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A fresh take on the open world genre.

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    Watch Dogs

    Rating: 4.0 – Great

    A fresh take on the open world genre.

    I like this game I really do. As much fun as it may be it had a large level of hype surrounding it, and had very high expectations thanks to GTA V. As unfair as that may be it is something that Ubisoft has to deal with. I, like most people, was rather upset when it got delayed. It was going to be the cornerstone of the next (now current) gen system launch. Many people had planned on picking it up due to its fresh take on free roam with the integration with hacking and spying. Although the free roam concept is starting to grow stagnant with franchises like Saints Row and GTA as well as games like Red Dead, Crackdown, ect. This forced me to ask myself if there was enough new content on the table to make Watchdogs become a mainstay in the Open World genre. After playing it for a decent amount of time I would say, wholeheartedly, yes. Although Ubisoft has been pretty clear that they would not make a game unless they see the possibility of franchising it into a plethora of games and I am unsure if Watchdogs has that kind of staying power. It certainly has things it does well but also has plenty of room to be worked on. So lets get into it. (For a quick summary skip to the bottom, although I think this is a detailed review for those who want it)

    In Watchdogs you are put in the role of Aiden Pearce; and right in the middle of a tale of revenge and redemption. Aiden is a hacker and former criminal who’s own actions led the death of his niece. He is on a mission to bring justice to those involved. So the story is interesting enough to make you want to at least finish it once. Taking place in Chicago there is plenty of action to be had. My issues with games rarely come from the story unless it is an incoherent mess. Gameplay is where the money is made, and where my attention is grabbed or lost. So far Watchdogs has me feeling a bit confused as to how I feel about it. There is a lot of potential for a great game here, and with it being delayed over 6 months I expected a very polished game, especially a game that was clearly designed for the new consoles. Graphically I was very underwhelmed. It doesn’t look much better than GTA V; which is a comparison I hate making. For a game that was supposed to look so pretty it sure doesn’t. Sure, from a distance buildings look really good but the closer you get the more unimpressive it gets. The city feels dry, and as someone who lives just a little over an hour from Chicago I was rather upset. It doesn’t feel like Chicago and with the exception of a few buildings here and there it doesn’t really look like it either. Other than a few noticeable landmarks, like the Willis (Sears) Tower, The Bean and the Chicago River, as well as a few more, it feels like just another video game city. There is a lot missing and some of it is understandable. Things like Soldier Field obviously have licensing issues, there is a baseball stadium but it doesn’t feel like Wrigley. The in game version of what I think is supposed to be Navy Pier doesn’t even have a ferris wheel. Being someone who frequently visits Chicago these things probably bother me more than someone who is not there very often. Even with that being said Ubisoft marketed the game to be like a living, breathing, Chicago, and I simply don’t see it that way.

    The lack of a true Chicago feel brings me to my next complaint. The soundtrack. Chicago has a pretty noticeable musical culture. Current day rap music is very very engrained in the culture, and at one point jazz and blues music was what Chicago was known for in the entertainment industry. The soundtrack in Watchdogs is, quite frankly, terrible. Most of the songs are pretty bad, the only one I knew was Day N’ Nite by Kid Cudi and that song came out around 2007. So for such a big game you would think they could get some more notable music. The way it is set up seems like what you’d get on a PS2 game. There aren’t any radio stations, no talk radio, nothing. This is unfortunate because so much of what makes a game feel alive is the radio, the sense that there is more going on in the city than just what you are doing. One of my favorite parts of the GTA franchise was the talk radio because it allowed you to listen in on the world around you. So for a next gen game to lack what seems like such a basic feature is very upsetting. However this complaint isn’t a huge deal because the only time you listen to music is while driving. Which brings me to my third complaint. The driving.

    Driving is something that is always hit or miss in these kinds of games. I actually really liked how it felt in GTA IV, which I know is not a popular opinion. Watchdogs feels more like a Saints Row game. It feels weird; I don’t quite know how else to put it. Sometimes you slide around feeling totally out of control and sometimes you grip to the road being able to pull off 90 degree turns in a workers van. The physics are all out of whack. You can steam roll through traffic with almost any vehicle. I have yet to be ejected from a bike after hitting something. You can plow right through fences and other street debris. I really don’t like it. I really really didn’t like it in the beginning but I have adapted to it and its not as bad as I thought it was but I still don’t enjoy it. I know it probably seems like I have nothing good to say about this game but that is far from the truth. With my complaint about driving my list of issues is pretty much done. So if you can get past the feeling of an empty city, a bad soundtrack, and sketchy driving mechanics and are still on the fence, please continue on.

    For everything Watchdogs does wrong it does two things right. The combat is a blast. It puts on emphasis on stealth that no other open world game does. Sure you are able to go in guns blazing but it doesn’t feel rewarding. There is something about trekking through enemy gang hideouts and picking them off one by one, or not killing anyone at all, the just seems redeeming. For a change you are actually supposed to play as the good guy. Not an anti-hero like Niko. Your goal is to help the people of Chicago and put criminals behind bars or in a body bag. Its something I rather enjoy as opposed to the traditional style of the genre. Too often are you playing as someone with their own selfish goals that often break almost every law in the book. Sure in Watchdogs you are at times forced to kill police but you can usually avoid it. In police chases your goal is to escape doing as little damage as possible. Through various driving hacks its entirely possible. In fact, escaping without them is quite the daunting task. With quick cops and helicopters that follow you with unrealistic ease Watchdogs forces you to use its coolest feature, hacking. You have a bevy of options at your disposal when trying to escape the police. You can change traffic lights, open garages, raise roadblocks, blow up steam pipes, and raise bridges with a few other options as well. With all of these things only a click of a button away a clean(er) getaway isn’t as hard as it seems. You do have limited amounts of times you can use these abilities. The amount is increased as you upgrade you character.

    Character customization is pretty limited. You are allowed to change you trench coat and hat/bandana and that’s about it. This didn’t really bother me much because I though the way you are dressed fit the story and gameplay quite well. It’s a game that’s wants to be taken seriously and it works well. The real customization comes from the skill tree. You can upgrade 4 different areas: Hacking, Driving, Combat, and Crafted Items. Hacking was the route I took early because it seemed to make things easier early on and I was right. Through the hacking tree you are able to upgrade how much money you steal, road hacks you can do, and things you can hack. The combat tree focuses on gunplay and since I was trying to be stealthy seemed rather unimportant. Driving is self-explanatory. The final tree is crafted items, which consist of throw able items to distract enemies, area blackouts (EMP), and grenades. The customization is useful and really does make it feel as though your actually progressing as a character.

    The combat itself is very well executed. Regardless of how you decide to take on a group of enemies it can be done, and done well. If you decide to go guns blazing (the easier way) you can clear them pretty quickly with shot placement and the order you take them on. The quite way is a bit tricky at times because it requires camera hacking and remote detonation of things like electrical boxes. There are plenty of weapons in the game so its best to find what suits you and stick to that. Obviously some are better than others, but those come at a price. You shouldn’t be quick to spend all your money on weapons because you can unlock some through side missions.

    There is plenty to do in Watchdogs other than the main story. There are plenty of mini games like chess, a ball under a cup tracking game, a drinking game, amongst others. Additionally there are other contracts that require a variety of things. Some may require you to tail a target for info, others to find a guy and kill him. Through these tasks you can unlock some, but not all, weapons. With everything to keep you so busy its hard to notice some of the faults I mentioned earlier. Its because of this that I am having so much fun playing it.

    To summarize a lengthy review I think Watchdogs is very very good. I am not sure if its something that can be turned into its own franchise. The main selling point was the hacking, which it uses well, but with more installations that feature may become stale. Although Watchdogs doesn’t supply the Living, Breathing, city of Chicago that it was marketed for, it is still a fun city to mess around in. Most of my complaints are tiny and in the grand scheme of things the game is excellent. A bad soundtrack isn’t something to get bent out of shape about when the main focus of the game performs so well. With fun combat regardless of if you go in guns blazing or try to sneak through there is a style that everyone can enjoy. I would recommend this game strongly; especially with the rather small library of games on the new systems.

    -Excellent combat
    -Plenty to keep you busy
    -Usefull skill tree
    -Hacking is utilized very well

    -City doesn’t feel real, or like Chicago
    -A pitiful soundtrack, and lack of a traditional radio format
    -Driving mechanics/physics are not consistent

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