We’re going to try something here. Instead of giving you a single Watch Dogs review, we’re going to give you two. The review will be broken up into several sections where Brian and myself will provide our personal opinions on the various aspects of Watch Dogs. This isn’t likely to happen for every game, but we’d like to do it when possible. If you like this format, hate it, or have suggestions, please comment below!
Brian: Looking back on the excitement I felt when Ubisoft first revealed the Watch Dogs preview at E3 2012. The game seemed to resonate with unlimited possibilities. An open world action hacking game pretty much hits the spot for games I like to play. It’s quite hard to not compare this game to others of its kind like GTA or Saints Row. Since Watch Dogs was going to be the first modern open world action game of the next generation, I was expecting it to be more advanced that its predecessors. High expectations usually have a strange way of turning into fuel for the hype train.
Michael: Watch Dogs is Ubisoft’s newest open-world third-person shooter IP. At first glance, Watch Dogs looks like a half-baked attempt at cashing in on the Grand Theft Auto craze, and I went into this game fully expecting it to feel like a watered down version of Rockstar’s obscenely popular franchise. In some respects, my expectations were spot on, but I was also pleasantly surprised by the things that make Watch Dogs stand out as its own game.
Brian: Watch Dogs takes place in a near-future vision of Chicago, where the city’s infrastructure is controlled by a central operating system or ctOS. You control the character Aiden Pierce, a gray-hat hacker and jack of all trades so to speak. The story in general is fairly straight forward with not much depth to it. The highly skilled 30 something male Caucasian with nut-brown hair protagonist suffers loss and seeks revenge uncovers more than he bargained for yada yada yada the end. In all fairness the story isn’t bad by any means, it just doesn’t stand out as unique or overly interesting. There is a very strong overall message about the dangers of technology in a connected society and how easily it can be manipulated for malicious intent. The characters you interact with throughout the game have fairly unique personalities to balance Aidens somewhat lacking one. Something about just makes his character forgettable.
Michael: Watch Dogs thrusts you into the role of Aiden Pierce, a rather generic looking hacker and vigilante thug. After a job goes horribly wrong, and his family pays the price, Aiden wants revenge. Watch Dog’s fairly clichéd story contains the expected twists and turns that we have all seen a hundred times, but the hacking aspect provides a pleasant new spin. Armed with your trusty smart phone, you will abuse vulnerabilities in ctOS to distract, incapacitate, eliminate, and spy on your enemies and unsuspecting citizens as Aiden tries to set things right. Most of the supporting cast members are unique and enjoyable, but Aiden himself has almost no personality. I really wanted to see more of Aiden’s friends (and enemies), but they made only short appearances in between story missions.
Brian: The character controls mostly how you would expect from a third person action game with the abilities to walk, run, shoot, etc. The ability to parkour while moving through an area flows well but it’s not on par with Assassin’s Creed. One hugely glaring issue I had with the mechanics was that there was no jump. This became increasingly annoying when I wanted to make a simple step from a boat to the pier I would end up in the water and have to swim to the nearest ladder. Jumping aside, the other movement controls were not cumbersome at all and felt intuitive and comfortable. Using your phone to hack devices feels odd at first, but you quickly get used to it as you play and you become quite dependent on it.
The combat mechanics were very decent with its core cover-based system that allows you to easily take cover, move around corners or dash to cover. Hiding behind cover, hacking devices and using silenced weapons make stealth very easy and fun. Melee take downs are very satisfying, but are only enemy specific, no beating on civilians, but you can shoot them to death. Shooting weapons feels how it should although enemies with body armor are slightly over powered considering you have to unload about two clips of a LMG to take one down.
There is a skill system in which you unlock points through experience. It wasn’t very robust and I found myself not really needing most of them. The skills consist of hacking, driving, combat, crafting devices. There was a special skill, focus, which allows you to slow down time but there wasn’t much emphasis placed on using it and I practically forgot it was there the whole game.
Driving over all is a not so great, but you do get used to it over time. If I were to compare it to another game, it’s about on par with GTA IV. I need to point out a few things that felt odd one of them being that the cars felt like they were hovering or floating at times. You cannot shoot from the car while you’re driving, but with good reason they want you to hack the environment to lose pursuers. There are even timed hacks that can be triggered so you don’t have to look in the rear view. When carjacking people tend to call the police so you either have to run them over or get out and grab their phone. Once the police are called the ctOS scan begins if they locate you they call in the police and getting away from the police was somewhat annoying especially early on in the game. Motorcycles really feel like the best choice for mobility and speed I tend to steal one them first whenever I need a vehicle.
The campaign missions started out to be interesting then kind of get repetitive. Many times you will have to enter a restricted area with enemies and make it to your objective. The one saving grace was trying to fully stealth through those then they were quite fun. Another mission redundancy consisted chasing down enemies in cars to eliminate them. Side missions consist of the most redundant type of missions, which I listed previously best part about them is they unlock special weapons which I found to be the most worth while weapons in the game. There are side objectives as well, which can be entertaining and creepy like the voyeur objectives basically let you peep into someones home for a few seconds. I did rather enjoy objectives that had me tracing a power line back to the source to hack it.
Michael: The game plays like your standard third-person shooter. You run around blowing everything up until your screen starts to turn red, then you find a wall or conveniently placed waist-high barrier to hide behind until your screen becomes clear again. If, like me, you enjoy taking a more stealthy and strategic approach, Watch Dogs still has you covered. Cameras give you a massive advantage over your enemies, and environmental hazards are deadly when triggered at just the right moment. In addition to the wide array of firearms (which I hardly even used due to the limited selection of suppressed weapons), you have an arsenal of crafted weapons that can distract enemies, disable communications, cause blackouts, or even be used as deadly traps. Using these tools to my advantage, I was able to complete almost every mission with nary a shot fired.
In my frank opinion, the driving sucks. It is serviceable once you get used to it, but I found myself getting frustrated nearly every time I hopped into a vehicle. The problem is only exacerbated by various camera issues. In vehicles, the delay before the camera snaps back to the front following a turn often had me crashing into buildings and cars I could not even see. Sure, you can manually turn the camera, but it feels unintuitive and clunky. I ended up driving exclusively in first-person mode to combat this annoyance, it helped, but severely crippled my ability to assess my surroundings.
Like Brian, I also felt the skill tree to be lacking. Many of the upgrades I purchased served little purpose outside of allowing me to purchase the ability I actually needed. There is also a morality system, but unless I completely missed something, it serves no purpose outside of chastising you for accidentally killing civilians with your out-of-control car.
In traditional Ubisoft fashion, you will be clearing out command posts to reveal side-missions and collectibles in the surrounding area. Few of the side-missions or collectibles really stood out, feeling more like filler just to keep you from selling the game. I did, however, enjoy some of the collectibles that required me to solve puzzles using Watch Dog’s parkour mechanics and cameras. Additionally, Watch Dogs includes various mini-games. While they serve their purpose as a distraction from the meat of the game, I felt little desire to return to them after completing them a few times.
Brian: The graphics felt very polished and clean. The anti aliasing made much softer touch smoother edges. The game overall looks great not E3 2012 great, but enough to be amazed at times. At night when it rains the reflections on the street look very pleasing. I rarely had the framerate drop it kept a steady 30fps. The only noticeable drop was in intense action an whipping the camera around quickly enough for it to get choppy for a second then it was back to normal.
Michael: Watch Dogs looks decent at night and during rain storms, but the rest of the time I found it rather lackluster. It certainly won’t be dropping any jaws. On several occasions, fog created some absurdly short viewing distances, and with clear skies, pop-in was quite noticeable. The game runs at a heavily aliased 900p, with a framerate that remains mostly steady around 30 FPS. After playing for a bit, I noticed a dramatic drop in framerate every time I would acquire a new mission. Only lasting a few seconds at a time, these weren’t much of an inconvenience.
Brian: Watch Dogs online multiplayer consists of co-op and competitive modes. I wasn’t all that impressed with the multiplayer, and didn’t feel as if it had that lasting appeal. There was no central lobby to invite your friends so you can launch into games together. Once you were in a game with a friend you can’t both hop into a different game you have to quit out all together and start a new game an send out invites. They weren’t lying when they said it’s a seamless transition for multiplayer to single player there was no loading screen at all. Some of the game modes are fun to play for a short while, like the Intrusion, but others have no real purpose like co-op free-roam. While in co-op free-roam the city is yours and there is nothing to do except maybe play mini games… Alone, yep alone.
Intrusions are probably the most fun since you need to steal data from your opponent and get away. They can stop you if they kill you or if get scanned with their profiler. This can also be very nerve-racking since the area you have to stay in gets smaller with every 25% you download and the download speed is very slow. In Tailing you enter someone’s game so you can follow and observe them. The hardest part about this one is keeping up with the people so you can stay within range. Often I would change traffic lights to make them wreck and therefore slowing them down. I have found most people don’t know how these modes work and tend to try killing you right off the bat once they enter your game.
Decryption is the competitive team-based Deathmatch of sorts with up to 4 vs 4 PvP mode. It’s fast paced and intense, so think of it as a game of digital tag. This mode was hard to find people playing at times, but it was fairly fun when we did. After about three rounds it was starting to get old. The Racing portion is exactly what you would think you race cars. The only way to select what cars you want is by selecting different tracks because the cars are tied to the tracks. It’s all out mayhem with steam pipes being blown, blockers and traffic lights being hacked and you can even take shortcuts if you choose.
I briefly touched on the ctOS app for mobile phones and was able to play one challenge mode it would have been a nice little game if it was easier to find a player and if the app didn’t completely suck your battery dry. I also tried the challenge mode from the in-game perspective, it was just another police chase accept the police, the other player, can hack everything you can too. I was unable to try the co-op mode so I won’t comment on it here.
Michael: Due to server issues, I was unable to extensively test the multiplayer modes, but what I actually managed to play felt empty and vapid. The Dark Souls-esque invasions in Watch Dogs are fun, but suffer from a lack of purpose. I enjoyed invading other players, but when I became the victim, I often felt blindly searching for my opponent little more than a tedious waste of time. The inability to secretly join my friends’ games and spy on them felt like a huge misstep.
The team-based game modes were equally unfulfilling, again feeling like they were tacked on to keep you from selling the game. As I said, the driving leaves much to be desired, so racing provided far more frustration than enjoyment. Online free roam sounds like it could be a blast with your friends, but the lack of structured activity quickly deteriorates the mode into a another dull experience. Decryption has the most potential, but the mechanics of the mode turn it into an endless race in circles as you try to avoid the enemy players who will quickly steal the files at your first mistake. Decryption could be an amazingly fun experience if Ubisoft puts some work into matchmaking and balance.
Watch Dogs Review by Brian Pace
I was ultimately satisfied with the game there were a few annoying quirks I mentioned throughout and despite some of the repetitive nature it didn’t deter me from having fun while playing. Watch Dogs is somewhat lacking in features, but I think it’s a good foundation for a series as long as they add more functionality, *ahem* jumping, and make the multiplayer with a central lobby. The game is defiantly worth a playing, but it may not have much replay value with multiplayer as basic as it is.
Watch Dogs Review by Michael Evans
Watch Dog’s biggest flaw is that it is trying too hard to be the next GTA. The game has its own identity, but it is hidden behind all of the filler. I know my review seems overwhelmingly negative, but I still enjoyed my 40+ hours with Watch Dogs. While far from perfect, Watch Dogs feels like a solid foundation to what is inevitably going to become an annual franchise. I very much look forward to what Ubisoft has in store for us with Watch Dogs 2.
I've been a gamer for as long as I can remember. Waking up early just to play some Super Mario Bros 3 before school fostered a passion for video gaming that never faded. I enjoy all genres, but hold a special place in my heart for nice long RPGs with engaging stories and deep character customization.