Watch_Dogs – Prologue
The delayed review for the delayed game, Watch_Dogs.
It seems fitting that my first planned review was delayed by a move, can’t be said the same thing for the real reasoning behind the delay of Watch_Dogs. I like many were quite hopeful for the game when we first saw glimpses of it at E3 just last year, yet sadly when I did get the games in my hands, it wasn’t what it was promised to be.
I’m not one who eats into the hype of a game, and as such I tried my best to objectively review this game, avoiding official reviews just to see if my view of the game matched theirs, or that of gamers I know. It seems that my views and quite a few gamers I know greatly differs from that of the official reviews. Across the board, well mostly, Watch_Dogs has been acclaimed as a great game, getting stellar reviews. What is the reasoning for this, myself included found the game to have a lot of issues with it, of most I will be outlining later on. Alright, onto the review itself. Though let it be known this review is based on playing this or any game on the hard/veteran/heroic mode on the first play through, rather than on normal.
Watch_Dogs – Graphics
The game looked amazing at E3 and though it doesn’t look as great as it did then it still is a wonderfully crafted game…if my system could run it with everything cranked. First time I loaded up the campaign, I had everything maxed as that’s what the game even recommended me to put it at. I have an Intel i7 4930k processor, an Intel 180GB 540 Series SSD, a MSI GTX 770 graphics card, and a 2560 x 1440 display. What this means to those less technically inclined, is that I should be able to run new games at max graphical settings (maybe not max AA but I don’t notice a difference with that). This max settings lead the game to take at least 2 minutes to load just the intro scene (which was partially pre-rendered to begin with). After the intro scene the game was lagging as hell, the first game to do this.
Max settings the game still looks like a dulled down GTA, this is not the innovation we hoped for.
Everything at Lowest the game does not look much different from maxed, less antennas on buildings and less clutter.
Well the first reason is that whether it’s officially noted or not, this is a console ported game. How do I know this? I’ll explain it more in the gameplay, but the interfaces are designed to be easily accessible with a controller, not a keyboard and mouse. Ok, so poorly optimized graphics, I’ll knock it down to medium and it looks decent, not amazing but not crap either. This lead into my next graphical issue. I would get random graphical glitches where parts of the textures would flicker consistently or randomly. Only way to fix this was to go to low graphics setting then put it back to medium, and even then I could run into another area that has the exact same issue.
With those two issues in mind, I can’t really say this was an amazing game graphically for 2014, one would think these kinds of bugs would have been fixed with the long delay time this game was given.
Watch_Dogs – Gameplay
As we head back to the E3 hype, there was a lot toted about this game, the ability to control the environment around you by being able to hack into the grid. First thing is you have to unlocked the ctOS tower in the area you are in before you have full rein. Wait no, that’s not true, you need to level up and unlock different abilities that allow you to do this. You only start off with the ability to hack people and being able to controls the street lights The problem is all the other hacking items, like say steam pipes, disabling that helicopter that knows exactly where you are, or road spikes you have to unlock them through leveling. So that very first police escape that you’re thrown into, all you can do is pray you can lose the cops, including the helicopter all the while trying to figure out how to do this. The difficulty of this escape does not matter on the difficulty of the game, or so I found.
The ability to hack someones phone is quite easy, if they have their phone out you can hack them with a press of the button. This allows you to steal money (well how morale of you), listen in on their texts, calls, both of those can sometimes lead to you finding a local crime you need to stop, and sometimes get crafting items needed to craft some of the useful tools in the game. It is randomized so you don’t quite know what you’ll get each hack. The money you do hack can only be obtained when you hack an ATM to dispense that money, why you can’t just hack the ATM to say just empty its contents is beyond me.
When you are hacking something of importance you go into a little mini game where it’s essentially making all the electricity flow to your end point, by rotating ‘blocks’ to allow this to happen through specific wires. For a game toting an innovative hacking system for gameplay, it was rather simple and I’m not sure what the developers think hacking the future will be, but it’s not connect the wires by rotating certain pieces of a hose to let the electrons flow… think Bioshock hacking without a timer (unless you have one piece that if it’s active with electricity triggers a timer, but you can usually plan for that and get it done without an issue). Games that actually have good to great hacking systems are Mass Effect’s 1 and 2, as well as Deus Ex: Human Revolution, if games that old can do hacking well, why am I getting watered down connect the hose? This is coming from someone who knows a lot about the fundamentals of electronics, including programming.
Money doesn’t really seem all that important in the game, sure it’s used to buy ammo, crafting parts, different vehicles and weapons, though I never was short on it and had all the guns and most the cars unlocked by the time I gave up on the side quests. Not sure why you need a skill to increase the money you get from the ATMs as hacking and side quests generate quite a bit of income. Another gripe I have is in the main story you tell someone you don’t do cash, yet that’s the only way you pay for things in the game.
Craftable items can range from use it all the time to why did they give me this and why did I have to unlock it as a skill? I found ctOS scans to be mostly useless as you can accomplish that by spending 30 seconds hacking security cameras in the area. Same goes with Blackout as it disables the entire ctOS network, that means everything you can use to hack, including peoples phones so that you can slip away in the dark, provided you didn’t need that garage door open. I think I used Lure once or twice, it’s meant to lure the enemy to an area to distract them. Jam Comms was extremely helpful as it lets you jam someones phone if they are calling the cops on you or enemies from calling for backup. Frag Grenade is exactly what it is called, I.E.D and Proximity I.E.D I found were one of my favorite items as their explosions where much greater. With the Proxy I.E.D you could use it to protect your backside or just take out enemies who came over to check out the last explosion (smart AI…). Focus Boost bumps your focus up instantly, which Focus is sort of like limited bullet time, where time slows down and you can really only aim at enemies, you can’t really move that well or at all when using Focus.
Driving can be quite the annoying experience at times, as there are different classes of vehicles and within each class there are still a variety of vehicles that have different handling, speed, durability, etc. So a car with high top speed and low handling will drive like a boat on land (you can drive boats too, though aside from a mission near the end they seemed to be a forgotten mode of transportation). The problem with this is a lot of the cars at first seem to have poor handling. If you are ever on a motorcycle pray you don’t get cut off or run into anything, you go flying and you’re usually dead.
The reason you have to pray you don’t get cut off or hit anything is that the AI for both the pedestrians and the vehicles is quite bad. Pedestrians seem to all be in their own world, even ignoring your horn until you are so close to them if you’re going too fast you’d have run over them before they react to even your audible warning. Vehicles don’t seem to respond to horns that much either, I’ve driven in an emergency vehicle and just seen one driving around with its lights on and not a single car slows down or pulls to the side to let it pass. I’ve played other open world games such as the Saints Rows franchise and if you or some other emergency vehicle has their sirens on, they get out of the way if they can like a normal drive, not in Watch_Dogs. Emergency sirens mean nothing to them.
Speaking of emergency vehicles, avoiding the cops can be difficult in the beginning without much hacking abilities unlocked, once you have nearly everything you can avoid them quite easily, either out run them, their scans, disable the helicopter, or get out of their view and hide in a parking garage. For the most part this is a fairly balanced system, except if they decide to scan for you excessively. You have to get out of the scan zone or block it with a craftable item (that you have to unlock from leveling).
There is a fast travel system allowing you to quickly get from one safe house to another, unlockable only after you unlock the ctOS tower for that area or you can use a vehicle. You can summon a vehicle you have unlocked but a lot of the time its a few blocks over or quite the ways out of your range. Not sure why they did this, again Saints Row franchise either spawned it in front of you or someone dropped it off very close to you. I’m by a major road, why is my car parked four blocks over? Another very good question is why do show cars, cars in a showroom have license plates on them? I kid you not on a side mission I saw a car I had to steal with the license plates on it…in the showroom!
Watch_Dogs – Controls/Combat
The controls in Watch_Dogs leads me to believe that it is a console port, as some of them do not make any sense whatsoever. This has to do with your menus. Your item menu has to be pulled up by tab, then you mouse over one of several locations (arranges like for a thumb stick) giving you access to that item or gun which can select different from that category or that item itself. You can have one item equipped at a time, only reason I can think is limited buttons on a controller as the amount of keys used for the game are very few. Q to hack, E to interact and G to use your item. This interface can be rather taxing if you’re in a gunfight trying to switch to a different pistol in the pistol category while getting shot at. How about make it so that I can only hold 4-6 guns, not every gun I unlock that takes an hour to cycle through them while still in combat.
The cover system is what most games constitute cover systems these days, though you can tell Aiden to move to another item in cover without having to break current cover and move to that cover. Breaking cover sometimes is easy, other times it’s like you’re glue to the frigin item.
Aside from that it’s a standard shooter rpg for the most part, you can either take enemies head on, blasting them away, do it by stealth, taking them out one of at a time not letting the others become alert, or by using the environment to hack their grenades to explode (since you know grenades are connected to the grid…) or say a transformer to explode. I personally started off going silent with the silence pistol that seems to have a horrible drop off rate (any pistol) which does not make sense, to eventually just killing targets with the environment and just gunning them down with an assault rifle. Higher end assault rifles have scopes, or so they want you to believe, when you have it, you seem to own the unscopped versions, only sniper rifles having scopes.
Watch_Dogs – Story
I kept track of the time when it involved the main story and when it was side quests to get an indication of how much bread and butter people got as the driving force of the game. Well I am sorry to say you’re going to go hungry if you were hoping for a very long game when it comes to the main quest. It took me twelve and a quarter hours to beat the game, well the story of the game. Twelve hours, this puts it in the same realm of say COD, Battlefield, and a lot of shooters (that have NO RPG) element in them for how long their single player game is. The delay for the game couldn’t have been the story, there’s not a lot of it for the dozen of hours you get from it.
The intro scene lasts maybe five minutes and it doesn’t explain much, sorry doesn’t give you much to really care about. You’re in a car with your niece, someone puts a hit on you and your niece is killed in the car crash yet you survive. The problem with even this is that you can’t tell if the video is meant to look corrupt, as your memory is bad even though you can’t forget it, or my video had problems, either way it was quite distracting.
As I mentioned the eluding the police earlier, it took me a good five times to get away from them the first time as you’re thrown into it, roughly told what to do and sent after with quite a few police cruisers. This alone, which probably took an hour (so cut down that total time played to 11 hours for the story itself) and almost lead me to just give up on the game. The problem is the game does this a lot, you will be thrown into a situation either with no warning, very little guidance or you figure out what you were supposed to do on attempt two, three or six…
What you do find out while playing the game doesn’t really make you care much about most of the character. They also use the old cliché kidnapped family member so that an old partner can get you to do something that they want. Some games I’ve played I’ve cared about the characters, main, side or just one offs, but in Watch_Dogs I really could care less about anyone. People are introduced with convenience and you care less when they part ways or end up dead. There’s someone you work with off and on the entire game, yet that relationship is barely explained or explored.
The only interesting death is that of someones pacemaker that you stopped…why don’t I have this ability with everyone else, just this one guy? Who knows…though I do know that having the game switch from whatever the weather was when I was playing to it being night because of a triggered cut scene is just lazy, especially as it is part of the main quest. When I started the quest why didn’t the weather match what would end up in the cut scene? Aiden is also a master with weapons, ranging from pistols, to shotguns, to assault rifles, hell even a sniper rifle or grenade launcher. There is no explanation as to how he got all these weaponized skills other than he was/is a hacker. To that matter why are there so many what they call fixers in the game. Fixers are essentially contract killers, bounty hunters that seem to work together quite a bit when it comes to being against you. Why can’t I hire them to help me out, you know like a companion, I have all this extra money from hacking their friend’s bank account. CtOS promotes reduced crime and better police coverage, people appear to feel safe and never complain about crime. How are there so many criminals I have to deal with in the main story and the side quests too?
As I mentioned, most of the story is generic and could easily be forgettable, hell I even forgot some of the reasoning Aiden had to do something aside from needing A so I can get B to do C for me.
Watch_Dogs – Side Quests/Filler
I have to only guess that this is where they put a bulk of their time into the game, I spent about sixteen hours doing side quests or mini game, but after a while they all seem like the same thing, with very little story or reason to drive behind it.
I know there is a drinking mini game, a demon driving mini game (only one I played) and several other, though I had very little interest to seek all of these out. Hell I usually try to complete every possible side quest or mission possible. I maybe completed half of them, this is because most of them are so generic that Aiden roughly explains in about 10-15 seconds what you’re doing and why.
Fixer contracts, ranging from hits, to racing around through time trials while trying to get the police to chase you (which appears optional as I did those quests mostly without police being triggered) to just boosting cars and racing them to one location to another. You get paid money, that’s about it, doesn’t add to the story at all, and just empty filler. Just to give you a number, it’s about 40 quests in this category alone.
Gang Hideouts were a bit better for content, being about taking down a target (not killing them), either doing it silently or taking everyone out and just leaving them there, yet there was no real reasoning given to why you should care other than for being the vigilante. That’s one thing that’s never explained as well, why you embrace this vigilante business when you’re not looking to clean up the city, that’s never your goal, no less that’s what the game is trying to make you into. An anti-hero, with a public opinion system of you too.
This public opinion system gauges how well you are liked, it goes up if you stop random crimes in time, take out gangs, you know cleaning up the city type things. It goes down if you injure or kill civilians or the police. The higher public opinion the less likely they’ll call the cops when you whip out that gun and plaster that would be thief before he mugs that old lady.
Watch_Dogs – uPlay
Are you surprised it took me until near the end to write about the steaming pile of crap that is uPlay? Well I had to keep you guessing otherwise you’ll never see that squirrel behind you laughing. Ubisoft introduced uPlay as a way to prevent piracy of the game and to provide an online community for multiplayer (or leaderboards for certain tasks in single player). The thing is, every time a developer or publisher forces a new client down a gamers throat, the piracy community knows how to get around it. All it does is punish those who legally purchase their game with the added bloatware of yet another client needed, with internet connection, to play the game. There is nothing wrong with Steam, or Origin for that matter, as they are delivering content to you that you purchased. Steam you can play a lot of games in offline mode, well no offline mode for uPlay. There are even single player quests and notary you can only obtain if you are connected and play against other people…Yep single player quests requiring multiplayer or an internet connection to access them. If you don’t then you can boost it and unlock certain high tier skills.
Watch_Dogs – Closing Points TL;DR
Closing Points TL;DR
Watch_Dogs seems like it is a game trying to be several games at once. It’s trying to be a futuristic game with hacking, yet games like Deus Ex: Human Revolution can do it a lot better and are several years older. It’s also trying to be an open world sandbox like GTA or Saints Rows, though it doesn’t really nail the mark either as at least in Saints Row there were story reasons to do the side quests, you helped out one of your friends and in turn you found out more about them and got some sort of perk, not just money. None of these games force down on you an additional client that half the time won’t load, has connection issues or just randomly crashes, either stopping or crashing your game itself.
There’s not much this game has done right in this day and age that hasn’t been seen before or done correctly. Having digital control of a handful of road items is quite novel, but gets rather normal after a while, especially as it’s just one button if you have the item in your view.