together scenario after she’d apologized for the whole Lena thing.
Sadly that would never be. #FEELS
After you rescue Nicky, the game goes from fast paced fun, to serious-fucking-business. There was no more casual walks down Chi-town laughing at people’s dark secrets. It was all in. From a heartbreaking farewell to family, to Clara’s swan song, to Quinn’s final demise, to sweet revenge against Damien, the last hour or so is a roller coaster of emotion. All up until the credits, when the game pans away from the scrolling credits and goes back to another screen.
Here we are faced with a decision that we’ve had all game to settle on. Do we kill the man who has killed our niece? He’s the one who pulled the trigger but not the one who ordered the shot. Killing him would be just cutting off one head for three to replace it. But, justice must be repaid. An eye for an eye.
In any other game, I would have spared him. But I am Aiden Pearce. I don’t take any prisoners. And I want the revenge that I spend these days fighting for. So I let one off in the back of his head, execution style. It’s dark and I wonder if it will haunt me in possible future games, but in my book Aiden is now the kind of man who will kill for what is necessary.
Final Thoughts: Watch Dogs is far from perfect, the controls of the game and the vast open world are at battle with one another; as one hinders progress the other encourages it. Did it live up to its hype? Maybe not. But still, the hacking is innovative, and Ubisoft has created a world that I would be glad to step back into in future games.