EVER since its first reveal at 2012’s E3, Ubisoft Montreal’s ambitious title has done more than any other game to whet the appetite for what the next generation of consoles might offer.
Game review (with tips and tricks): Watch Dogs
Platforms - Playstation 4 (reviewed) / Xbox One / Playstation 3 / Xbox 360 / PC
Score: 8.4 / 10
An amalgam of the studio’s own Assassin’s Creed series and the sprawling urban setting of Grand Theft Auto, it seeks to innovate upon the open world genre by allowing the protagonist - expert hacker Aiden Pierce - to interact with the IT infrastructure of a near-future Chicago as he seeks vengeance against a shadowy foe for the death of his niece.
The use - and misuse - of electronic data and the apparatus of the modern hyperconnected city lies at the centre of Watch Dogs. Compared to most IPs, it is a game that embraces grand and thoughtful themes surrounding privacy and surveillance that are relevant to everyday life. For that, Ubisoft deserve praise. It is just regrettable that the game’s plot - a hoary revenge narrative with stereotypical characters - never explores them too deeply. Instead, they too often feel like superficial flourishes when they could have made for that rarest of things - a game that makes you sit up, take note and contemplate the world around you.
The fundamentals of the gameplay, however, are excellent. Its strengths come to the fore in the various set pieces of the main narrative, where patience and preparation are key. A thorough reconnaissance of an area or building involves switching from one CCTV camera to the next, assessing and marking potential threats and revealing weaknesses in security systems that can be exploited. Whereas the promise of stealth is revealed to be an illusion in most games, with fast-paced gunplay invariably an easier and more visceral route to progress, taking a cautious approach and successfully impregnating the city’s defences ensures Watch Dogs is a rewarding experience.
At times, however, the game’s simpler tasks reveal a disparity between the concept of the gameplay mechanics and its execution. The technological skulduggery at Pearce’s disposal seems diverse and thrilling but too often deploying them requires a perfunctory prompted button press. This is especially true of the driving sections, where bollards can be raised and traffic lights triggered in an attempt to thwart you pursuers; the first time, such actions raise a smile, but repetition soon dulls their enjoyment.
Overall, Watch Dogs leaves you with a sense of a series with great promise. There are aspects of the game that offer a glimpse of the future of AAA titles - the synchronised single and multiplayer modes which allows you to stalk another player in their campaign without their knowledge is particularly clever. Not all of it comes together fluently enough to make this the outstanding game many hoped it would be back in 2012, but it offers hope for the future.
Watch Dogs tips and tricks
1) Although firearms may seem like the go-to items of choice in Pierce’s weapon wheel, it is always worth considering some of the less obvious secondary weapons. The use of blackouts, IEDS and grenades, to name but three, can carve out an inventive and satisfying route to progress and make for a good alternative to a drawn-out firefight.
2) Tempting as it may be to use the in-game skill tree to bolster Pierce’s shooting skills, it is wise to upgrade his hacking abilities as quickly as possible. This offers the best way of avoiding the police during high speed pursuits, especially when they deploy helicopters as part of the chase.
3) Another skill worth unlocking early on in the game is Pierce’s focus mode, which gives you some leeway when dispatching enemies. As the game progresses, the difficulty is upped considerably and split second decisions can make all the difference - being able to slow down time momentarily is a vital resource.
4) If you incur the wrath of the law, the highways of Chicago might seem like your easiest escape route. However, the easiest way to elude police - or gangs for that matter - is by racing quickly to a shoreline and finding a boat to spirit Pierce to safety. Only helicopters can pursue you at sea and by upgrading your hacking tree, you can easily nullify them.
5) Early on in the campaign mode, you will unlock multiplayer, and with it the ability to intrude upon someone else’s single player game. This allows you to stalk them and hack them, gaining notoriety in the process. However, if you wish to play uninterrupted, it is worth turning the invites off.