Watch Dogs

What made Watch Dogs a flawed gem

Watch Dogs 2 is coming out in September, It’s going to be set in San Francisco and will feature a new hero. The trailer, although looking kind of cool, seemed to lose some of the soul that the first game had. Trying too hard to be hip and trendy.

Anyways, Seeing the trailer got me thinking about the first game and how it missed its potential. Watch Dogs is nearly two years old now and received a bad rap at launch. Not surprising really when you think about the amount of hype it had to live up to following ‘that’ E3 trailer from 2012. So on May 27 2014, I booked a day off work, bought the game sat down and yeah, I was disappointed. The hacking mechanic was nothing more than changing traffic lights, the graphics had taken a massive hit since the E3 demo and main character Aiden Pearce was as likable a s brick in the face. It didn’t help that *SPOILERS* his mission to find out who killed his niece was kind of his fault anyway. So, like many games, I played for a bit, realised it wasn’t what we all hoped it to be, and tucked it away in my pile of shame.

Recently, I dug out Watch Dogs again, just to have a look around, and see if I could get some interest in it so as to complete the game finally, and was totally surprised by how good it actually is given the chance. What started off as a 5 minute jaunt around Chicago has turned into my game of choice at the moment. So why the change of heart?

Well I think part of the problem for me was that I was always comparing it to GTA V on PS3, the last open world city game I played. Secondly I think I got caught up in the hype train and expected more than was delivered. So lets bullet point all the things that make it a great game in its own right

The main thing that you need to remember when playing Watch Dogs is that it’s not a GTA clone, like I first thought. It’s an open world game for sure, go where you like, do what you like but it’s massively different from Rockstar’s offering. The mechanics are different, mission structure is different, the tone is different. And there are even some things that Watch Dogs does that are better than Grand Theft Auto.

The real winner is the city of Chicago. Not only is it beautiful, even today, but it’s alive. I mean really alive. Every NPC has a life, you can see what they do for a job what illness they have, if they have criminal record, sexual preference, you name it you can find out about it. And this gives the city some life. Not only do the NPC have a background but they all seem to do their own thing. Just idly walking down a street, you can see a drunk couple arguing, with a third-party suggesting to get a taxi, people sitting on benches having a genuine conversation, rather than just saying something random. There are buskers, beat boxers, people smooching down a side ally workers working, the variety is quite something. If you change traffic lights, and there is a massive collision, people get out of their car, and ask if everyone is alright. It’s this mixture of personalities, that gives Watch Dog’s Chicago a real sense of being there, and you don’t mind just walking around soaking up the atmosphere, especially in the rain, where the game does look incredible still.

Then there is the music, A lot has been said when Watch Dogs got released about how it was so bad compared to the radio stations of GTA. And granted, there are some real duff songs, and at the start, not very many to choose from. But, you can hack Peoples phone’s and steal their MP3s. Not only does this increase the amount of songs at your disposal, it also encourages you to have nose at the people around you. All the music seems to fit with the Chicago life style, drizzly blues and jazz to rock, to trip hop. It all just seems to fit in the world. It’s a simple case of the more you explore, the more you can find. And now, after finally completing the game, I can say the Chicago is one of the finest open worlds created.

Now, the missions, Well they’re not so good, the variety is not there and generally just end up you having to hack something, and infiltrate somewhere. It’s all very drab. BUT. The stealth mechanics and shooting mechanics are top-notch. Better than any Splinter Cell game. The way Aiden Pearce can slope around corners run from cover to cover is so smooth. And with your clever hacking phone you can, if you choose and have the patience take out an entire gang hideout using just the cameras and the environmental obstacles at your disposal. Or if stealth isn’t your thing you can go in all guns blazing, the cover system is silky smooth, the focus effect (bullet time) works really well too with every bullet landing with a satisfying thud and squelch. There may not be the variety, but each of the missions are as satisfying as the last meaning you don’t really mind that this is the 10th identical gang hideout you’ve taken out.

The other good thing about Watch Dogs is there is a sense of verticality to it. Aiden Pearce is a dap hand at the Parkour meaning you can jump and climb, slide over cars and boxes, use fork lifts to reach higher places and again like much of Watch Dogs, it’s all so smooth. The mechanics are spot on, and it’s rare, very rare that you’re left fumbling  trying to jump up somewhere you can get to but can’t because game can’t work out what you’re trying to do. Of course if walking or running isn’t your thing there are plenty of cars at your disposal. Now, the driving isn’t brilliant. The roads of Chicago feel like they’re mad of ice, and really narrow, but there are a few tricks up Watch Dog’s sleeve that makes cars a lot of fun. A nice touch is, if you steal a car, you automatically rummage around the glove box for some cash, or electric components to help you craft new skills. The second nifty trick is, if the car is stationary, you can hit Circle, making you hide in the car, placing a detection zone around you. so if you park in the right place, and the police are after you, they have less chance of seeing you, and is a brilliant mechanic.

Despite the slip sliding handling, the car chases are a lot of fun thanks to the hacking mechanic of the game. Take out pursuers by raising bridges, blowing steam pipes, changing traffic lights, raising bollards. its something not really seen in an open world game like this so it does add a little bit of refreshment.

I guess the main selling point to Watch Dogs was the hacking. And yes, it’s not quite what the trailer made it out to be with just a few things around the city that are able to be hacked. Cause one collision through traffic light changes and you’ve seen them all, a few junction boxes can be blown up and the raising or lowering of things is limited. But the prize among your hacking repertoire is the black out. Engulfing the city in blackness as you cause a city-wide power cut. It’s quite special really and is one of the rare hacks that makes a difference as this makes it hard for enemies can’t see you so you can slip away if your cornered. This is the one thing from all the trailers we saw prior to the games release that actually works like it was advertised. I never really get bored with setting it off, just because. Chicago is an eerie place when the only lights come from the car headlights.

I just wanted to put my thoughts on to paper about a game that didn’t really get a fair chance. The hype was something Watch Dogs could never live up to, and that’s a shame because it could put people off before they’ve given it a chance. and thus affect the interest people will have in the upcoming sequel. It’s one of those games that you kind of have to stick with to get the most out of it. look past the dull main character and the graphical downgrade (something Ubisoft seem quite famous for these days) and you will find a game, that is both mechanically top-notch, a rarity in this current generation of hardware, you’ll get an OK story that gets better and a city to explore that breathes with life. It’s not perfect for sure, but I have a feeling that Watch Dogs is in a lot of people’s piles of shame and that is shame in itself. because it deserves a second chance.

 

Paul Collett

Co-founder of this site, been gaming since Clive invented the Spectrum. Been a Sony fan ever since Nintendo messed up the SNES CD deal.

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