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

  • 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.
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 paindamnation
Posted By Paindamnation

Framerate issues aside, I had alot of fun with the mini games, and the barcode scanning has it's issues, driving kills most of your framerate, and stealth auto fail makes you want to crush your controller, but over all solid game, I would give it a 75, but i'm no critic.

Avatar image for glic2000
Posted By Glic2000

Wow, this game is getting much more mixed reviews than I expected. Jeff makes some good points about the soundtrack.

Avatar image for tfisher21
Posted By tfisher21

The biggest benefit of having no 'must keep' games on PS4 so far is I'm paying next to nothing for new releases as I'm trading them in. Time to continue that trend I suppose.

Avatar image for adequatelyprepared
Posted By AdequatelyPrepared

You guys realise you can understand a person's opinion without having to agree with them?

Avatar image for authenticm
Edited By AuthenticM

Exactly what I was expecting.

Avatar image for foxmulder
Posted By foxmulder

Ah well. 3/5 games still can be quite enjoyable. I'll definitely wait until I get a PS4 this holiday when Watch Dogs os $20-30. I've actually been doing that with most games that I don't NEED right away.

Avatar image for nux
Posted By Nux

That's a bit disappointing. I was hoping this would be better; oh well I guess I'll wait until a price drop to pick this up.

Avatar image for splodge
Posted By Splodge

You guys realise you can understand a person's opinion without having to agree with them?

Vast majority of comments have been in this vein. I think people are starting to get it :)

Avatar image for rox360
Posted By Rox360

Hack the planet, indeed. This review lines up exactly with my thoughts on the game based on all the pre-release stuff I've seen. I do like my open world games, though... Time to wishlist this so I can remember to get it during the inevitable holiday sale. Yay, capitalism!

Avatar image for heishe
Posted By heishe

Respect for the rating

Avatar image for dooley
Posted By Dooley

I am really surprised you didn't give this 2 stars. I have played about 20 hours worth and its really incredible how bad it is.

Avatar image for hassun
Edited By hassun
Avatar image for leebmx
Edited By leebmx

@zevvion said:

@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?

Not sure what you're talking about. This is a new generation. Whether easy to code for or not, it will take some time for devs to get used to the new hardware and their capabilities. The first year of games will most likely all be unrealized potential.

Also, since when are games on the scale of GTAV the norm? That was a single case. As far as traditional AAA games go, there have been many great ones since GTAV. I also want to point out that just because a game has a high budget, doesn't mean everyone likes it. I wouldn't put GTAV in my top 10 games on that year for instance.

Sure there have been lots of good smaller budget games, but sometimes I like a really big experience like for example Mass Effect, Skyrim etc. I know these games don't come along all the time but it feels like a long time since I have played a game on this scale which has truly thrilled me. Like I say I loved GTA5 but Dark Souls 2 was the only one that came close and I have to say I got bored and didn't finish it - the same goes for Assassins Creed Pirates or whatever it was called. Too many sequels (ironic in the case of Watch Dogs, but somehow all Ubi games feel hewn from the same template)

Can you name some of these great AAA games which have come out since last year - maybe I have forgot some (although if that is the case they obviously didn't make that much impression).

I get what people are saying about the early years of new consoles being dross. But ultimately I feel like a mug for putting money down. Nothing really worthwhile has come out, games are getting delayed into next year left and right and there will probably be a price drop after or before Christmas which will make me feel even more stupid.

Ultimately, I can't argue with my own taste and experience. I bought this console 2 months ago and the only game I have played is about 10 hours of Assassins Creed before selling it back. Since then its been back to the 360, because I have a backlog of great titles to play (Dust at the moment, Super Time Force next)

I expect the PS4 to come good in the end. I am just very frustrated with it at the moment because it is not giving me any real satisfaction.

Avatar image for ganthet2814
Posted By Ganthet2814

Well kind of glad I held off on this game and canceled the pre-order. Kind of figure it was GTA with hacking. Also what I seen of the game play and all the restriction that the game seems to have, and the mission look like you are supposed to be Batman minus the grapple gun and high places to hide in. Might try it later, but not really my kind of game. Good review Jeff.

Avatar image for altairre
Posted By altairre
@fram said:

If at some point in Watch Dogs you were prompted to air-hack an ocelot I wouldn't bat an eyelid.

It would probably make for a better game

Avatar image for jpmcosta
Edited By jpmcosta

Review: Watch_Dogs is on the boring side, from time to time. The plot is not good. The hacking is slightly more than one push-a-button mechanic and a mini-game. The online has some annoying features, especially when you are trying to finish the game to write a review. The graphics are OK.

Overall: the whole is *not* greater than the sum of its parts, because that's how it works when a company starts in the open-world line of games.

Score: wait for the sequel.

Avatar image for blacklab
Posted By blacklab

@jeff Just FYI - 'interesting'

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.

Avatar image for bones8677
Edited By Bones8677

Well I guess this means I can still hold-off on purchasing a PS4. At least until Watch_Dogs has a price drop later this year.

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Posted By Nictel

This feels like AC1 all over again

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Posted By pawsoffury

Just like the guys said on the podcast, first it was Titanfall now this. The mediocre big budget apocalypse generation has arrived!

Avatar image for angrighandi
Posted By AngriGhandi

Well, most other reviews out there are more positive than this one... so I'll have to at least give it a try.

I've long ago realized I play games in a very different way than Jeff does.

Avatar image for citizencoffeecake
Edited By citizencoffeecake

I happened to see the QL on youtube before I saw the review, Jeff's attitude the whole time had me thinking 3 stars. Not that it's a bad thing but if anyone has ever oozed disinterest, it was Jeff in this video. The game looks pretty ok.

Avatar image for bones8677
Posted By Bones8677

Watching TotalBiscuit's video of the game. I kinda want to go back and play through Sleeping Dogs all over again. Damn that game was amazing.

Avatar image for danthegamer32
Posted By DanTheGamer32

@dooley said:

I am really surprised you didn't give this 2 stars. I have played about 20 hours worth and its really incredible how bad it is.

So... why have you played 20 hours of it? Sounds like when people were bashing Diablo 3 by saying they'd played 40 hours of it and claimed it was a terrible game. If it's so bad, why play for so long?

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Posted By theinnkeeper

Was really hoping the words "shoot" and "kill" wouldn't be in this review. I really want an open world Hackers game.

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Edited By bybeach

I hate GB's numerical system, because long ago my mind was turned away from logic and corrupted by Game Spots insidious evil-intentioned point system. Bwa-ha-ha. Anyways I simply translate this to 70 out of 100 (despite literally it is 60%).

Somebody should have put some hip-hop in the music for Jeff, am I right? No??? Not that weird alcoholic chick Keisha??? Edit-some hip-hop.

I appreciated this review. I kind of get what it is saying, though I pondered what variations there are in presenting missions and such in open world games. Obviously pointed out, there seems to be a formula. The more I read Jeff's work the more I could see he was probably right. It sounds like the game stayed safe on everything. Nothing really wows, say graphics if you like. or a mechanic. Everything is competent to solid. it is a new open world game, nothing less and not much more. And I am starting to think more about Jeff's last comments and the collection of information/media. Being wired in may go well beyond a phone even in a contemporary sense...though that is what much the present world does seem to do. I suppose you could look at it as Aiden's superpower, which being a hacker actually seems to me since I have no grasp. Except for hitting square, that is.

Edit, watching the QL, world does seem well-realized. Gonna miss Vinny...

Avatar image for fear_the_booboo
Posted By Fear_the_Booboo

@pawsoffury: Titanfall is far from mediocre I think. Is it? I personnaly quite liked it and I don't like multiplayer games normally.

But then I think Second Son was bad and this seems disappointing.

Avatar image for alwaysbebombing
Posted By alwaysbebombing

It's too bad he didn't enjoy it. It's a great game for me personally, because I always play open world games seriously. I don't enjoy mowing down rows on innocent people. It's just sad that Jeff didn't enjoy it like I do.

Avatar image for pop
Edited By Pop

I was wanted to be wrong, and this to be amazing!

Avatar image for bgdiner
Posted By bgdiner

Was not expecting this in the least, but glad the truth's out. Great review Jeff.

Avatar image for srwim
Posted By srwim

I agree with Jeff, sad to see the game didn't do its hype justice.

Avatar image for mr_c
Edited By Mr_C

I knew Jeff wouldn't let me down. I was getting so tired of the triple A hype train.

@Chris_hla: After 1.5 hours I've put into #watchdogs i can say its a solid 3.5/5 #gtav looks and feels better. I hope reviews tell me I'm wrong.

Avatar image for wchue
Posted By wchue

this review excites me! thank you sir!

Avatar image for sunjammer
Posted By Sunjammer

I just think it looks so boring.. I was excited out my wits during that E3 demo, but I was expecting more of a deus ex type adventure game with more involved systems. Instead we got Ubisoft marrying a "first attempt" at a GTA clone with systems they've already bashed to death in every other franchise they have, with yet another intolerable main character and useless storyline.

Man is this really what games are going to be now? Just these massive wizard-driven collectathons with beautiful graphics and no soul? Is this it? I can't think of a AAA game since Human Revolution that felt like the studio actually had any ambitions outside of scale, and that game felt like a huge anomaly even then.

Avatar image for ultrapeanut
Edited By ultrapeanut

That closing line was my impression from the little I'd seen of the game being played before today. Wa2ch_Dogs could be pretty awesome.

Avatar image for bane
Edited By Bane

Well, shit. I've already pre-loaded it from Steam so I'll be playing and forming my own opinion, but three stars is kind of bumming me out. Here's hoping Jeff and I aren't on the same wavelength on this one.

Avatar image for jd18b
Posted By jd18b

The songs I heard via the phone encourage me to not play this game......though I probably still will. I feel like this is the same thing that happend to AC. The first title, while good, had flaws and it wasn't till AC2 did they fine tune it to a game that flowed more smoothly.

Avatar image for sharkman
Posted By SharkMan

what this all comes down to really is this game is a $30 dollar game priced at $60. Which is way too much for my blood.

Avatar image for fcdrandy
Edited By FCDRandy

This sounds a lot like the other reviews I've seen for this game, but those have it in the 8-9 range. Mostly the impression left is that it's well-made but the part that makes it unique is just superficial.

Avatar image for toomuchcraig
Posted By toomuchcraig

When everyone was talking about how awesome it was. I thought I was being the wierdest person in the world for not liking it and thought it looked average. It is good to have my opinions confirmed. :-D

Avatar image for ripelivejam
Posted By ripelivejam

so doge very review

Watching TotalBiscuit's video of the game. I kinda want to go back and play through SLEEPY DAWGZ all over again. Damn that game was amazing.


(yeah i was having a ball w/ it too but for some reason i stopped playing. maybe when my new vidjya card comes in i'll fire it up again :) )

Avatar image for radioactivez0r
Posted By radioactivez0r

@sunjammer: I want to "like" your comment.

So far my PS4 has been kind of an open-world machine - after recently finishing both AC4 and Infamous, I just don't think I can dive into another world full of stuff to do that is probably neat the first few times and then I skip the rest of it because otherwise it will take me 50 hours and I'd rather check out Transistor.

Avatar image for maajin
Edited By Maajin

He did enjoy it, though. It's a 3 out of 5.

It's too bad he didn't enjoy it. It's a great game for me personally, because I always play open world games seriously. I don't enjoy mowing down rows on innocent people. It's just sad that Jeff didn't enjoy it like I do.

Avatar image for splodge
Posted By Splodge

I am a couple of hours in. Seems fun so far. I reckon shit will really get cray-cray as the story progresses.

The hacking stuff can be quite satisfying. I was lead to believe I would have to storm a ctOS center all guns blazing, but I just hung around outside in a nice concealed area and bounced from camera to camera triggering dudes grenades and blowing stuff up until they were so confused there was no chance in hell they would find me. Did not even have to enter the complex to clear the mission. That was fun :)

Avatar image for shrat
Posted By Shrat

I just can't pay attention to Jeff's reviews anymore. He's too jaded, can't seem to have fun anymore.

Avatar image for bigd145
Posted By BigD145

Spot on, Jeff.

My thoughts:

It's entertaining for a bit but not all that long. The online component will completely die when Ubi shuts off servers. You have to be online to play at all. The sequel could be good or bad, knowing Ubisoft.

Avatar image for subyman
Edited By subyman

Thanks for the honest review @jeff. Looking around at other news outlets, it seems like they are making back-of-the-box copy for Ubisoft instead of actually reviewing the game.