WATCH_DOGS is essentially the marmite of Ubisoft’s game library. You either love it or you hate it. For me, I love it.
It’s true that Ubisoft majorly downgraded the game’s graphics from its E3 presentations – but you have to remember E3 was primarily for investors and business partners to see these games and it was the biggest stage for games to be shown to the world, you just have to look at Todd Howard’s Bethesda presentations to understand what I mean.
A lot of the times I see people say that this game is bad. There’s such a huge thematic difference between the original game and the sequel that it makes sense that people would dislike this one more as WATCH_DOGS 2 does a better job at highlighting how widespread the Internet is for communication alongside the use of technology, while this game focuses less on the impact of the Internet but rather the technology itself, referring to hackers as “modern-day magicians”
If you’ve ever played any other Ubisoft game, you’ll be familiar with the age old “climb up a tower to unlocks parts of the that area” trope. It’s here in WATCH_DOGS and unlocking these towers may be pivotal to progress through the game to be able to hack people as there’s three or so towers for each district in the game for hacking capabilities to be unlocked. It’s annoying, and one of the few things I dislike about the game as the concept has been beaten to death by Ubisoft by this point.
Luckily, the rest of the gameplay is pretty fun! It’s nothing revolutionary yet I found myself really enjoying what the game has to offer in terms of gameplay. Sidequests, optional activities, lots of weapon, skill and vehicle unlocks are all little tidbits that you can enjoy. The approach to money in the game is also quite unique: You hack people bank accounts and collect their money from an ATM, it’s a nice workaround to how obtaining money is usually earned in AAA games.
One of the games’ biggest strengths is how fun its driving and its hacking is. Sure, it may not be the most amazing things you’d expect in a game focused around hacking, but you’re given different unlocks throughout the game that enable you to perform different things, like causing an entire blackout, destroying communication networks, causing crashes during chases and being able to place movement sensitive explosives. Pair that with the fun driving (although I can admit its not perfect) and occasional police chases that act like the Grand Theft Auto “Wanted” system and you’ve got a cool little game that takes a relatively new game concept and shows a small excerpt of what’s yet to come in its universe.
WATCH_DOGS’ story is much more grounded, and gives so much more personal stakes to a world constantly monitored by surveillance. Aiden, the protagonist, has personal connections to the main antagonist of the game and his motives are justified, even if the way that he goes about them are questionable. As the story unfolds, you begin to see how intertwined Aiden’s life is within the hacking world; it’s not as simple as he believes it is to achieve his goal, with branches coming in different angles that he has to resolve in order to get to the root of his troubles.
People often say that Aiden has no character, or that he’s boring or bland – his tone of voice and delivery shows the affect that events prior to the main story have taken on him and he’s aware that he’s not always a good guy or in the right. Not every main character has to be the same clear-cut happy person; Aiden’s personal experiences have clearly shaped who he is today, and his believe in getting revenge no matter what is how we get a glimpse of the type of person that he is.
Different parts of the story focus on Aiden’s relationship with different characters and groups, such as the Black Viceroys, the Chicago South Club or individuals themselves such as Raymond Kenney or Damien Brenks. The game’s pacing is mostly set through chapters, which can range from 5 missions to 15 in one chapter. I never saw myself feeling as though the story was dragging on, as the variety in places or people that you encounter is enough to keep the narrative interesting and wanting you to keep playing.
Something that tends to get overlooked as a whole is the world design. Chicago is compact, and close together in more urban areas such as The Loop and Parker Square while districts like Mad Mile and Pawnee are less-developed and more rural, with the latter feeling like a breath of fresh air from the major commercial areas of the city. The game does a really good job of showing what a major metropolitan area looks like; weather such as rainfall looks fantastic as you drive through different parts of the game world and with alternating day and night cycles Chicago looks as good as ever. A lot of times the weather and atmosphere compliments Aiden himself, with more darker missions and objectives taking place as night whereas more regular missions such as chasing someone down or hacking into a building happen during the day.
WATCH_DOGS is a fascinating look into the early-days of the ctOS surveillance programme, with a story of personal revenge, fun gameplay and beautiful open-world. It may not be everyone’s favourite game in the franchise, but I believe it tends to go overlooked and underappreciated for what it does bring to the table, and what future games would eventually expand on.