Watch Dogs isn’t an immediately likeable game, but one that grows on you. After spending some five or six hours with Ubisoft’s summer blockbuster, I would say it’s my favourite title on PlayStation 4; it justs takes a little bit of warming to.
Without giving too much away, Watch Dogs kicks off with a few deftly crafted opening missions, seamlessly showcasing the game’s core features without overburdening players. In a space of fifteen minutes, it stitches together a patchwork of stealth, combat, hacking, and driving, quickly thrusting you into the sprawling open world of Chicago.
It’s all very exciting yet, after bounding from one campaign mission to another, that feeling started to diminish. With new features and menus being filtered in every few minutes, Watch Dogs could feel a little overwhelming, even for someone well-versed with open world action games. Not only that, but I found the story does little to captivate players during the first part of act one, despite building the fairly solid cast.
With a couple of hours under my belt I was happy to call it a night and return the next morning. However, instead of returning to the story I decided to embrace Watch Dogs’ glut of open-world content. In doing so I immediately lifted my estimations of a game I was still largely indifferent towards.
Wherever you go in Chicago, there is always something to do. Even when not scouring the mini-map for side missions and other hotspots, Aiden’s trusty Profiler is constantly relaying information, some of which can lead to potential crime scenes, bag drops, and other spontaneous gameplay events.
When equipped, the Profiler will show an overlay, displaying data as you aim it at NPCs. Aside from the menial, albeit sometimes whimsical details, random targets can be hacked allowing Aiden access to their bank accounts and phones. Think of it as much slicker and more thematically appropriate alternative to Assassin’s Creed’s pickpocketing.
The more you explore and deviate from the campaign missions, the more enriching the game becomes. Experience points will continue to flood in, filling Aiden’s level gage and opening a variety of gameplay options. During my first sitting I only had a handful of hacking options available to me, but now I can raise bridges, activate bollards, and perform all sorts of mayhem with the simple tap of a button.
Navigating Chicago is also a breeze. Whether stealing a vehicle or ordering one from Aiden’s smartphone, there is always a convenient way of getting around. Even when on foot you are still able to cover plenty of ground, with Watch Dogs adopting a parkour system that managed to incorporate the hacking of objects such as a cranes, and forklifts to let you get around.
Another feature that may catch some players unaware is the game’s online multiplayer. Literally. Whenever roaming the streets of Chicago there’s always a chance that another hacker will jump into your game in an attempt to gain Notoriety. This is basically a multiplayer experience bar, unlocking various perks with each tier.
There are several ways of hacking another player’s game, though the most common is by triggering an Intrusion. Here, the attacker is teleported to an area close to their target. When in range, they can then open their Profiler and initiate the hack, causing a ring to appear on the mini-map. From here, their objective is simple: hide and survive.
At first, it all seems a bit daunting, especially when you are the target. As the attacker scrambles in search of a good spot, it’s up to you to determine which of the surrounding citizens is actually the opposing player in disguise. With so many hiding spots and a massive search area, it seems like a herculean task at first. However, as the hack progresses, the ring shrinks, making it easier to triangulate a position.
It’s a high octane game of cat and mouse unlike anything I’ve experienced before in a game. For every handful of invading players who foolishly gave their position away, there were others cunningly hiding in broad daylight or managing to find themselves the tiniest of nooks to tuck themselves into.
Next to Intrusion, there is a spread of other intuitive multiplayer modes which we will touch on at a later stage. However, walking away from Watch Dogs after my second day of play, the online multiplayer is undoubtedly the highlight.
With my eyes now set on the campaign, I definitely feel more at ease with Watch Dogs. It’s fair to say that, in depriving yourself of the game’s side missions and extra content, you will miss far too much of the game to be able to appreciate Watch Dogs for what it really is.