Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Watch Dogs review

Watch Dogs finally arrived towards the end of May 2014 after missing its originally planned release date of November 2013.  This combined with the amount of hype surrounding the game has meant that the final product has been a huge disappointment to some who were expecting it to be their first genuine "next generation experience".  There are those who are outright hating on the game, which I feel is unwarranted.  For me, Watch Dogs was an incredibly solid game with tons of optional material to keep you busy for hours, should you enjoy it.  I did, so let's break down the reasons why...

Graphics: 7 out of 10
Initially the graphics didn't impress me all that much.  They're only marginally better than those seen in GTA 5 and that was running on an Xbox 360!  However, the more time I spent with the game, the more I appreciated the visuals.  Chicago is an interesting city to explore, and the condensed version in this game does a good job of cramming in significant landmarks (complete with some history if you take the time to check in and read it).  Wandering through the park with the various sculptures was very interesting to me and helped make this version of Chicago feel real.

Most of the time things run smoothly, though the game did get a bit juddery sometimes after I had just completed a mission.  This is a bit disappointing, as I was playing on a PS4 which should have more than enough power under the hood to run this game without hitching.  If the PS4 version runs like this, what's the Xbox 360 version like, or the Wii U for that matter? Strangely though, when playing online I didn't notice the frame rate take a significant hit. Minor technical issues aside though, Watch Dogs is a game that can look quite beautiful at times. Granted, elements like the day/night cycle and rain that progressively makes the roads and pavements appear wet have been done before, but they're still effective here.

Sound and Music: 7 out of 10
The licensed soundtrack features some great, recognisable tracks which I really enjoyed for the most part, and the music that was specifically composed for the game is also of very high quality and helped ramp up the tension when the situation required it.  Sound effects are well implemented for the most part featuring custom hacking noises (for lack of a better description) that help give the game its own unique flavour and identity.  The only minor let down for me is the voice acting for Aiden. Maybe they wanted him to be a kind of everyman character that the player could easily identify with, but I frequently found his performance somewhat dull and lifeless.  Some of the other side characters like Clara and T-Bone do help spice things up a bit though.

It's always fun causing people to crash into bollards.
Game Mechanics: 8 out of 10
For me, by far the strongest aspect of Watch Dogs is its gameplay, and specifically the combat and stealth options available to you as a player.  Scoping out a gang hideout through the use of CCTV cameras, tagging enemies, and remotely detonating their grenades never gets old!  There are a number of different ways to approach a given situation and the missions play out slightly differently each time, so I was happy to replay some of the tougher missions over and over again until I got things right.  Near the start of the game Aiden is quite weak, so carefully taking out bad guys with a silenced pistol is usually the way to go.  As you level up though and gain access to more and more perks, like disabling a soldier’s ability to call for reinforcements, the game does get significantly easier.

There are a ton of different side quest types and hundreds of these missions spread out across the map, which I think is the game’s biggest asset.  The main story line for me was a just OK and a bit clichéd overall, so it was the sheer variety of optional things to do that kept me interested.  You can line up parts of QR codes painted onto different buildings and scan them with a specific CCTV camera for hidden messages, play a round of the shell game, challenge a random stranger to a drinking competition, track down a serial killer, and many more.  Then there's another bunch of optional online modes for you try, like hacking another player without being spotted, racing others through the city, or joining a team of four in an attempt to hold onto and decrypt sensitive documents.  The online modes are well implemented into the single player as well - sometimes you will be invaded by another "Fixer", but never when you're already in the middle of a mission.

Value and Replayability: 8 out of 10
If you were to plough straight through the main story of the game without participating in any of the optional content, you could get through the entire thing pretty quickly - I would estimate about 10 hours.  Throw in all the other missions though, and there's enough there to keep you entertained for a long time (as long as you enjoy the missions of course).  Watch Dogs follows the same addictive template as the Assassin's Creed series and Far Cry 3 in this regard, and I love it!

Overall: 7 out of 10
Watch Dogs is definitely not the mind blowing showcase of what the next generation consoles are capable of that many were hoping it would be (and Ubisoft were touting it to be in the early days, to be fair). It is however an excellent open world game.  Despite the weak plot and dull main protagonist, I had a great time exploring this virtual version of Chicago and would welcome a sequel that would almost certainly be an improvement now that they have the basic structure in place.  I'm not sure the series can support a yearly release like Assassin's Creed though, so please Ubisoft, don't do that.  Take your time on the next game and put it out in a few years’ time, when it's ready.

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