Traveling through open world cities is nothing new but with a hacking element, Watch_Dogs carves itself a nice little niche.
Review (with Spoilers)
After Grand Theft Auto 5 having more so a grander scale than the fun factor of past GTAs, I must admit it made Watch_Dogs sheer number of to the point side-quest remind me of what I missed in the latest GTA. For between going into a building and doing a one-man war against a local gang; taking down drug caravans; sprinting to drop off cars, or driving around as a decoy; and the million and one hacking mini-games, amongst other mini-games; Watch_Dogs does a lot which GTA didn’t. Thing is, compared to other open-world, city based, games, the question is whether Watch_Dogs doesn’t have much more than its hacking gimmick?
Characters & Story
Aiden Pearce (Noam Jenkins) is a hacker located within a futuristic Chicago. But, unfortunately for him, he is a prolific hacker and when his profile becomes known, and he botches a job with partner and mentor Damien Brenks (Daniel Kash), it leads to one of his few weaknesses being exploited: his family. Thus setting the stage for the story which deals with Aiden seeking revenge for the death of his niece Lena (Teale Bishoric) who dies in a car accident caused by Aiden when he is attacked by Maurice Vega (Christopher Jacot), a stooge in a bigger plot against Aiden’s life.
I enjoyed doing the side missions so much that I barely touched the campaign until I had this game for almost a week. And from what I’ve seen, the side-missions are just like the campaign missions, just without the story. Speaking on some of my favorite side-missions/ mini-games leads me to first speak on the “Gang Hideout” missions, in which you infiltrate places like a parking lot and try to take down, not kill, one single member while dealing with their associates. For one of the first of these missions I did, I died or failed, at least a dozen times trying to take down this one guy, and yet it wasn’t frustrating at all. With these missions, there are a handful of ways to do things, by either going in sneaky, guns blazing, stealth kills, or a combination of the three. Having the ability to play in such a non-linear way was so exciting, even though going guns blazing was the only one I could do with any sort of success.
Then when it comes to convoy missions, basically it is you versus a few cars filled with people who have guns, and due to Watch_Dogs not letting you shoot while in a car, between ramming and hacking your environment, that is your only option unless you want to get out the car, shoot, and hope to not be ran over or overwhelmed.
Which leads me to talk about the AI. In this game they nearly have military tactics and will use grenades to force you out of your position; go to surround you; and with them having either assault rifles, shotguns, or sniper rifles, as well as some having riot gear, it presents the type of challenge which will guarantee you dying at least a few times before you beat the game.
Lastly, there is a need to mention the hacking mini-games. Though simple in nature, they are very fun and are a major component throughout the game. Whether it is to unlock doors, use cameras to see enemies around the corner, hack enemies’ coms or bombs, or just a simple mini-game in which you are turning pipe like structures to hack into a system, it makes for a good gimmick.
As for the rest of the game, though mostly the campaign, I felt it was lackluster. Aiden himself, as well as those we meet, are pretty much generic and if there is a sequel, they could all be replaced without much consequence (They were). Then, when it comes to the story, and the missions connected, for me, there is an issue that campaign missions and side-missions pretty much have the same intensity. Which when you consider games like Grand Theft Auto and Sleeping Dogs exist, it makes not having any grandeur missions seem like Ubisoft is not even trying to compete. Also, the physics system seems dated. For while it is nice that a decent amount of the environment is destructible, again when you compare this game to its contemporaries, like GTA’s physics engine Euphoria, it makes you wonder why when you hit objects they break the same way things broke during the Ps2 era? Why is it when you shoot people, with a shotgun nonetheless, they aren’t flying back? And perhaps when it comes to this game, all of its damning features come from thinking between Ubisoft and what other open-world action/adventures offer, this should be better than it is.
Quite honestly, I am disappointed. Watch_Dogs main thing worth praising are the side-missions, which was one of the few things GTA V lacked so really that is the only way it competes and stands out. But while the hacking gimmick is quite fun, it does have its limitations since you can’t fully hack vehicles and control, much less stop them; and while you can strengthen your hacking powers, you get the constant feeling that there should be more you are able to do with them. So, while the hacking gimmick is a strong draw, as well as the side-missions, with a weak campaign, weak characters, and just untapped potential, I am labeling this a rental. In future parts of the series this will surely be great and a true competitor, but as of now it arguably is a game which you can tell they were just testing the market with.