“Chicago is my playground and I’m enjoying every moment,” says GamingBolt’s Andy Brice.
After five long years in development – and a decent playthrough since getting my hands on a copy – Watch Dogs has proven itself to be well worth the wait. The “hack-em-up” sold by the bucketload on launch day and has become Ubisoft’s biggest ever new IP launch.
All the debate and fanboyism about the game’s graphical prowess before its launch has subsided a little now it’s on the shelves – and it proves silky smooth on the Xbox One. By day, Aiden looks the business in his hugely inconspicuous overcoat, hat and mask (!) while shooting, stealing and sprinting his way about Chicago. It may seem lacking in visual comparisons alongside Grand Theft Auto V but wait until night approaches and the torrential rain starts, and you’ll be blown away. When darkness falls, the Windy City looks incredible and truly next gen.
"Playability-wise, Ubisoft has pulled off a masterstroke by making you feel powerful and capable as a hacker even early on in the game."
It’s ironic that a title so focussed on hacking and stealing appears to borrow so much from other games, but it’s clear to see its many influences. Clearly, there are the comparisons with the third person, open world environments of GTA V and Sleeping Dogs – even the way Aiden uses his phone to call for cars and assistance, or the many mini games that distract from the main missions.
As our recent review suggested, there’s a decent nod to Assassin’s Creed and Splinter Cell games too with the parkour and stealth elements, respectively. It has its similarities with Far Cry 3, particularly with the crafting of useful tools to aid your quest or accessing the coms towers that increase visibility of the world map. And then of course, there’s the hacking – sneakily dipping into the lives of passers-by and stealing their knowledge and assets, a little reminiscent of Deus Ex and Syndicate.
Playability-wise, Ubisoft has pulled off a masterstroke by making you feel powerful and capable as a hacker even early on in the game. After being taught the basics you don’t have to wait long before you’re manipulating street bollards, switching traffic lights, stealing cash or tapping into security systems. Right from the start you truly feel like you’ve got the city at your fingertips, able to control and disrupt pretty much anything on a whim. A decent-sized skill tree means there are plenty of new abilities to access too.
In fact, it’s easy to forget about the main story and side missions to simply wander the streets simply scanning the personal details of its civilians who remain oblivious to your probing, or causing highly impressive car collisions.
"Unlike GTA where you simply have to race away from their clutches, Watch Dogs also allows you to utilize your skills and hack into the city’s network to avoid capture."
Despite Aiden’s aforementioned ineptitude at disguise, the hustle and bustle of the city provides convenient cover for a character wanting to blend in and go un-noticed. It really feels like a living breathing environment – something which a lot of open world adventures fail to achieve. People go about their business, chattering away, and cars weave in and out of the streets – everyone is blissfully unaware of the disruption you’re about to cause.
There’s plenty to do in the city, and it’s largely up to you whether you carry out your activities discreetly or in a blatant, explosive fashion. Stealing a car in broad daylight or drawing your pistol could earn a call to the cops, and within seconds you’ll be swamped with police cars and helicopters. Unlike GTA where you simply have to race away from their clutches, Watch Dogs also allows you to utilize your skills and hack into the city’s network to avoid capture. There’s nothing more satisfying than watching several police cars slam into gates you’ve just closed or dive off the end of a bridge you decided to raise. It’s an inspired use of a single button press and, ultimately, great fun.
There’s plenty to keep you occupied; the selection of mini games dotted about the map offering a nice distraction. Never did I think I’d get so hooked on spending all my money guessing which cup concealed a small rubber ball, or trying to cheat at poker by using a nearby security camera to peek at my opponents’ cards.
"It all makes for a fantastic game. Sure, we’ve seen parts of it before – but there’s also plenty of creativity and innovation."
And then there are the “Digital Trips”, which are kickstarted through a dodgy rendez-vous with a street-side drug dealer. These hallucinogenic segments cleverly allow Ubisoft to shoehorn in some novel ideas to the gameplay, including a giant robot spider tank that you steer through the city and a cool stealth game where you have to reach generators without being seen by evil robots. I’d heard about this prior to release and wondered how it could be incorporated – it works very well indeed and is a great distraction from the main game, really shaking up the proceedings.
It all makes for a fantastic game. Sure, we’ve seen parts of it before – but there’s also plenty of creativity and innovation. There will no doubt be a glut of DLC available from time to time to breathe new life into the game – but, in the meantime, Chicago is my playground and I’m enjoying every moment!