Review: WATCH_DOGS (PS4)

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Title: WATCH_DOGS
Format: Blu-ray Disc / PlayStation Network Download (18 GB)
Release Date: May 27, 2014
Publisher: Ubisoft
Developer: Ubisoft Montreal
Original MSRP: $59.99
ESRB Rating: M
WATCH_DOGS is also available on PlayStation 3, Xbox One, Xbox 360, and PC.
The PlayStation 4 disc version was used for this review.
A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.
PS Nation Review Policy.

Today we live in a world where almost everything is connected to everything else. Almost every bit about you is up on the internet so that someone, somewhere, can access and learn everything about you. Privacy has taken on a whole new definition in the 21st Century, basically being erased from our everyday lives.

WATCH_DOGS lives in an even more connected world than ours. Literally anything and everything is connected on one computer system; emergency services, fire & safety services, street lights, banks and even vending machines. While the initial reason behind this choice to connect everything under one roof was honorable and for the “greater good”, it has also opened up a major vulnerability to the city and world – hackers.

Gameplay:
Aiden Pearce, the “hero” of the game, is a man on a mission. Through a series of events, a tragic experience befalls him and his family, resulting in his quest to seek vengeance and bring the person who harmed him a good dose of punishment. Even though most people will be motivated to get deeply involved within the story and events that propel Aiden into his quest for justice, the emptiness of his emotions and the surface-deep morals that he has leaves him in the pile of ‘bland lead characters’, giving you little reason to truly care what he goes through. Having to place Aiden into that group of lead video game characters was quite sad since his motivation is quite unique in the industry and a more recent real thing for me. Not to fear though, as Aiden isn’t alone in his quest for vengeance.

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Helping him along the way is a cast full of fascinating characters, each with great personality which seemingly be lead characters of their own games. The entire supporting cast is really good, making it even more painful to see the lead role so poorly executed. Thankfully, Aiden is really the weakest point of the game, so things only go up from here!

As with a lot of recent open-world games, the city of Chicago in WATCH_DOGS is all open right from the start. Though not exactly a perfect replica of the Windy City, for someone who has only been there about seven times throughout my life, I could easily recognize specific buildings and landmarks and know how to get to other locations with looking at the map. The map isn’t the biggest one seen in gaming, but it is PACKED with people, cars, events, quests and secrets. There is a ton to do if you decide to stay away from the main story missions.

The first mission of the game introduces you to the standard hacking mechanics that will permeate your entire playthrough. While initially you’ll have only a few hacking tools at your disposal, they are powerful and will aid you throughout your journey through the story. Hacking into people’s phone conversations never got old and always provided me with a laugh. As you play the story and grow Aiden’s hacking ability, you’ll learn new and increasingly powerful hacks that have some very impressive outcomes like plunging a couple of blocks into darkness with a click of a button on Aiden’s phone.

Though hacking is the primary form of gameplay mechanic that you’ll utilize in WATCH_DOGS, Aiden is also quite skilled at stealth and at gun-play. When it was revealed that guns would be present in WATCH_DOGS, the internet blew up with hatred that Ubisoft Montreal added them into this game. Though I do agree that it was a little sad to see guns present, it’s refreshing to know that the gun-play is spot on – tight, exact and brutal.

Not to fear though as hacking takes the main stage throughout the majority of the story missions. While you can play them in almost any way you choose, the stealth/hacking approach always seemed to be the easiest and most rewarding.

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One of the first hacks that Aiden has when you start the game is being able to hack into the phone of citizen as you pass by them on the street. Doing so will display a box near them which will detail some specific information about them – their name, age, job, income and a little bit of information about them as a person. From here you can do multiple actions based on prompts near their name and one of those is to hack into their bank account through their phone to take some money. Using this tool brings a whole new level of humanity to what are usually nameless NPCs walking around the cities in open-world games. It makes some of those options hard to stomach as you can see you may be stealing money from someone who just got laid off their job or lost a family member.

Ubisoft Montreal is a fantastic development house that has built some amazing open-world games, and WATCH_DOGS is a culmination of all that they have learned. The entire city feels alive and there are countless side quests to keep you occupied between story missions. Surprisingly as well, besides a few ‘drive from here to there’ side quests, most of the other side quests available are unique and new, never really getting boring. One of my favorites is when you’ll be given the location of where a crime is about to happen. Upon arriving at the location, you have to scan each person in the vicinity to figure out who the crime is to happen to and who the culprit is. Upon locating the two, you have to thwart the crime and stop the criminal as he/she begins to make their escape, leading you on a sometimes wild foot race through the city. Other side missions include game hideout takeovers, demonic road rage where you run over as many people as possible, races and a lot more. On top of the mass amounts of side quests, you are being constantly asked if you would like to join a multiplayer sessions, but I shall cover those in a bit.

Visuals:
Chicago, in real life, is a fascinating city full of different atmospheres throughout. The WATCH_DOGS version of Chicago, while not built to scale, is about as perfect of a replica as could be expected. Driving around its streets you can easily pick out landmarks that you’ve seen in real life and can quickly and easily navigate around the city without looking at a map. Each small district of the city has its own feel and atmosphere just as their real-life counterparts.

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Character models of Aiden and the supporting cast look great. Small animations in their body language give a good illusion of life and provide the world with an added injection of reality. Each movement has been captured exactly, making these characters feel real.

Overall, visually, WATCH_DOGS looks fantastic from the opening moments of the game to the ending. The city itself is stunning to look at and with the right type of sky and weather, it can look very real.

Audio:
WATCH_DOGS is chock full of great sounds, from the noises of bustling streets during the busy days, to the phone conversations of passing walkers, to the bark of dogs. The city is full of noise, providing the illusion of a real place instead of one in a video game.

Voice work for all of the characters, except for Aiden, is quite good. Each voice actor delivers a good performance and really gets the emotion to come through, again, except for Aiden. There is just something I couldn’t truly put my finger on that made Aiden seem fake, not real, not a part of the world or events of the story. It was strange to see how well everything else about the audio in the game is, and yet the main character is so lacking.

Jumping into one of the multitude of cars throughout Chicago you’ll immediately hear the radio. Don’t get any ideas on this being even close to the level of radio stations that Grand Theft Auto features, because it is far from that, though isn’t bad in its own right. A small mini-game is actually implemented in the songs throughout the game. To have the option to listen to more songs while driving around, you’ll actually have to hack into specific people’s phones in order to ‘download’ particular songs.

The standard arsenal that Aiden will use throughout the game includes guns that we all have seen in multiple games for a very long time and the audio is decent enough. While you won’t be blown away by their sound, they all sound good.

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Online/Multiplayer:
Another area that WATCH_DOGS does right is in the multiplayer portion of the game, which is totally optional. As you travel through the streets of Chicago you will occasionally be prompted that you are able to join in a multiplayer session with another player. Thankfully, Ubisoft decided not to make this a default ‘yes’ answer, so if you’re in the middle of something else, you do not have to join in. But if you do decide to take a dip into the multiplayer world, you’re sure to have fun.

The most fascinating of the multiplayer options is a little game where you play a form of hide and seek with a little hacking thrown in for good measure. A player will spawn in your world masked as a normal civilian who will begin hacking into your phone. As soon as this begins, your new task is to locate this hacker and take them out. Upon finding them, a foot race begins as you try to take down your opponent and they try to escape, using all weapons and vehicles at their and your disposal. I had one foot race occur through half of the city before my hacking invader just ran me over with a car. It was a blast.

Other online modes featured in the game are online races and a form of capture-the-flag where two teams battle over data that needs to be held for a period.

The online multiplayer is fantastic in WATCH_DOGS and really shouldn’t be ignored. The mayhem that can take place during one of these missions when you’re dealing with another human being is fantastic and really proves the sound multiplayer design in WATCH_DOGS.

Conclusion:
It is really hard to find areas of WATCH_DOGS to critique since the majority of it is very good. Aiden, the main character, is the only portion of the game that is quite boring. You never truly feel like you’ve learned who Aiden is even when you have finished the game – he almost feels like he is still hiding things from you.

While WATCH_DOGS has received countless unjust comparisons to the other great open-world crime games in the industry, it’s just as fun and enjoyable as those other games. Its depiction of Chicago is by far the best recreation of an actual city in a video game in a very long time; you really get a sense that you’re in Chicago and can navigate the city without looking at a map.

Score:
8.5

* All screenshots used in this review were taken directly from the game using the Share functionality on the PlayStation 4.

Written by Kyle Jessee

Kyle Jessee

Your lone Kentucky writer on staff. Loves the Big Blue Nation, rock music, and Resistance 2 (the best in the series).

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