Quick Look: Watch Dogs

Watch Jeff, Vinny, and Brad join the dark world of Internet Hacker Gangs in their quest to... uh...

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Giant Bomb Review

370 Comments

Watch Dogs Review

3
  • PS4
  • XONE

Watch Dogs is a solid open-world game that doesn't do enough to set itself apart from the pack.

You can close doors on the cops, but they seem to open them really quickly.

For better or worse, Watch Dogs has been propped up by many as one of the new generation of consoles' first "big" games. But instead of feeling like the future, Watch Dogs reminds me of the past. I'm reminded of the time when developers were ardently chasing after that Grand Theft Auto gold, resulting in a menagerie of takes on the GTA formula, each with their own little hook. Some worked out really well, others floundered and vanished. Watch Dogs' spin on the genre gives you limited control over some of the city's features, letting you toggle the state of various objects both on foot or in a vehicle. For the most part, these interactions are there to eliminate or block your enemies so you have more time to escape. Even with that as one of its unique twists on the genre, Watch Dogs is little clunky in spots and it starts very slowly. Luckily, that bad first impression lets up as you get into more interesting missions and become more comfortable with the game's abilities and options.

In a lot of ways, Watch Dogs falls into the same routine as most other mission-based open-world games. There's a main narrative of missions that progress in order, with side missions that back them up and give you a little something to do if you're looking for a change. The mission design is really standard for this sort of game--you'll hunt people down and shoot them, you'll get away from the cops, and the missions where you're asked to tail someone discreetly continue to suck. I don't necessarily view all this as a bad thing, but at this point in life you've probably already determined whether or not you like this sort of game. Not to get overly reflexive on you, but if you have the hunger for this type of open-world game, it's a solid entry. The things designed to set Watch Dogs apart, though, don't make that big of an impact.

The first differentiator is that you're a hacker set loose in a city that's been overrun by surveillance and connected "smart" technologies that are designed to make life easier (while simultaneously setting up the game's slightly hamfisted approach to the issues of government surveillance and the potential nightmares that come from relying on one big system with a single point of failure). For the most part, this boils down to pushing the square button to incapacitate police cars. Sometimes that square button raises blockers out of the street, sometimes it causes steam pipes to explode, but generally, you're waiting for a "neutralize" prompt to appear on-screen while you're driving, indicating that you're a button press away from having one less hassle on your tail. You also use that square button (X on the Xbox, naturally) to hack the planet.

A few characters drop in to help or hurt your cause.

When pressed, that square button sends you into profiler mode, allowing you to view names and details of any of the game's NPCs. Some of them have bank accounts you can hack, letting you get access to funds that are useful for buying a few weapons, but generally useless unless you're into cosmetic stuff like costumes or unlocking additional cars. Others have songs you can hack out of their phones, adding them to the game's disjointed and disappointing playlist. You hit this button when you walk up to terminals or see junction boxes on the street, and you can also use it to tap into security camera feeds. It's a one-size-fits-all approach to hacking, which makes the way the game occasionally and arbitrarily sticks in a dull hacking minigame feel that much more puzzling. A big part of the game involves hacking into a camera, then using that to hack into another camera, and so on and so on until you get to an otherwise-unreachable hacking point. You can also tag enemies with the profiler or security cameras, letting you see silhouettes behind walls and setting up the game's various stealth takedowns.

Interestingly, the game has no "real" melee combat system. Rather than giving you a punch button, the game simply has a takedown button, and it works whether you're sneaking up from behind or running up in plain sight. You also have weapons, including a perfectly accurate and silenced pistol that, except in cases where you're severely outnumbered and forced into open combat, makes most of the combat and stealth situations feel completely trivial, assuming you're even slightly skilled at lining up headshots. When taking on scads of enemies, the assault rifles work just fine and, as long as you patiently use cover and don't expose yourself for too long, the combat is quite easy.

The other thing that sets Watch Dogs apart from the typical open-world game is the way its online action is structured. While it still has the same boring online race mode that every open-world game seems to have these days (does anyone actually still want to engage in an open-world race in a game that wasn't built for racing?), it also has a handful of cat-and-mouse-like modes where one player has to get close to another player to steal something from them. These online invasions pop up against your will, forcing you to deal with another player before you can proceed. The rewards for succeeding in this mode are minimal and they seem to always pop up when you're trying to start another mission, making them feel like a hassle that's preventing you from doing the thing you actually want to be doing. It seems like a bad implementation of a decent idea. If you like, you can disable the online invasion aspect of the game, but doing so prevents you from earning a handful of bonus perks, like making your bullets do more damage to vehicles. Disabling invasions mid-game actually resets any online points you've earned back to zero, too. This would be a little more outrageous if the perks you got for playing online were of any real value, but many of them pertain solely to the multiplayer mode that you're trying to avoid and the game is already quite easy, so it's not that big of a deal. There are a handful of different modes that you can engage from a separate menu, and the game will constantly remind you that various online opportunities exist via the same system it uses to notify you about nearby side missions.

One of the side missions has you profiling potential criminals and stopping altercations before they can get started.

The story puts you in the shoes of a thief-turned-vigilante who sees the light in the game's opening moments, after a cyber-caper goes cyber-sideways resulting in some decidedly non-cyber-retaliation that ends with your all-the-way-not-cyber niece dead. Watch Dogs is a revenge tale, as Aiden Pearce attempts to find out who ordered the hit on him that left his niece dead while also hooking up with some other shady hackers and fighting crime. With his gruff voice and serious demeanor, you almost half-expect a mid-game twist where Pearce just shouts "I'm cyber-Batman." Instead, he's out there using his real name--which, considering most of the game's other hackers appear with embarrassing monikers like Badboy17 or Defalt, might be the smartest thing Pearce does in the entire game. Or maybe "Aiden Pearce" is just as embarrassing of a name. Anyway, the story is all over the place and is full of characters that sort of cruise into and out of the story, which makes it hard to care about any of them. Also, the main missions have huge sidetracks that occasionally feel like they came from another game--a couple of times I completely forgot why I was even doing what I was doing and how my current mission tied into the overall picture of getting revenge for my dead niece.

I found myself avoiding the soundtrack in Watch Dogs, instead going for the sounds of Chicago's streets and the occasional forced, in-mission music. The licensed music appears in a playlist format that you can configure to your liking. This makes sense, as this is how people actually listen to music these days, but losing the radio format that many other open-world games use makes the city feel a little more lifeless. It attempts to inject some of your exploits into the audio by forcing the occasional news report on you, but this makes even less sense... is the news so important that it's breaking into whatever playlist I keep on my phone to tell me about it or something? Also, having playlist controls in a game only to occasionally force you into specific songs for missions and also not allowing custom soundtracks seems kind of lame. Are we supposed to believe that Aiden Pearce actually likes all of the music on his playlists? Sorry, this is actually a super minor point, but one I became sort of obsessed with every time I tried to change the music only to have it say "media player unavailable." What, does Aiden's phone detect when he's on an important mission and play appropriate music instead of whatever cheaply licensed pop-punk Ubisoft decided to cram onto the soundtrack? When used wisely, a licensed soundtrack can be an almost living part of your story. Here it feels like something thrown in as an obligation.

Visually, Watch Dogs looks good on Xbox One and PlayStation 4, with a usually stable frame rate, a good draw distance, and all that. No one part of it stands out as amazing or revolutionary (though the water looks pretty nice). Instead it's merely higher fidelity than the games and consoles that came before it. The visual implementation of hacking is pretty good at making the HUD and information you learn about nearby civilians seem like it's coming in via some kind of augmented reality setup--which actually makes the whole game feel weirdly dated, since Pearce spends much of the game staring down at his phone like a bored kid trying to ignore his parents. Given that we live in an era where people are out there paying way-too-much money for Google Glass and anticipating other head-mounted setups, going phone-only (and all the hilarious animations that come along with a man holding a pistol in one hand and a phone in the other) seems out of touch for a game that's trying to represent the dark future of technology. That dark future is already here, and Watch Dogs gets that wrong.

Even though I feel its story is often weak and its action isn't that different from other games in the genre, I still enjoyed my time with Watch Dogs. It turns out that the old stuff still works, and the strong-but-standard mission design kept me entertained, most of the time. It's rough around the edges, though, so if you don't settle for anything less than the best, you'll probably be disappointed.

But hey, Watch Dogs 2? That'll probably be pretty cool.

Jeff Gerstmann on Google+
380 Comments
Edited by Strife777

Dang! Totally expected a 4 stars out of this one at least. Too bad.

I'm still super excited to play it tomorrow and I'm sure I'll love it, since I'm into that type of game.

Hopefully Watch_Dogs 2 ends up being like Assassin's Creed 2. A much improved version of its predecessor.

Posted by sagebirt

I wonder when ok/good became a bad thing?

Posted by golguin

Sound the alarm. It looks like Sleeping Dogs is still the best "dogs" related open world game.

Posted by JoeyRavn

Fine, yes, review, whatever. Can we tackle the real, serious matter at hand here?

Is this game officially called Watch Dogs or "Watch_Dogs"?

Posted by Ulio

Ubisoft open world with no heart? Where have i seen this before.

Edited by SocksMahoney

oh good. another GTAlike

Posted by Delta_Ass

Huh. I guess it'll be best to let this watch dog lie.

Posted by riddles

Maybe I just got out of the wrong side of bed this morning, but man does the tone of this review seem jaded and snarky. I mean duh, I know it's Jeff that wrote it, but even so. I hope it's just me.

Posted by RetroVirus

About what I expected given everything they've shown. Still, I'm getting this free with my new graphics card, so I can't really complain. At least it will serve as a good test of my new system.

Posted by Humanity

I wonder if this isn't getting marked slightly lower because of all the hype? Seems competent enough to be a 4. Not that scores mean anything anyway these days.

Edited by forkboy

@hollitz said:

@mshaw006 said:

Watch Dogs 2 GOTY 2016

Pretty much.

inFamous and Crackdown are really the only open world games that feel like they got it right the first time and then went downhill after that.

And it's obvious that they are already working on the sequel, what with how much they've been touting those pre-order numbers.

Well, I'd say Sleeping Dogs got it right first time. I mean United Front Games does consist of people from other studios who had worked on open world games like Volition & Rockstar Vancouver, but it was the studios first open world game. And probably the best non GTA/SR open world game out there.

As for the review, it is a little disappointing. I'd really love an excuse to pick-up a current gen console at some point and part of me would have been totally cool with this being it. Shame. I mean it sounds solid, and worth picking up down the line because I do enjoy open world games, but just not the game to buy a new £350 machine for.

Posted by ShotgunLincoln

I was wondering how it would turn out. Personally, the amount of time they pushed it back was enough for me to lose any interest in the game whatsoever.

Edited by hollitz

I've come to realize that Jeff rarely enjoys the kind of games I enjoy (I actually can't really tell what Jeff enjoys at all most of the time), so this review doesn't really bother me. It's just Jeff being Jeff. If he says it's a three star game, I'll probably get either a 4 or 5 star experience out of it.

Now, I wonder what Vinny would think of this game.

My personal Jeff : Me star ratio is as follows.

Jeff 3 stars : Me 4

Jeff 5 stars : Me 3

Jeff 4 stars : Me probably also 4 stars

Posted by Marokai

@riddles said:

Maybe I just got out of the wrong side of bed this morning, but man does the tone of this review seem jaded and snarky. I mean duh, I know it's Jeff that wrote it, but even so. I hope it's just me.

I don't doubt Jeff's credentials as a reviewer or anything in the slightest, but something about this review just read.. weird, compared to some of Jeff's other writing. Like, the final sentence of the first paragraph, for instance, feels weirdly tacked on. Perhaps it's because he just hasn't been doing many reviews lately? Or maybe I haven't read much from Jeff lately? Dunno. I look forward to hearing more of his thoughts on the Bombcast.

Posted by SpiderJerusalem

@sagebirt said:

I wonder when ok/good became a bad thing?

In this particular case I can understand (and even share) the disappointment. It doesn't look like a "bad" game, but it could have been so much better that three stars doesn't really cut it, at least as a full-price purchase.

Knowing Ubi the sequel is going to be a thing a beauty, though...

Posted by MarkHawk

Still sounds like something I'd be interested to play but really I had hoped the always online hooks of random players in my game would feel new and interesting. I want experiences that weren't possible last gen but we still near the starting line of a new generation.

Posted by Ravelle

I really hope they'll patch the lightning and textures somehow because those are some bland ass textures.

Posted by Efesell

So it doesn't set the world on fire.

Well that's okay. I still like these types of games and if it ain't thoroughly broken I'll likely have a good time with this one too.

Edited by Fram

Sad that the hacking - the thing that supposedly gives the game its identity, and the most promising aspect of the original E3 reveal - amounts to a context-sensitive button press in the middle of another city-based open world action game.

Posted by Twisted

Well that's a little disappointing. Still seems like a solid game, so I'll pick it up in the future anyway.

Posted by ThatOneDudeNick

@sagebirt said:

I wonder when ok/good became a bad thing?

Agreed. If I only played 4 and 5 star games, I would miss out on a lot of games that I enjoy. I'm sure it's different if you play games for a living, but I'm totally fine dumping a lot of time into a solid 3-star/70% game.

Posted by Korwin

Good thing I put off buying it for a while then.

Posted by MitBit

You also use that square button (X on the Xbox, naturally) to hack the planet.

Edited by sadsadsad

@sunspots said:

I'm glad I spent Money on Transistor instead. Now THAT game I'd gladly pay $60 for despite it's $20 asking price.

You have the option to pay $60 on supergiant's site.

Posted by Nime

@sagebirt said:

I wonder when ok/good became a bad thing?

To me it has to do with so many other good games constantly being available. Looking at how much stuff comes out on Steam etc all the time, it becomes harder to justify $60 and a chunk of your life on average when you have so many other options.

Edited by irtiqaevox

the review seems awful...i don't care for the score but just the tone...i can't tell if its giant bomb's trouble or his own boredom with most games...but he's kinda really unenthusiastic about a lot of stuff...even the gametrailers interview he did with the kotaku editor...he looked like he could not care less about the state of games...

Posted by Dynamitekyle

Panned! Wasn't expecting this one. I'm interested enough that I'll still probably pick it up, regardless.

Posted by BoneChompski

I wasn't planning on buying unless it was must have entertainment and I didn't think it would be.

I can understand Jeff's tone - this game is a NEXGEN release and it feels like stuff from years ago. Hard not to be disappointed. Also hard to make an substantially evolutionary game so soon in the cycle.

Posted by forteexe21

What does Patrick "Mayor of Chicago" Klepek think of the game? Is there a drunk Dave Lang roaming the streets? I need the important details!

Posted by Mendelson9

@joeyravn said:

Fine, yes, review, whatever. Can we tackle the real, serious matter at hand here?

Is this game officially called Watch Dogs or "Watch_Dogs"?

Regular people are smart enough not to use that stupid underscore, the video game is called Watch Dogs, no matter what Ubisoft says.

Posted by BagSquad

everything about this game looked incredibly mediocre from the get go. not surprised at this score

Edited by MEATBALL

Sounds good to me, honestly. And everything I've read and seen tells me I'm likely to enjoy the game in spite of the fact it's not the "next gen" game we had all hoped it might be upon that initial unveiling. Here's hoping when Watch Dogs 2 hits it's the kind of leap AC2 was from AC1 (though it seems to me like AC1 was probably a lower bar).

Posted by hollitz

@forkboy said:

@hollitz said:

@mshaw006 said:

Watch Dogs 2 GOTY 2016

Pretty much.

inFamous and Crackdown are really the only open world games that feel like they got it right the first time and then went downhill after that.

And it's obvious that they are already working on the sequel, what with how much they've been touting those pre-order numbers.

Well, I'd say Sleeping Dogs got it right first time. I mean United Front Games does consist of people from other studios who had worked on open world games like Volition & Rockstar Vancouver, but it was the studios first open world game. And probably the best non GTA/SR open world game out there.

As for the review, it is a little disappointing. I'd really love an excuse to pick-up a current gen console at some point and part of me would have been totally cool with this being it. Shame. I mean it sounds solid, and worth picking up down the line because I do enjoy open world games, but just not the game to buy a new £350 machine for.

Oh you're right about Sleeping Dogs. For some reason I had it in my head that it was a follow-up to those True Crimes games on PS2. I think there might be some connection, but I honestly can't remember what it is anymore.

And from what I'm seeing, lots of reviewers really enjoyed the game.

Edited by Jackel2072

I don't know? I played a little bit tonight. So far I'm liking it ( though I feel like the driving kind of sucks) and I will say Jeff is spot on about the soundtrack, man it's bad I had to disable it in the options after 10 mins

Posted by development

the assault rifles work just fine

And, you lost me. That's hilarious, actually. Totally didn't expect freakin' assault rifles.

I know no one gives a fuck, but this makes me feel good about my ability to judge games from their buzz-y trailers, as I totally called this game being nothing special during the game's first reveal. All I saw were minigames and repeatable activities.

Guys, listen to me. Listen to me when I say to go and get Sleeping Dogs on the cheap right now and enjoy that superb open-world experience. Can you open your car door into pedestrians in Watch Dogs? No. No you fucking can not.

Posted by forkboy

@hollitz said:

@forkboy said:

@hollitz said:

@mshaw006 said:

Watch Dogs 2 GOTY 2016

Pretty much.

inFamous and Crackdown are really the only open world games that feel like they got it right the first time and then went downhill after that.

And it's obvious that they are already working on the sequel, what with how much they've been touting those pre-order numbers.

Well, I'd say Sleeping Dogs got it right first time. I mean United Front Games does consist of people from other studios who had worked on open world games like Volition & Rockstar Vancouver, but it was the studios first open world game. And probably the best non GTA/SR open world game out there.

As for the review, it is a little disappointing. I'd really love an excuse to pick-up a current gen console at some point and part of me would have been totally cool with this being it. Shame. I mean it sounds solid, and worth picking up down the line because I do enjoy open world games, but just not the game to buy a new £350 machine for.

Oh you're right about Sleeping Dogs. For some reason I had it in my head that it was a follow-up to those True Crimes games on PS2. I think there might be some connection, but I honestly can't remember what it is anymore.

And from what I'm seeing, lots of reviewers really enjoyed the game.

I think it came from a True Crime game, but it's certainly from a developer that had never done an open world game, so I think it probably counts as a first go.

Posted by yeg0n

Want to play it, but deffo a future Steam sale purchase for me. Anytime it hits <£25, I'm in.

Posted by RonGalaxy

Gonna sound like a dick, but I don't really trust Jeff's opinion when it comes to guiding my purchases. He's too apathetic about everything, even with games he gives high scores

Edited by Stormhead

Like others, I was surprised to read Jeff gave it a 3/5 star rating, but anyone who knows Jeff's professional history will have total respect for his professional review opinion. People know he tells it as he sees it, with honesty & integrity.

I'm buying the game today because I know I'll enjoy it a lot. I was going to buy it from the PSN Store as a PS4 digital download version, but instead I'm going to buy it as boxed-retail & trade the game back to the store when I'm done with the single-player story, so treating it more like a rental than a buy. However, I can also see Jeff's points are valid & I understand why he's rated it a 3/5. Much better to find an honest review instead of the adulation many others will give because of publisher advertising deals with review companies etc.

Posted by berserker66666

And this is why Giant Bomb is the best. No BS honest to the core while most other video game sites takes bribe and hypes and falsifies the quality of games.

Posted by Aretak

Pretty much exactly what I expected really. A generic open world game that you'll probably enjoy if you like that sort of thing. Not a fan of the genre though myself, so I was hoping this might do something revolutionary to change things up, rather than simply copying what's come before it. Shame.

Edited by Branthog

Hah. Next gen, my ass. So far, next gen games have totally been next gen. Except for their resolution, frame rate, graphics, complexity, utilization of online aspects, depth, story, or innovation of mechanics.

Really, I don't know what people are expecting from a game where it's own developers wheat on a media blitz including a fancy over produced special on Polygon right after announcing a six month delay and said "we are delaying this for six months because we realized the game was not fun".

I mean, fucking duh. That is the precise moment that I knew without any doubt that this was got g to be mediocre, at best. Because, you know, THEY TOLD US IT WASN'T FUN.

Oh well. Three and a half months drought until the next big launch will let us down, when we all realize it's a half billion dollar version of Warframe.

Posted by TheManWithNoPlan
@mb said:

It's the Assassin's Creed 1 of the Watch Dogs franchise.

That was literally my first thought after reading the review.

Posted by AMyggen

The consensus seems to be that it's an open world Ubisoft game.

Posted by Cybexx

Played it a bit tonight. It feels like Assassin's Creed without actually sharing many mechanics with AC. Thought the stealth was a tad better than AC so far. The hacking is very binary and stealing everybody's money feels kinda weird, it is like pick-pocketing in AC and just like AC it doesn't quite seem to fit the character.

There seems to be a ton of content judging by the mini-map and the menus, it doesn't feel like it has AC1's content problems. I think if you like Ubisoft's brand of open-world design you will probably like this game. It was smart of them to delay this to give 6 months of breathing room between their open-world action games.

Posted by Dallas_Raines

@irtiqaevox: Watch Dogs is as aggressively generic and bland as you can get, this is like crying foul when a movie critic doesn't jump up and down over Kind of Like Taken 12 gets released in January.

Posted by iceman228433

after watching the quick look, nothing about this game seems good or fun.

Edited by DiabeticJimmy

By the end of act 1 you have pretty much done everything this game has to offer. The "puzzles" get larger and more complex as the game progresses but it's still more of the same.

Watch_Dogs_2?

Posted by Rowr

Great review.

In a rare case of events I picked this one up before reviews. IDIOT.

I honestly expected ubisoft to bring more to the table on this one.

I can hold out that the pc community might find some ways to mod this game for the better. But then I don't think ubisoft titles have a strong history of being modded so who knows.

I'll at least wait a few days for someone to fix the surround so I can even play it properly.

"But hey, Watch Dogs 2? That'll probably be pretty cool" - I lol'ed

Posted by CrazyBagMan

@dallas_raines: really? Because to me I agree with this guy, Jeff just seems so unimpressed with literally everything lately. He doesn't have to like it but he seems excessively critical. Obviously I'm sure you've played your fair share to make such sweeping statements but from what I've played it seems great. And that's a-ok.