I HACK, YOU HACK, WE HACK
Watch_Dogs is Ubisoft’s ambitious open world “hackventure” game that most gamers will see as an attempt to elevate the Grand Theft Auto experience. You play Aiden Pearce, the weird fellow with the trench coat, because nothing is more inconspicuous than a person walking around in a trench coat. Aiden is looking for answers, and like most of us living in today’s world of modern technology, all his answers can come from his trusty smartphone.
This future city of Chicago is all wired up, you see. A giant security network called ctOS blankets the whole city to monitor crime, utilities and the like. To take a cue from all the recent high profile security breaches like Edward Snowden, LulzSec, Anonymous and the NSA spying scandal, no network is impenetrable and ctOS is just as vulnerable as any commoner system, at least through the eyes of Aiden Pearce.
Through your smartphone, you hack vulnerable objects around you, blowing steam pipes, overloading switch boxes to explode, change traffic signals or raise security bollards. You use these to your advantage when evading pursuers or when doing the chasing yourself.
You can also profile NPCs to see their quirks in oneliner descriptions and more importantly to get banking information for a quick buck off an ATM or tune into their phone conversations to uncover potential sidemissions.
Most of the city’s networks cannot be broken into by you until you take over a nearby ctOS center though, which you have to do at several points of the game. These ctOS centers are riddled with armed guards, so you either go in guns-blazing or by stealth picking them out one by one through aforementioned hacking and distractions.
Taking over a ctOS node triggers a hacking minigame, for which Deus Ex: HR fans might be familiar with, although the puzzles here are simpler. You have to do this for every district you need to unlock, and each gets more challenging, which keeps it fun.
CONCLUSION Watch_Dogs can be summarized as Assassin’s Creed meets Grand Theft Auto meets Deus Ex: Human Revolution. It’s mainly that, but it does have its own charms.
There are no consequences going in fully-loaded, except that you have a higher chance getting spotted and allowing the “You aren’t supposed to be here” detection triangle to fill up, triggering reinforcements.
For a game built around technology, the game is sorely lacking in the A.I. department. Guards remain unresponsive even when their partner drops in front of their very eyes; and when they do notice you, they constantly shoot at your location even when you’re under cover, only to stop when you’ve popped a few bullets of your own in them.
Vehicle handling is also not quite Grand Theft Auto. Vehicles you run into with your car are comically pushed aside or flung backwards across the street. I’m not sure if that was Ubisoft’s intention to remind us it’s just a game.
You can pull an Ezio and park your car to hide inside, blending into the street and leaving the bumbling police A.I. driving past you until you completely avoid their detection (Fictional Chicago’s finest must have Templar blood in their veins). The simple A.I. makes playing Watch_Dogs rather wasy for the most part, until you face some bugs and glitches.
I’ve noticed glitchy loading issues from time to time; these ranged from blocky ATM machines to overlapping radio broadcasts between news and messages from hacker group DedSec. I’ve even made it through one mission in particular without needing to take out a target an instructed, with Aiden suddenly recalling himself, implying a kill was already made.
If you’re tired of mucking around with the A.I., you can hang out with other players, or they can find their way into your game. One immersive aspect of Watch_Dogs is an online multiplayer mode that brings other players into your game (or you into theirs); they can then track you down, steal your data or collect a bounty placed on your head. If you’re alert, this usually ends up with a bit of a car chase unless you blow up your attacker’s vehicle with your trusty grenade launcher.
Another aspect of tthe Watch_Dogs experience is ctOS mobile, a free, mobilebased companion app where users can enter your game through a simplified version of the game’s map on their smartphone or tablet and play cops and robbers over the internet without ever needing a copy of Watch_Dogs.
Having tried both PS4 and PS3 versions of the game, there is an obvious disparity in terms of graphical quality. Nonetheless, for such a hyped title, it’s nice that Ubisoft still kept those on previous-generation hardware in their thoughts.
Players can join each other’s games in various multi-player modes like tailing and hacking called “Online Contracts”.