So, the nature of the biggest letdown of 2014 was revealed; and in true /Skill fashion I’ve arrived months after this great hullabaloo went down to scarf down the few rotten scraps that still cling to the carcass that was once Watchdogs’ . So, now that everyone knows how Ubisoft tried to pull a fast one on us with Watchdogs’ release and calling the game out for not being what was promised is no longer considered edgy or of any sort of intellectual value, allow me to continue in the hope that I may redeem myself in your eyes with my insight instead of dying in your memories a talentless media hack.
WatchDogs is an action-adventure game that was developed and published by Ubisoft. It was released in 2014 for the PS3, PS4, Windows, Xbox 360, Xbox One, and Wii U. This review covers the Playstation 4 edition.
So the game starts off sometime in the future in Chicago, Illinois, a respectable North American city.
The game is centered around Aidan Pierce, a mercenary hacker sort of fellow with a Christan Bale-Batman voice and a massive chip on his shoulder. He used to steal cars, gun down anyone, and perform complex, highly illegal hacks for any yahoo who paid him, but after the death of his niece he turned a new leaf. Now he’s a new man who respects the well being of others, as we can see by how he conducts himself in the game - by stealing cars, gunning down just about anyone, and performing complex, highly illegal hacks for any yahoo who pays him (seriously though, the guy from Memento had more character development). Now he’s tracking down the man that ordered the death of his niece, but stumbles onto a conspiracy that… actually, I forgot why I was supposed to care. Anyway, he is forced to use a combination of stealth, gunfighting, and hacking (or at least hacking as understood by someone who thinks ‘EULA’ refers to a kind of Hawaiian dance) to bad-ass his way to the truth.
The aforementioned badassery is what makes up the majority of the gameplay, which is split up between driving, shooting, sneaking and hacking. I would say that the gameplay is alright. The shooting is mediocre and inoffensive, same with the driving, but the stealth moments really allow the game to come together. You see the one unique mechanic that separates Watchdogs from everything else is the ability to hack into stuff, some of which probably shouldn’t be hackable. Quick tangent here: If you have a rudimentary understanding of how technology works, you’re going to facepalm at least once during this game. Way too many things in this game are hackable, things that wouldn’t make any sense in the real world, like fork lifts and the grenades on an enemies belt. With the game’s understanding of hacking I wouldn’t be surprised if at one point Aiden downloaded some ebola into an unsuspecting goon’s coffee. Anyway, hacking allows the player to gain an advantage in whatever he’s doing and I think the mechanic, while a bit too contextual, is well implemented. You can stop pursuing (or pursued) cars by hacking streetlights and retractable spike strips; you can hack a goon’s communications so that they blast screamo music in his ear for a couple of seconds, or even temporarily disable helicopters. This helped to liven up the gunplay, which I thought was rather bland, but it never really made it anything special. Overall, I think the best part of the gameplay was the stealth, as that’s where the hacking mechanic was the most well implemented and I thought it was the most fun. I do wish that there was more stealth, that it was more challenging, and that there were more non-lethal weapons, but whatever.
The main problem with WatchDogs’ story is that it doesn’t seem to have a protagonist, just a glorified asshole. Aiden Pearce is just a wholly unlikable character, that’s the problem. I could play a game with an unlikable main character, in fact I personally loved Spec Ops: the Line and Bioshock Infinite, whose protagonists did some messed up stuff. The problem isn’t that I don’t like Aiden Pearce or even that I can’t decide who Aiden Pearce is, it’s that Ubisoft can’t decide who Aiden Pearce is. Is he so consumed by guilt and anger that he just goes into Machiavellian ‘the ends justify the means’ mode and does whatever it takes to get what he wants or does he want to be a vigilante that dispenses street justice in a world where the system has failed, and if so, does he take the Batman or the Punisher route? The game just can’t decide what it wants Aiden to be, so sometimes he’s busting human trafficking rings and other times he’s stealing money from random passersby for shits and giggles before beating them senseless when they call the police. This isn’t helped by the fact that I never liked any of the other characters (other than Jordi, who ends up getting like 15 minutes of screen time throughout the entire game). Also I found the plot to be dependent on technobabble and incapable of picking a main villain. The story was just a boring, flaccid mess.
Issues and Problems
I’m not too happy with the game’s sandbox. We got ourselves an urban sandbox with all of the scope of a GTA game, but none of the personality. I found most of the side quests to be mediocre; they gave an honest attempt to add more content to the game, but there was never really any incentive to do any of them as the ingame money the missions provide is essentially useless. The only things you can buy are guns and all the guns in the game feel the same (a case of making the content plentiful, but not interesting) and can be looted for free off dead enemies. Furthermore, all you really need to finish the game is the starting silenced M1911, an assault rifle, and some explosives - the latter of the two can be found on the fly. Finally, the game’s radio is crap, which is inexcusable. WatchDogs tries to go above and beyond, there is evidence of effort here, but it just falls flat.
Another problem I had with the game were the bits where you had to guide an NPC via the camera system through some area without getting spotted. I felt like the controls were unresponsive, and I would rather be playing the level myself. It got so bad that for the final one, I didn’t even play by the games rules; I had the option to kill every guard on the premise as long as I got it done without a single one having the slightest clue I was there and it was awesome! It took me two hours to get the whole thing done, but it was totally worth it.
Overall, I think WatchDogs is a mediocre game. It had some new ideas, but none of them really lived up to the potential, leaving us with an experience that has a decent runtime and gives us enough bright flashing lights to keep us occupied during that runtime, but doesn’t really do anything else to leave us thinking “Whoa! that was awesome!” afterwards. I think it’s alright, but there are certainly better places to spend your money.