I was rather excited to play Watch Dogs ever since I saw it at E3. The concept looked neat, and the game itself looked amazing. I was excited to play the game on a fancy “next generation” console, so when it got hit with a delay I was a little disappointed. Then when I could only get my hands on a PS3 copy of the game, I was a little more disappointed, yet the game brought me back to life. Watch Dogs is a fantastic open world game full of momentum and possibilities, but overall is not a game to be playing on “last generation” consoles. I’ll explain after the jump in our “first impression” of Watch Dogs.
I’m calling this my “first impression” because I don’t like to review games until I complete them. With two rather lengthy games hitting at once, it’s hard to churn through them both and respect them as separate titles. So I’m doing just that, completing each game before I give my final review. I’m fully playing Watch Dogs on a PS3, but I have checked it out on PS4 for comparison sake.
Watch Dogs takes place in Chicago as technology has opened the entire city up to anyone that wants to step in. Walking down the street you can hack into citizens smart phones, computers, and even street lights to twist and turn anything in your direction. The game tries to put an emphasis on nobody being safe from hackers, and it does this well by allowing you to steal from bank accounts, steal passwords, and even read in-game text messages between people.
You play as Aiden Pierce, which is a rather good hacker that has found his way into the cities new ctOS system. This was something there to help secure the city, but by hacking into it he gains access to all this personal information. The game pushes you right into the idea by letting you hack right away, and it is rather neat how it is done. You can go from causing traffic jams, to reading a text message that could easily creep you out. Other times it can be humorous as you read about a date going awfully wrong for example.
The game then takes advantage of this new tech ruled world by making it the new combat technique in the game. Aiden will use his phone to create a strategy every time you come across combat. Aiden will use the phone to cause explosions, noise distractions, and even combat perks such as raising cover or drawing enemies near. The game will allow you to set off enemy bombs while they hold them, explode circuit boards neat a distraction, or even use camera’s to help spot where they are all at. This allows the game to have both a combat approach and a stealthy approach to every battle. Fighting early on is rather a pain as Aiden dies easily, which forces you to take the more strategic approaches.
This at it’s core is rather the same experience as the new consoles. The real issues start to become apparent when you move beyond this. Being this is an open world game, I like to explore and create some havoc in the city I’m placed in. The more I do this in Watch Dogs on the PS3, the more flaws I find. Cars will randomly appear a few feet in front of you, and disappear at the same distance. For some reason the game won’t load object in a distance at all. In many instances I got out of my car to do something right down the street, turn back around to get in my car, and it’s already gone. Cars you crash into and havoc you cause is also all gone the second you look the other way. Core mechanics are just about the same, but the game won’t “save” what is happening long enough to allow it to mean anything. This is a concern for one specific reason, it defeats the sole purpose of hacking the city. Creating traffic jams and disrupting the city is much much harder to do on the PS3 than it is on PS4.
That being said, traveling the city is fun (and should be more fun on new consoles!) While creating havoc is rather hard, you will still be able to do it on a smaller scale. Occasionally cars will crash into each other on accident and the AI characters will get out and yell at each other, holding up traffic and causing a little bit of chaos. Cop cars will get stuck in intersections when you hack the light to allow the busy streets to all go at once. One of my favorite instances so far was separating myself ever so slightly from the cops, hacking a garage to open, sliding into it, and closing the garage. The cops all sped right down the street and I got away perfectly fine. Of course hacking goes more in-depth as you can hack bridges, gates, and even forklifts to get away.
One interesting note I found cool was that the game makes it obvious that almost every character in the game has a cell phone. This means every time you “act out” someone will call the cops on you. If you steal a car, the person may run the opposite direction and call the cops. You then have to catch up and destroy their phone before the call goes through, otherwise the cops start searching for you. The same goes for pretty much anything that causes problems like killing someone, crashing, or causing obvious danger. Sometimes simply carrying your gun in public will cause concern.
Drawbacks that I have so far are that there isn’t much else to do like other open world games. There are plenty of mini-games to play that are rather in-depth and will cause you to think, but outside of that you can’t really interact with the city itself. You can’t beat up city walker, but you can shoot them or make them run, but nothing ever really comes of it. While hacking peoples phones can be fun, it hasn’t yet provided a benefit beyond stealing money from bank accounts. I’d like to utilize the hacked knowledge in some regard, such as catching a criminal without being on a mission to do so. Driving is also a major pain in the butt because for some reason I’m unable to make a turn if my in-game life depended on it. I normally find myself reversing and trying again, especially in high speed chases or running from cops.
Cars also seem to not have much variety throughout the city. You have hot spots basically. In one area you will find 3 different trucks, another area has 3 different sports cars, and so on. The sports cars are a little easier to drive, but overall still have terrible control.
One drawback I wasn’t expected was the clunky way of scaling stuff. You can’t really climb massive buildings, but you can quickly hop over fences or climb ladders etc… but often times I miss fire doing it and run into the building, or I get an odd camera view. This is unexpected considering how well polished Assassins Creed has been in this department.
The real awesome part of Watch Dogs happens when you jump online though. By doing so you basically just set yourself up to be hosting a game. If you don’t specifically look for multiplayer events, then the game will start finding some for you. A quick press on the D-pad and you join the game and the other players enter your city. This could be street races, or my favorite decryption matches. Another mode called Invasion matches have you “hack” another player, which can cause them to stop what they are doing and come find you. You then have to upload a “back door” and get out of the area unseen. By doing so you get a whole bunch of bonuses and a victory.
My first match was rather fun as I accepted the challenge, then hid behind a bus area full of people. I peeked around the wall every time I heard the guy running near me only to see him checking out civilians. Eventually when time was nearing the end he started shooting them all trying to find me, something that will hurt your good karma in the game. It was as if I was driving him mad by hiding out-of-view.
A second time I had occured a bounty on my head by causing trouble in the city. What this does is allow other players to “accept the bounty” and come hack into your network. When this happens you are told to find the guy in a certain area and kill him. You use your phone to scan faces which tells you “possible targets” and further investigation will lock on who it is. This leads into awesome chase sequences and gunfights as the person attempts to keep hacking your phone. I was in the last process of a mission, so randomly needing to stop what I’m doing to prevent this was actually kind of neat. It is fun in context, but compared to the other modes it does take much longer to accomplish (too me a minute of hiding in my first match) and they are not as fun due to the fact the hacker is not allowed to kill the opposing player. One little mistake and you are pretty much screwed.
Online races are rather neat because they have the modern style to them, but blend it with something you would see in say Mario Kart. By utilizing your hacks you can open gates, find short cuts, or even cause mayhem for the competitors. The best example is when you raise a blockade and have them crash into it, and lose the lead.
That being said, it can and most likely will become annoying. When simply just driving through the city doing side missions I was constantly being asked to do something online. Every few minutes or so I was told to join a race, or hack a guy, or I was being hacked just as I came up to a mission point. I almost decided to just go offline, but it eventually calmed down a bit when the bounty went away.
Heading back into single player, you can get a feel of the core mechanics of the game. The game itself can either be super easy, or super difficult. I say this because enemies fall to the ground so easily, so if you find a way to get a jump on them, you will breeze through major areas. The downside is when you don’t have a lot of time to get the jump. In one mission I had to retry a bunch of times because I was told to crash into an SUV, then kill some of the enemies, but only subdue the last two. What I had to do is find a way to hit them, slide the car so when I get out it can become cover, and pick off enemies one-by-one. The downside was the two enemies that could only be subdued had to be drawn to me somehow without them shooting me, much harder than it seems.
The reason being the cover system works, but doesn’t work. You can quickly jump into cover and go from cover to cover. It works in most areas, but in constantly changing areas like a busy street, it gets clunky. You can’t blind fire, and enemies have spot on aim any time you peek out. The game also boasts a upgrade system to make things even easier. All the perks so far are cool and all, but are not entirely needed to upgrade. With a bit of strategy in every approach, you can breeze through areas and not really feel like it was too complicated.
It has so many great things going for it in every way that nothing ever feels fleshed out. For example there is a stealthy approach to the game, yet you can’t hide bodies or cause a disturbance in that regard. There is no importance to hacking people after a certain point, and the whole concept of the city being at your fingertips feels like it has a restriction to simplistic things. Heck the game even throws money at you and I have a TON of money in my account, yet never feel the need to spend any of it because there really is no need to.
Since I can’t really cause chaos in the city like I would in say Saints Row, I decided to dive even more into the side missions. So far one that seems like it should be mentioned is something called Digital Trips. I believe their are 4 of them in the city, and they each are basically like Aiden taking drugs, except this are well….digital. It transforms you into an odd character to do arcadish style things in the city. Each one feels like a different arcade style game that can be rather fun.
Being I haven’t fully completed the game just yet, I don’t want to comment too much on the story. I am a big fan of Tom Clancy stories and those do a really good job of complimenting ideas like tech invasion, but so far Watch Dogs doesn’t really dive too deep into it. I want Aiden to utilize the data he is basically stealing to do something big, something epic, but it doesn’t seem like the game is going outside of a typical tech-sci-fi thriller at this point. Hopefully that changes, I’m midway through the game though so that doesn’t seem likely.
Overall midway through the game I can say this. The game is meant to be played on next generation consoles, and that being said it was poorly ported to “Current gen consoles.” The game has many flaws on PS3/360 that are not common problems in other open world games at all. It has plenty of screen tearing, noticeable frame rate drops, and overall some game hindering problems on PS3. That being said, I know these issues don’t exist on next generation versions of the game so I won’t let that hold the game back. This is a great first attempt at a modern open world game that will lead into a fantastic franchise, but I think Watch Dogs’ prime won’t come until at least the next title. They have a lot to improve on, but it is a game worth checking out. Midway through, the game gets a 3-3.5 out of 5 from me, but I have faith it will improve the more I get into it.