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Monday, July 21, 2014

"Watch_Dogs" Review

After much anticipation and being pushed back a couple times, Watch_Dogs FINALLY makes it's appearance on the gaming market. But does it live up to the hype, and were the delays truly worth it? Some say no, others say yes, and some even say "what the hell is Watch_Dogs?" But the real question here is what do I say? You didn't come here for other people's opinions and to be frank, I never have and never will care what other people think of video games. I'm an individual. So, without further delay... let's get to it... 

Watch_Dogs is an open world action/adventure game that shares similarities with Grand Theft Auto and one of Ubisoft's most popular series, Assassin's Creed. The core element and selling point of the game is hacking. Using his smartphone Aiden Pearce can hack anything electronically connected from traffic lights to generators to even underground steam pipes (don't ask me how that one works but it looks cool and makes a loud noise so we're gonna go with it). The hacking can be used to stop cops and gang members chasing you in vehicles, tap into citizen's bank accounts, or stealthily take down guards protecting a ctOS server.

While the hacking is essentially the core element of the game it is not alone what makes Watch_Dogs so fun. Which is a good thing seeing how the hacking mechanic can tend to get a bit over-saturated after awhile. I remember numerous occasions where I would hack a citizen's phone only to end up eavesdropping on the same conversation I've heard once or twice before already. It's understandable that some things will eventually repeat, but one of Watch_Dog's main selling points by Ubisoft was that every citizen would be unique and have a different occupation, income, and special fact about them. While this is true in theory, I see a lot of repeats, just on citizens with different names. But overall this is a nit picky observation and does not take away from the game's enjoyment.

One of the most fun elements of Watch_Dogs is vehicle chases. The cops in Watch_Dogs will chase after you when a citizen calls them because you stole their car or because they heard gunfire. Often times you weren't even the shooter, but Aiden is a wanted man and they'll come after him anyways. You can stop these phone calls before they have time to respond, but here is the fun in that? During these police chases you have numerous tools at your disposal to stop your pursuers, and the more upgrades you unlock, the better tools you can use. There's something satisfying about being in a high speed chase, dodging in and out of traffic and then driving over a manhole cover, hacking it as you go, and looking back to see a cop car go flying sideways into a wall or another car and cause a pileup. Destruction, be it taking down a gang, blowing up a gas station, destroying transformers, or desecrating cop cars, is so much fun and I dare say, even more so than the hacking element.

I heard a lot of players complain that the vehicles controlled like ass. Bouncing around like cartoons, spinning uncontrollably, and other such debauchery. But, in my personal opinion, this is a good thing. And I might be in a minority here but I feel like expecting 100% realistic car mechanics in a fantasy based video game is simply folly, and, if anything, would take away from the fun. In real life, jumping a raised bridge would blow your suspension upon landing, your tires would fall off and you'd probably be injured. This is an action game, therefore it should play as such. You don't go to a Fast & Furious movie expecting them to obey traffic laws. So don't play an open-world action game expect Gran Turmiso level realism.    

Much like Fast & Furious (speaking of the devil), all the entertainment value lies in the action and eye-candy and the story is unfortunately, sub-par. In Watch_Dogs you play as hacker vigilante Aiden Pearce who's mix-ups with the wrong people cost him the life of a loved one, for which he constantly blames himself. And instead of doing what any sane person would do and calling it quits before anyone else gets hurt, he continues his underground work with revenge on the mind. While he is overall a good person who seems hellbent on doing the right thing, often times his motives, methods and associates are all questionable. The story itself actually picks up halfway through the game but the main characters all remain so-so throughout. Aiden's main posse in particular never really grew on me. In fact, it was one of the villains, a gang leader named Iraq whom I took particular enjoyment from if for no other reason than his portrayal as a black gang leader was so over done and borderline racist that it made me laugh uncontrollably. The game's ending felt cliche and anti-climatic as well, and in fact does not end well if you mess up the quick time event. Overall, it was ok to say the least but I feel like Ubisoft put most of their effort into the gameplay, eye-candy and hacking and not enough into story and character development. Not to mention that some of the story missions include frustratingly difficult stealth sections, especially near the end. I understand Ubisoft's love of stealth, I'm a fan myself, but some things don't need to be THAT difficult.

Now, I want to take a minute to talk about the multiplayer as well. I don't normally do this but I had a chance to dabble in it a bit and I must say I was pretty impressed. I played a few game modes in a party with a few people and we had a blast. Free Roam can get frustration because you can never find anyone, but I rather enjoyed Watch_Dogs' take on Capture the Flag. In a game of 3v3 one player steals a data packet while their teammates try to protect them, meanwhile the opposing team must try to steal the data and hold onto it for as long as they can. I rather enjoyed it. Another fun aspect was the ctOS app on smartphones and tablets. You can use it to hack into a players game and send cops and helicopters after them, hacking street lights and whatnot in an attempt to stop them from reaching their goal before time runs out. This mingame was loads of fun on both ends. But the most creative aspect of multiplayer that I must commend Ubisoft for is the way they handle social interaction. At random intervals of the game a player may drop into your server and attempt to hack you and it is your job to find and stop them before they succeed. You and the player both look like regular citizens to each other, making this easier said than done. Whether you win or lose this little confrontation matters not, the game proceeds as normal afterwards. The transition is so seamless and well executed you wouldn't know it was another player if the game didn't tell you.

Overall, Watch_Dogs shines mainly in gameplay. There's so much to do in this alternate version of Chicago that you can get lost for hours on side quests before even starting the next story mission. From saving citizens to taking down convoys to having digital acid trips and fighting off aliens or bouncing around on huge flowers Watch_Dogs has something for everyone and is a game with high replay value. I simply cannot ask for more for $60. It may not have lived up to ALL the hype, but it certainly matched most of it, and that's good enough for me.

My Rating: 8/10      

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