Watch_Dogs is yet another 3rd person action game from Ubisoft, makers of many fine 3rd person action games. Watch_Dogs got pretty poor reviews when it came out, and many people were disappointed in the final product. Thus, it has sat in my back catalog for just the right time to buy and play. How does it stack up against Ubisoft’s other action franchises? Let’s take a look in my Watch_Dogs review!
Watch_Dogs feels kind of like an amalgam of several different Ubisoft games, but without all the most fun aspects of those franchises.
For instance, there’s open world driving, a la Far Cry. I will say that I did enjoy the “car chase hacking” sequences, where you can lose or disable other vehicles by turning the city into a car-smashing weapon. However, Chicago is a bustling, rainy city, which means that often you’re powersliding into sidewalks crowded with people and taking penalties for injuring or killing civilians.
There’s also frequent 3rd person shooter stealth missions similar to Splinter Cell: Blacklist. Instead of being badass Sam Fisher, you’re douche-y Adien Pierce, though. Instead of having a utility belt chock full of high-tech gadgets, you’re limited mostly by what you can repurpose in the environment as weapons.
Finally, we’ve got parkour and eavesdropping elements lifted from Assassin’s Creed. The parkour isn’t nearly as free flowing as Assassin’s Creed, though. Aiden can’t scale vertical surfaces very easily, and has trouble climbing rocks even. It’s quite unclear what can and can’t be jumped – sometimes, a chest high wall is too much, while other times he will leap 150% of his height to scale a fence.
The plot is interesting, and certainly relevant to the modern internet era. Basically, Aiden has this backdoor into the city infrastructure that connects everything, from medical records to traffic cameras. He initially uses it to commit crimes, but after a job goes wrong and the consequences cost him a family member, he becomes a lone vigilante on a quest for justice and/or vengeance.
The problem is that Watch_Dogs’ plot is just a mess of glaring holes. Aiden is a vigilante, who is supposed to be the moral center of the story. He’s an arrogant, murderous asshole, though. He is supposedly anonymous, and goes out of his way in the early game to tie up loose ends and deal with people who might have recognized him. But people on the street frequently point at him and say “Look, it’s the vigilante!”
Watch_Dogs also has several different plot lines running concurrently. Instead of giving them their own mission progression (as in practically every other open world game), there’s only one campaign quest line that jumps around spastically between them.
The central tool that Aiden has is called “the profiler,” and it can pull up short snippets of information about people that Aiden is looking at. Aiden can also use the program to “hack” people and take stuff – money, music, or even crafting items. This is kind of cool, and I think they were going for a “look, your private information isn’t so private” thing.
Some of these bits of info prompt something of a value judgement that I find uncomfortable. For instance, often a person’s religion or sexual preferences pop up. I could see players committing virtual hate crimes by targeting and hurting specific groups – Jews, or gay black people or something.
On the other hand, since all of these “people” are just NPCs and a line of text, why should I care what happens to them? I might as well just rob them all blind – this is a video game, and the point is that I win it. These “people” are going to disappear the moment I’m not looking at them, and they don’t have lives outside of my little bubble.
The open world of Chicago is packed with stuff to do, but a good 80+% of it has no bearing on the game whatsoever. Let’s run down the activities that are just grinding for achievements or have no relevancy to the game whatsoever:
- Money. There is very little to buy in the game, so anything to do with money is pretty pointless.
- Guns. Guns can be picked up off dead enemies to unlock them permanently, and the best ones are unlock rewards. The best gun, in my humble opinion, is the Spec Ops Goblin, which is a reward for doing 10 of the Weapons Trade sidequest missions.
- Skill Points. There are a few really required skills – bullet resistance, for example. A few of the hacking items are useful. For the most part, though, they’re pretty useless. I only had 4 bars on my phone for a long time, and I never really had issues with my tires blowing out.
- Digital trips are completely pointless. They can be fun, but there’s no achievements or any main game unlocks.
- The sidequests Missing Persons, Human Trafficking, QR Codes, and Burner Phones are all pretty useless. The unlocks aren’t any better than what you can get elsewhere.
- Collectibles – Song Sneak, Privacy Invasion, ctOS Breach, City Hotspots, and Audio Logs – are all pointless. The ctOS towers are worth doing just to get the fast travel locations.
- All the online progression rewards are pretty sad compared to what can be unlocked or found much easier.
- All the minigames are, again, just unlocks that aren’t as good as what you can get for free or unlock elsewhere. If you really want to play the chess puzzles for Maximized Focus, go for it, but know that you’ll also have to unlock it using skill points from the skill tree.
There’s something to be said for just screwing around and having fun, but when you’ve got a sandbox this full of stuff it really needs to be tied together in order to remain relevant.
Oh, and Watch_Dogs is so glitchy. I’ve clipped through trees, the floor, buildings, cars, etc. Some cutscenes were so messed up I had corpses and blood stains hanging in midair. I’ve watched AI controlled NPCs jump three stories like it’s nothing. At one point, I found an enemy face down, and when I approached him I glitched out and started spasming on the ground like I was having a seizure.
Watch_Dogs has a few good ideas. The plot centers on our privacy in a constantly connected world, and that’s interesting. The stealth borrows heavily from modern Splinter Cell, and I like modern Splinter Cell. The car chase hacking bits are pretty fun as well. This review is peppered with the word “however” though. Watch_Dogs repeats these things ad nauseum and never manages to pull the rest of the surrounding elements together to make something consistent and enjoyable. If you do opt to take the plunge during a sub-$10 deal, cut right to the chase and skip the boring bits.