With the current generation of consoles truly taking flight, it was time to see some more new brands coming from developers – Ubisoft has launched one of their new titles, Watch Dogs. Our team’s excitement about Watch Dogs was palpable, if you follow our podcast you’ll know we’ve been almost foaming at the mouth for something really “next gen” to appear. With our heightened expectations, how did the Watch Dogs hype train hold up after launch? Let’s find out.
With the pedigree of large world games like Assassin’s Creed under their belt, Ubisoft certainly has a lock on free roaming environments that give you plenty of opportunity to make your own path, though virtual Chicago is a little less flexible than hoped. The shooting and traversal mechanics are fluid, similar to Assassin’s Creed 4, while the cover system is reminiscent of recent Splinter Cell games, pressing a button to transition between cover spots. However, players will encounter areas where Aiden is clearly not intended to go, some of which are very frustrating. With fire escapes, low hanging walls and some heavy duty chain link fences scattered generously throughout Chicago, there are plenty of spots that might offer alternative pathing for missions that players can’t access. This choice by the developers makes the world feel like more of a maze than anything. If you’ve been to Chicago, that sort of fits the bill.
Driving in Watch Dogs is particularly strange, where the cars tend to float all over the road and motorcycles are essentially tanks that roll through all obstructions. Where most of the evasion tactics in a car require some sort of precision movement (barricade pop, traffic light takedown), the high speed getaway vehicle may betray you more often than not based on the squirrelly movement. The overall impression from all the NovaGamer editors is that the driving mechanics in Watch Dogs are generally poor.
Thankfully, Ubisoft has filled Chicago with plenty of other things to do. There are minigames galore, some more in depth than others. Some will lead you to new weapons or vehicles, or tie to additional missions with their own rewards. The ‘digital trip’ minigames break away from the norm and show some psychadelic and digitized mayhem, almost in the vein of Saints Row.
Watch Dogs looks impressive on the Xbox One and PlayStation 4. 1080P/900P snobbery aside, there is plenty of detail in the streets and environmental effects that appears through the day cycle. Chicago itself is faithfully reconstructed, with classic landmarks and places that represent their real world counterparts. The Willis Tower (aka the Sears Tower) and the Cloud Gate sculpture appear as examples. The city is bustling and always feels like its inhabited by people doing their business. The NPCs will chatter amongst themselves, take pictures with their phones, and mostly provide you with hacking targets.
The multiplayer component of Watch Dogs is based around hacking other players by invading their game (almost like Dark Souls), then using the profiler to hack into their phone. Players will defend against this by locating the invader. It is a fun cat and mouse style of multiplayer that can end up being really engaging, or very dull, depending on your opponent. Our experiences have varied in this game mode, and it would be nice to toggle this function off.
Our editors collaborated on this review and wanted to give some perspective based on our individual thoughts. You’ll find our scores below, plus the average for all three.
The Good: Lots to do and see, investigations are fun and sometimes eerie, good original idea, fun innovative multiplayer.
The Bad: Awkward controls at times make the game harder than it should be, graphical glitches (unintentional ones) are annoying (see air crash video)
Awkwardness aside, I can not put it down.
Reviewer Lean: 7.5/10
The Good:Great vibe from the city, really feels alive how pedestrians react to you and what is going on. Looks so damn good when it rains in the night! Multiplayer is fun, refreshing. Lots to do…
The Bad: Almost too much to do! I find it distracting when I want to carry on with campaign and I get alerts every 5 mins for stuff going on. Graphical glitches/physics are wonky at times, but kind of expect them in a huge open world game. Not as “next gen” as pushed. I find it graphically lacks in a lot of spots and doesn’t really reinvent the genre as Ubisoft said it would.
Reviewer Lean: 7.5/10
The Good: Great representation of a real city that isn’t New York. I liked finding all the landmarks and exploring Chicago. Multiplayer is cool when it functions correctly. The stealth functions are well designed.
The Bad: Driving is absolutely the kicker here. As much as I want to explore Chicago, I don’t want to do it on two or four wheels. Minigames and side objectives are plentiful, but not always enjoyable. I also had a very poor experience when the title launched as I documented on Twitter. While it didn’t impact my game after the install completed, it was an unfortunate situation that marred my first experience with the title. If you’re going to give people chunks of the game to play, you might want to make sure they can get to the end of the tutorial area.
Reviewer Lean: 6/10