When I saw Watch Dogs’ first trailer back in 2012 it was a welcome change after Assassin’s Creed games: while obviously sharing similarities with the AC series, the contemporary environment of Chicago and the hacking features seemed intriguing. Lots of hype preceded the postponed release of Watch Dogs. Was it worth waiting? Maybe…
In this reality Chicago is connected utilizing the ctOS system which is claimed to eliminate crime by prediction of human behaviour (but is being secretly used for espionage and brainwashing). The protagonist, Aiden Pierce loses his six year old niece in an assassination attempt following a botched electronic bank heist. A year later still seeking revenge, his main weapon is a customized smartphone used to hack any device connected to the ctOS network.
Gameplay-wise Watch Dogs has sneaking, shooting, driving (with a bullet-time feature called Focus) and – of course – hacking which is a fun addition but it mostly consists of finding something “hackable”, and holding down X while looking at it. Making steam pipes burst, controlling traffic lights or shaking off the police by raising bridges is fun for a while but becomes boring eventually.
It is also disappointing that at some car chase scenes you have to use hacking because it isn’t possible to stop your target or lose your tail any other way. Pedestrians on the streets can be targeted as well, letting you steal money or other goodies and accessing some amusing or interesting personal data. Driving around Chicago is fun, but don’t expect serious physics here. Boats, cars and bikes are all available, aircraft being an exception.
Side missions like stopping a serial killer, putting an end to the auction of women or hacking into private apartments are also entertaining for a while but I finally lost interest because they don’t have much diversity and tend to become repetitive.
I played the Xbox 360 version so the allegedly downgraded graphics of the game were even less detailed. Still, I found it aesthetically pleasing despite some ugly details. Though lacking realism, Chicago is filled with life and is an interesting place to explore.
Those who expected Watch Dogs to be another GTA might be disappointed and it isn’t a milestone in the history of video games either. I found the main storyline a little shallow but the ending credits imply a sequel (possibly set in another city) so this may be the not-so-perfect beginning of a successful franchise.