Quick Look: Watch Dogs

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

Drew Scanlon on Google+
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Giant Bomb Review


Watch Dogs Review

  • 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.
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.
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.
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 CommentsRefresh
Avatar image for tofin
Edited by Tofin

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

Avatar image for darthorange
Edited by DarthOrange

Nooooo I wanted to be first :(

Avatar image for mshaw006
Edited by mshaw006

Watch Dogs 2 GOTY 2016

Avatar image for mike
Posted by Mike

About what I expected to read...I was planning on waiting until Watch Dogs came down in price a bit unless the reviews were absolutely amazing. Looks like I can safely wait or even skip this one.

Avatar image for batmanbatman
Posted by BatmanBatman

Clak Clak. 3 stars.

Avatar image for ilikepopcans
Edited by ILikePopCans


I thought 4/5 for sure

Avatar image for originalyellow
Posted by OriginalYellow

Hooraaaaaaaaay for restraint

Avatar image for andrewjackson
Posted by AndrewJackson

Honestly wasn't too surprised. Glad I held off from preordering.

Avatar image for gaminghooligan
Posted by gaminghooligan

Good review Jeff. I like the game a lot, it's got a lot of cool ideas, it just needs more polish. Also, hire someone to make the driving at least acceptable.

Avatar image for askherserenity
Posted by Askherserenity

Expected. Seemed like such an average game after that first trailer was showed off at E3. Shame, really.

Avatar image for parabs
Posted by parabs

Not surprised at all... More I looked at the game the more it seemed disappointing. Looks like it'll be an enjoyable game but nothing amazing.

Avatar image for reisz
Posted by Reisz

Damn! Don't get people started on Watch_Dogs 2 already! Thanks for the review, Cell phones are so 2013.

Avatar image for spiderjerusalem
Posted by SpiderJerusalem

Yep. Expected this exact score.

Avatar image for jackbauerctu225
Posted by JackBauerCTU225

Great review Jeff pretty much what I was expecting it. Only played a bit so far 1st mission hooked me but i have a feeling its going to turn into a standard open world game which is fine ;)

Avatar image for coribald
Posted by coribald


Avatar image for iceman228433
Posted by iceman228433

kind of saw this one coming, now I am glad I did not buy this out of the gate.

Avatar image for biddy
Posted by Biddy

Thanks for the review!

Avatar image for mystyr_e
Posted by Mystyr_E

not Mortal Kombat = 3/5 :P just kidding

I'm still interested in it but my computer can't run it, don't have next-gen console and old-gen would look awful

Avatar image for lausebub
Edited by Lausebub

As expected. Seems like a solid game. And as Jeff said: That Watch Dogs 2 is going to be pretty damn good.

Avatar image for sykdom
Posted by Sykdom

No PC? Weak sauce.

Avatar image for loomies
Posted by Loomies

I played it for an hour and can agree with all his points. Nothing stands out so far(playing the PC version).

Avatar image for sterling
Posted by Sterling

Da ending of that first paragraph!

Avatar image for hayt
Edited by Hayt

Interesting review. A bit disappointing that might not (according to Jeff anyway) be a big blockbuster next-gen thing.

Sorry to be a tosser but maybe "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" should be interesting and that's a typo. Also the review is tagged for the PS3 / XONE but the final paragraph mentions PS4/XONE.

Cool stuff!

Avatar image for machinerebel
Posted by machinerebel

I can't wait for Watch Dogs: Brotherhood, the highlight of the series.

Avatar image for wumbo3000
Posted by wumbo3000

This generation is following the pattern of last generation. Titanfall 2 and Watch Dogs 2 are probably going to be really good, like Uncharted 2, Assassin's Creed 2, Mass Effect 2, and so on and so forth. The first games of those franchises were decent but flawed games, while their sequels turned out to be amazing. Somewhat of a shame though that it seems like we have to wait for the sequels for the truly outstanding games.

Avatar image for kherven
Edited by Kherven

Welp, I decided to stay up a bit late tonight to see what ol GiantBomb had to say. I liked all the points Jeff made and it doesn't take much convincing to stop me from spending $60.

Thanks for getting the review up right as the embargo lifted guys!

Avatar image for zeyepawdz
Posted by zEyePawdz

Good POV as usual from Jeff. I wasn't expecting this game to set the world on fire, considering what we've seen of it to this point.

However, to Rorie or whomever is in charge of this sort of thing: Can someone PLEASE copy edit your written materials a bit better? There are far too many typos and copy issues in the first three graphs.

Avatar image for aronleon
Edited by Aronleon

Sounds about what I was expecting, I`ll wait a bit before getting this.

Avatar image for josephknows
Posted by JosephKnows

I remember those days when I was so hyped that I thought I'd get it on day 1. I'll be waiting for a sale for this one! I've had my fill of open world games last year. Thanks, Jeff.

Avatar image for mrsmiley
Posted by mrsmiley

I'm gonna tag along with everyone else in saying this was fully expected. I decided not to get this game about a month ago after serving more gameplay footage. after GTA V and AC4, I'm all open-worlded out.

Avatar image for hollitz
Posted by hollitz

@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.

Avatar image for scientificpizza
Posted by ScientificPizza


Avatar image for two_socks
Posted by two_socks

I still play GTA Online races. Its the only thing I do in GTA Online, but still...

Avatar image for koolaid
Posted by koolaid

This makes me wish that these Watch Dogs were in fact... Sleeping.

Avatar image for batmanbatman
Posted by BatmanBatman

@mb said:

About what I expected to read...I was planning on waiting until Watch Dogs came down in price a bit unless the reviews were absolutely amazing. Looks like I can safely wait or even skip this one.

Pretty much my approach. I'm pretty sure I'll have a good time with the game, but given my huge backlog, I'll probably wait a bit to go out and grab it.

Avatar image for matti00
Posted by matti00

I've been feeling absolute apathy for this game the closer it's got to release, not really surprised that it's fairly run of the mill. I'll take my money elsewhere.

Avatar image for liquidprince
Posted by LiquidPrince

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.

Avatar image for sunspots
Posted by Sunspots

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

Avatar image for mike
Posted by Mike

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

Avatar image for white
Posted by White

Uh... The written review talks about the PS4 and the Xbox One version but at the top it says it's a review for the PS3 and Xbox One. Potential error?

Avatar image for pie
Posted by Pie

Sounds about right

Avatar image for thatonedudenick
Edited by ThatOneDudeNick

Damn. This made me a bit more critical of the game (which is a good thing). I still enjoy it. It's been a while since I've played a good open world game, so this is perfect for me right now. Before this was AC4, and exploration was the only fun thing about it.

I wish there were more variety and randomness to the types of hacks you can do. That early mission at the construction site has me excited to see more, but it hasn't really delivered after the first few hours.

The driving sucks. The soundtrack is garbage. Tailing missions are NEVER fun. You can't flip cars. Losing skill points earned in online mode for turning it off even once for a second is really shitty.

I feel like I want to give this a 4/5, but if I'm being at critical as I probably should be, ~3.5 sounds better. My review scale is simply "Is the shit fun? Yes or no?" And this shit's fun.

Nice review, Jeff. I shall watch the quick look later.

TL;DR - I agree with every word of this, but would still rate it 4/5 if I had to.

Avatar image for whitegreyblack
Edited by whitegreyblack
Avatar image for germanbomber
Posted by GermanBomber

Damn, only 3 stars? That's a surprise for sure, but it was clear that this game couldn't live up to the hype.

I'm off to watch the QL.

Avatar image for aegon
Posted by Aegon

@sterling said:

Da ending of that first paragraph!

Yeah...getting a little rusty.

Avatar image for dr_monocle
Edited by Dr_Monocle

Hackers reference in review: check

Goofy cyberpunkish hacker names in game: check and check

Alright, good enough for me. Guess I'll head out and pick this up in the morning.

Avatar image for thedarkon3
Posted by TheDarkOn3

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.

Avatar image for trucksimulator
Posted by TruckSimulator

Thanks for the review, Jeff. It was a good read. It's too bad their approach to music sounds so uninspired.