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

371 Comments

Watch Dogs Review

3
  • XONE
  • PS4

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+
381 Comments
Posted by krabboss

@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.

Play the game. It is seriously bland as fuck. It's the same shit we've seen from every other developer trying their hand at open world crime games. It's old hat at this point.

Posted by Jetpil0t

After playing all of last years releases I found this to be more or less, more of the same.

To be honest this game just sounded like some suit's wet dream new IP; AC (which we do well) + GTA (which does well) in a new "relevant" tone. Disappointing as honestly other than being conceptually interesting, there isn't actually anything original or mechanically interesting going on here.

I am still interested in The Division however, as it seems more original, more focused and from what's been released so far, more polished.

Posted by Scratch

Alright Watch Dogs 2! Second game in the franchise is the best game historically with some exceptions. So yeah, excited for Watch dogs 2!!

Edited by rmanthorp

Happy with these reviews - way more positive than I expected - nice to see :D

Moderator
Edited by ZGoon

Never thought Wolfenstein would end up with a better GB review than Watch Dogs. I didn't really understand why everyone was so excited about it in the first place but I thought it would at least be something worth playing eventually.

Edited by HalfDane1975

Oooooooh, I can see Jeff catching shit for this one.

Why ?!

Posted by djhicks1

I never understood the hype for this game. Sure, some ideas are cool, but it still looks like just another open world game.

Posted by gerrid

I'm not so sure that Watch Dogs 2 will actually be great in that Ubisoft tradition. Assassins Creed had a great new core element, but the first game just put too many limiters on it. You had all these cool abilities but in the end the missions were scripted and didn't let you experiment. They took the shackles off in sequels, making them much better as a result.

The same was true of Far Cry 2. There were great systems of open-ended battles, mixing driving and enemies and working with your environment, but they put in all these limiters - guns and cars that would break, no fast travel, constantly respawning enemy camps and a fricken disease that you had to constantly manage. In Far Cry 3 they got rid of all the limits and just let you have fun with all of those cool systems.

Watch Dogs, on the other hand, doesn't seem to have a cool or new central concept that it can run with at all. The hacking seems like it barely features, and everything else is just lifted from another game. It doesn't seem like there is a great idea in there that is just waiting to be unleashed, unlike FC and AC.

Edited by Winternet

Pitfall II was where it was at, boys. It's been a downfall ever since.

Posted by xXHesekielXx

Thanks for the review Jeff.

Posted by TheHT

I just realized that Syndicate totally did the whole hack the environment thing too. Man, I should play through that again. Bummer not many folks seemed to be playing it online on PC when I got around to it.

Posted by Damodar

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 interested missions and become more comfortable with the game's abilities and options.

A slow start, in an Ubisoft game?!

Good to hear that it's at least a competent technical foundation for a franchise, even if it doesn't reach must-play heights.

Beat me to it :P

Edited by ptys

Not surprised, for some reason the hype made me think I was missing something. I think people are just desperate for these new systems to take off... should have waited guys ;)

Posted by KyleBsure

Great review Jeff!

I had an odd feeling that WATCH DOGS would be GUN or Tomb Raider: Legend of this generation.

A decent game built on old tech and given a graphics upgrade to make it marketable on the new hardware.

I'm still looking forward to checking this out but I'll be doing it on my Xbox360.

Looking forward to E3 to see what this new hardware really has in store for us

Posted by Sweep

Old with the old gen, in with the new gen. In with the new gen, same as the old gen.

*sigh*

Moderator
Posted by needsmoredakka

Honestly, this game sounds more like a 2/5 going by the review.

Posted by Hadoken

What is a review... but a miserable little pile of secrets? Please write more reviews GB staff, thanks! You're all good at it and I like to read them.

Posted by Dizzyhippos

Seems like an interesting enough game to kill the time between now and when more stuff starts coming out. Though if the steam forums are to be believed people might want to avoid the PC version of it till it gets patched.

Though my favorite thing about watch_dogs release? Soon all of those fucking internet ads will go away

Posted by infantpipoc

Well, always thought that both Titanfall and Watch Dogs would get 3 or 4 from Giantbomb, especially from Jeff. Can't wait to hear more about it on the Bombcast.

Posted by Dokaka

Having finished the game, I completely agree with Jeff. The game is just average to slightly above average in every way - it doesn't really shine anywhere.

It's fairly pretty, voice acting is good, story is.. alright, but it's just not very fun to play.

Posted by Rekt_Hed

Well can't say I'm surprised but it doesn't stop me feeling disappointed. Still gonna get this game just out of curiosity.

Posted by trom301

Based off the Quick Look, this game seemed incredibly boring.

Posted by impartialgecko

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.

Just leave dude. Really. Sites don't take bribes or have any reason to hype games due to publisher pressure. Sites hype games they think will draw more views and review games according to what they think their audience will identify with at times, but they don't take bribes. Corruption and bribery is an indictable offence in almost every western country, nobody is going to risk their freedom for a fucking videogame.

Edited by Huxleyy

@adam1808: Lol I have been shouting the exact same thing at the top of my lungs on forums for as long as I can remember.

It doesn't help much, but it does. Keep up the good work! (Just be a little nicer next time?)

Posted by Zevvion

@sagebirt said:

I wonder when ok/good became a bad thing?

The second they hyped it to be the best stealth game ever.

I don't like it either, but expectations matter. They just do. They pitched this game to reach far higher than it actually does. That's completely their fault. They know what their game was capable of but choose to oversell it instead.

Then, you get this. People disappointed, and a negative vibe around your game.

Edited by carg0

be sure to buy those collector editions!

*laughing*

Posted by VierasTalo

@branthog said:

Hah. Next gen, my ass. So far, next gen games have totally been next gen. Except for their ... story

The hell is a next gen story?

Posted by SomeJerk

Reminder: 3/5 is half, 50%, an average grade, and that giantbomb doesn't use the dumbest review scale where below 80 means a game is a pile of shit.

Suggestion: Reinstall GTA4, Sleeping Dogs, remind yourself of what has been and you will be surprised.

Opinion: Steps taken forward by Ubi, looking forward to what they do next.

Posted by sadsadsad

Imagine him waving a wand instead of a gun, have the power to read minds and some Wingardium Leviosa-bullshit on top of it. Could be fun for 5hours at $20.

Their AssCreed-warehouse is allready full of medieval/renaissance assets, so the investment doenst have to be huge on their part.

Posted by ZGoon
@bradleyg said:

Clearest 8/10 ever made and Jeff gives it a 6/10! GiantBomb is letting their anti-ubisoft sentiment get out of control.

You're letting your wild assumptions get out of control. Obviously Jeff felt the game was a 3 out of 5, so unless you have the magical ability to play this game as Jeff Gerstmann then keep your stupid comments to yourself. I think a group of grown men who work as video game journalists have other things on their mind rather than harbouring some publisher-specific resentment.

Edited by Bollard

Jeff, you clearly have never played Multi Theft Auto - there are many people who specifically want racing in open world games. In fact the only part of GTA4 that wasn't boring as sin was its open world racing.

Everyone ragging SUVs into a 90 degree corner, with terrible boat handling, and then all ending up in the ocean? Hilarious.

Posted by Ratinho

@doctorsage said:

Oooooooh, I can see Jeff catching shit for this one.

Why ?!

Because people are excited for it, and they like to burst into tears about people's opinions when they are conflicting to their own. Whether they have played the game or not (normally not).

Jeff's apathetic about stuff he finds dull. No real shock that includes a lot of the early stuff in a new gen. Was positive about plenty of good stuff last year.

Posted by SPCTRE

Reminds me of Shleepy Dawgs somehow, in that I'll likely get a 4/5 or even 5/5 experience out of it.

Posted by leebmx

Starting to wonder why the fuck I bought this now doorstop of a PS4. Seems like all the big companies have forgotten how make top-quality AAA games. When was the last truly acclaimed big game which came out - GTA5?

Posted by willr

Great Review, I am glad I am not alone in my coldness towards this game.

Edited by sadsadsad
@bradleyg said:

Clearest 8/10 ever made and Jeff gives it a 6/10! GiantBomb is letting their anti-ubisoft sentiment get out of control.

  • Child of light 3/5
  • Stick of truth 5/5
  • Black flag 4/5
  • Rayman legends 5/5
  • Blood dragon 4/5
  • Far Cry 3 5/5

out of control

edit: These next-gen expectations are kind of weird, we're talking about a ps3/xbox360/wiiU-title here.

Posted by Bedurndurn

Looks like I get to put off buying a current gen system for another couple of months. Oh well.

Edited by poisonmonkey

Great review Jeff, I have been playing this all weekend and pretty much agree with everything you said, it's missions bar a couple are just standard open world game missions with even a few much hated insta-fail and tail the target missions.

Edited by Huxleyy

@bollard: http://www.giantbomb.com/videos/grand-theft-auto-online-but-mostly-windjammers/2300-8022/

Edited by SomeJerk

@bedurndurn: I got my PS4 as an early investment and people waiting for a AAA to buy it for need to hope E3 doesn't drop delay-athon bombs like rumoured :(

Posted by Ratinho

Case in point, bradley was REALLY looking forward to Watch Dogs.

Posted by DanceMacabre

I'm reductive, assumptive and probably wrong but it's a sad state of affairs when a game of this magnitude/hype and budget comes out apparently lacking polish but they still had time/resources to release TWO official iOS apps! (ctOS Mobile & HIDE).

I won't care about the mobile integration stuff if the game is not really sharp and long-lasting.

Posted by Pezen

@jeff's review: "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."

I think that's an inherit problem with "near future" science fiction in general. Especially in a medium that takes a while to produce itself. Either you end up with near future tech that'll never happen, or you'll end up missing the cusp where the technology you were displaying actually came and went.

Great review, and this quoted part is something I actually didn't consider until I read it. Good stuff!

Posted by OtakuGamer

The majority of reviewers have been more positive about it so I'll be giving it a try anyway. I don't think that one negative review should completely stop people from considering it.

Edited by Corvak

I've never really found myself in tune with Jeff's reviews, so this doesn't surprise me at all. I usually add a star or so to his scores. He raises good points, but most of these are things that don't really bother me.

I can't think of an open world game in a long time that has had a 'good' story. It's always been a series of excuses for the player to be wandering the sandbox - probably why Saints Row does so well playing for comedy instead of drama, and why Vice City was revered for it's 80s theme. Like most AAA titles, it's a matter of ticking boxes to make sure all the expected features exist, then adding something on top that makes it different. In Saints Row, it was comedy, in Vice City, it was the 80s, in GTA V it was multiple protagonists and in Watch Dogs, it's hacking.

I think Jeff's review tells me that Watch Dogs is everything I expected it to be for the last year, and I look forward to playing it when I move to my new place in July.

Jeff and many other experienced reviewers seem to expect more from a game than I do. Possibly because of the sheer quantity of video games they consume in a typical month, possibly because of always having to be critical. I feel that lamenting 'what could have been' is a waste of time, unless you actually work for a game developer. It is for this reason that I typically add a star to his scores if I use them to consider purchases.

Posted by Palaeomerus

@leebmx said:

Starting to wonder why the fuck I bought this now doorstop of a PS4. Seems like all the big companies have forgotten how make top-quality AAA games. When was the last truly acclaimed big game which came out - GTA5?

The first year of a console is almost always the worst year of that console.Things aren't much better on Xbox One and sadly on the 1.5 year Wii U. Early adopters have a lot of cross gen dross and remakes to wade through.

Posted by Namons

There are multiple typos or just wrong words if you want to get technical about it in this review. At one point "use" is used instead of "you" and whatnot. I'm sure the main reason for this is the typical idea that since they're all spread so thin the article sees maybe one or two sets of eyes before it's published.

That said I enjoyed the review and I'm sure it'll sell solid if not great numbers. Enough for Watch_Dogs_2 anyways. Thanks!

Posted by megalowho

Helpful review. Been trying to finish up AC IV lately and reading this reminds me of the things I like and don't like about that game. Hope to see Ubisoft's approach to open world design and storytelling evolve over the course of this generation, still might end up picking this up in the meantime.