Released in May 2014 for PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360 and Xbox One, Watch Dogs has been long overdue on my list of games to play. Since writing about Ubisoft’s open world action-adventure Internet of Things (IoT) game when it was initially released, the idea of harnessing, or even manipulating, everyday technologies within the game has kept me intrigued. I finally got my hands on it.
The storyline in Watch Dogs follows Aiden Pearce, a hacker seeking revenge for the murder of his niece. Aiden’s family seems to be the only thing he cares about, so you play as Aiden, hunting down the people who put your family in danger with some help along the way.
Despite being set in the giant playground of Chicago and its ctOS system that gives you access to almost every detail about everyone, the storyline is lacking. Perhaps it’ll pick up, but I found myself rolling my eyes through ‘emotional’ scenes and the game fails to draw me in or make me care about what happens to Aiden or his family. Maybe Aiden’s wooden personality is intentionally distant, but it makes any personal interest in the storyline difficult. There is none. I found myself becoming more interested in the lives of the people I profiled on the street than the main character, Aiden.
What I do like about Watch Dogs is its open world format. In addition to the campaign there are plenty of great opportunities to test out your skills. Watch Dogs offers mini games at fixed locations in the game, readily available whenever you want to be distracted, but there are also plenty of spontaneous activities. Whether you’re looking to protect the city or make it a little worse, you only need to walk around to trigger any of these events. There are thrills to be had in Watch Dogs away from the campaign, letting you seek them out whenever you like. The game feels very interactive as events develop and change as you go about your unassuming business. And then there’s all the hacking opportunities.
Now, this is what sets Watch Dogs apart. When playing through the game you’re armed with guns, of course, but then there’s the good stuff. You also buy and carry items used to craft various devices, including a blackout device which does what it says on the tin, giving you the chance to escape from the police pursuit. But my favourite element of Watch Dogs is the use of IoT. Not only are you equipped with the weapons you carry and the devices you can craft, when playing Watch Dogs your environment is also yours to manipulate. As you approach a building, hack the security camera system to scout the area and enemies ahead of you. Better yet, raise road barriers mid car chase to stop your pursuers in their tracks. The environment is no longer just a backdrop with places to crouch behind, it’s now yours to weaponise. Enemies aren’t immune from your hacking capabilities either. Scanning AIs and finding ones with hidden explosives or cameras are yours for the hacking. Yes, you can detonate someone’s explosives and make them explode.
As you play Watch Dogs it feels like everything is there for you to take, or leave, as you please. This also enables a sense of autonomy in gameplay too. Thanks to the range of options Watch Dogs presents, with guns, stealth, hacking distractions, hacking explosions and the rest, you can try many different approaches. You play in whichever style suits you, intuitively. Try one thing and find it doesn’t work, that’s fine just try another.
The ability to adapt your game style, plus all the potential hell-raising havoc you can cause with a hack-able world, is what made Watch Dogs a game that stuck in my mind for years and one I’m so glad I got round to.