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I like what Ubisoft is going for with Watch Dogs. It’s an open world 3rd-person action game with some unique twists to it in the form of hacking everything and anything. In the end though, is it worth your time with the likes of Grand Theft 5 still on the market, or is it nothing more than a hack job?

I like the world on display here, as I said in my First Opinion article. Watch Dogs’ version of Chicago is an attractive place, but it’s not very realistic. I don’t say that simply because you can actually drive 5 feet without getting caught in traffic (or the distinct lack of busses), but more so because it comes across as what it actually is: a set piece for facilitating the game’s story and action. For all of the visual splendor, the game – aside from the pedestrian traffic – just doesn’t feel alive. Aside from the few enterable interiors, which are often unique and charming, the places that you visit don’t have any real character.

Watch Dogs

Speaking of character, let’s discuss your avatar, Aiden Pierce. He is a strict modern cookie-cutter action hero, from his gruff, gravely monotone voice, to his strictly one-note personality (if it’s not about his revenge, he doesn’t care), even to his annoying name, he’s not someone I want to spend allot of time as, if only because I feel like I’ve done it so many times before. These days I need my avatar to be more expressive and charismatic, and not just another grumbling brute. Seriously, how many of these characters do we need, and where did this trend start? Not every character has to be a bubbly cartoon mascot like Mario, but Duke Nukem was more interesting than this.

So if the character is annoying and the world attractive but lifeless, it’s down to the gameplay to salvage this ship, and thankfully it does a decent job – provided you have a controller in your hands. I harped on this in my First Opinion post but it’s worth repeating that driving is really tough with a mouse and keyboard. Worse is that I have found a reoccurring bug while using WASD controls that results in me being stuck moving in a particular direction until I press that direction again. This happens to me usually once a firefight (which I do not use a controller for) and has gotten me killed on several occasions. I have never had this problem with a controller so again, I strongly suggest you pick one up if you’re playing on PC.

Watch Dogs

Conflict is one of the best parts of Watch Dogs. You can attempt to stealthfully take down your foes if that’s your style, or – if you’re like me – you can go hot and shoot them down one by one. This action is aided by the many hackable items in the world, from fuse boxes and baddie-held explosives to detonate, to barriers to raise for protection, to alarms and cell phones to distract and maneuver your foes where you want them. It reminds me somewhat of predator levels in Batman Arkham City, and if handled deftly you can clear a room with little fuss and a little bit of flair. It helps that your enemies aren’t particularly bright, but I for one am not up in arms over this.

Going back to driving, one thing that no input device can fix is the physics system. Cars seem to float and bounce around weightlessly when hit, and don’t display nearly enough damage. When I run a car through countless sign posts, ram a dozen other cars clean off of the road, and smash into building after building, and my car only shows a few scratches and some smoke, I’m going to say that there’s a problem with your vehicle damage system. Driving’s flaws also come into play when trying to evade pursuer’s, be they cops or criminals. You need to use the various hacks around town (stop lights, bridges, and blockers) to slow the tailing vehicles down. If you don’t take stop them, baddie cars will tail you relentlessly and will try to ram you off of the road. It seems that the bad guys’ cars are almost always faster your car, and their constant and persistent ramming reminds me of nothing so much as the original Driver on the PlayStation.

The digital trips and NVZN mini games are fun, but only once. I’ve never gone back to one after playing through it. NVZN in particular is average at best, despite being an interesting concept as an in-game augmented reality game. You’re charged with shooting floating virtual bugs that appear around you, but your primary gun isn’t much fun to shoot, and for some reason hits don’t seem to always detect on the baddies.

Watch Dogs

The online features in Watch Dogs are something that Ubisoft pushed heavily before release, but I am not that impressed. Online races struggle because of the aforementioned vehicle physics, and the one on one hacking alternated between being a bore and a headache. I have hacked people only to have them see me and pick me off in a heartbeat, while other times I’ve managed to delay my death by leaning on a wall in plain sight. One such encounter had me taking cover behind a concrete barrier out in the open, getting to 85% as the oblivious other player ran all around me again and again before spotting me and taking me out. I’ll be honest: I have not succeeded on an online hack yet, and I don’t enjoy the mode enough to keep trying.

For all of my complaining, I do believe Watch Dogs is a decent game. It has some significant problems but the combat and action is allot of fun. Ignore the prerelease hype and you’re left with a decent open world action game, albeit a flawed one. Ubisoft crammed allot in here, but I think they would have been better served making a more focused game. It’s not the next generation wonder it was made out to be, and it definitely has its issues, but if you’re looking for a new spin on the Grand Theft Auto formula, you should give Watch Dogs a try. The hacking and combat are interesting enough to warrant a visit to Chicago, at least for a weekend.

Final Score

7.0

Pluses:

Minuses:

+ Combat is fun when you are creative with it

+ Pedestrians are lively and active

+ Digital trips are fun

– You NEED a controller to play on PC

– Online modes are underwhelming

– Car physics are sloppy

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