Watch Dogs Review

Our perception of hackers has transformed over the past several years. The image of a basement dwelling twenty-something is hard to eject from one’s mind, but this prejudicial notion is being constantly eroded. A recent surge in hacker activist groups, coupled with increasing urban surveillance, has once again opened the doors to an age-old conflict: the ongoing struggle between privacy and a need to protect the public.

It’s an argument open to myriad interpretations, but Ubisoft’s latest open-world adventure doesn’t get caught up in the philosophical debate. Sure, there’s the occasional bit of commentary here and there but, at its heart, Watch Dogs explores what it would it be like as a hacker in a city governed by technology.

It’s a fresh and strikingly innovative concept that goes hand in hand with the game’s open world structure. Most of all, it makes for a familiar albeit nuanced gameplay experience, balancing new and experimental features with existing genre staples.

Much of the game focuses on ctOS, a streamlined, automated system that controls and monitors anything from water supply to criminal activity within the city. Imagine, then, what could happen if someone were to break into the system and use it for their own means. This “what if” forms the backbone of Watch Dogs, with seasoned hacker Aidan Pearce being the game’s lead protagonist.

Throughout the first opening scenes we know very little about the character apart from his favourite two garments. A narrative hook is soon unsheathed, however, plunging itself into the player as a tale of conspiracy and corruption begins to unfold.

Despite his hacking expertise, Aidan is crippled by the loss of his niece after a botched attempt on his life. Donning his trenchcoat and cap, he takes to the streets of Chicago to dish out vigilante justice and search for his would-be assassin.

“Watch Dogs’ villains do little to stir your emotions”

Spanning eight to twelve hours, the singleplayer missions conjures up an interesting story, though one that arguably sags in the middle. A cast of robust secondary characters are incrementally employed to keep things fresh, though some are more successful than others.

It must be said, however, that Watch Dogs’ villains do little to stir your emotions. For a long time players are kept guessing who Aidan’s nemesis really is and, even then, the payoff is short-lived.


Aside from having access to an arsenal of weapons and gadgets, our protagonist has another trick up his sleeve. With the tap of a button players can whip out Aidan’s smartphone, breach Chicago’s ctOS network and tamper with a variety of objects connected to the system. For instance, when under fire, Aidan can rotate solar panels and elevate platforms to create cover points. When in a car chase, these hacking powers can be applied to activate bollards, traffic lights, and bridges to cut off those who you are chasing and those who are chasing you.

Each of these interactions is mapped to a single button with prompts appearing when in close proximity. The end result is a web of mechanics that enhance the minute to minute gameplay of an already solid open world action adventure. Though the driving can feel loose and unwieldy, Watch Dogs’ gunplay is superb. Snapping from cover to cover is quick, complemented by a simplistic parkour system. Mowing down enemies is just as fluid and precise, with Aidan’s focus ability allowing him to pinpoint targets in slow-motion.

For those who prefer an indirect approach, hacking may be called upon once again. Even when in the middle of a firefight, Aidan can shift his viewpoint between nearby CCTV cameras with a simple line of sight system, triggering pipes to burst and generators to explode. Enemies can also be undone by the gear they carry, from phones and personal cameras to comms devices. It’s a jamboree of mechanics that can be ignored or employed however the player chooses.

“There is a glut of side content, from side missions and collectibles to mini-game and challenges.”

Progress in Watch Dogs isn’t entirely reflected by the number of campaign missions under your belt. Like any open-world game worth its salt, there is a glut of side content, from side missions and collectibles to mini-game and challenges. The fact that these can be accessed at any time gives players the freedom to explore Chicago at their own pace. Some will no doubt want to blitz through the story whereas others will prioritise gaining skill points and cash.


Money in Watch Dogs is spent on components for items such as grenades and lures as well as cars and weapons. When gunning down enemies or completing tasks, players will also gain experience points, each level granting points to unlock new abilities. These range from weapon buffs to crafting recipes and combat perks. The disappointing thing about this system is just how fast these unlocks are available. Before Watch Dogs’ halfway mark I had already hit the level cap, eliminating much of the incentive found in doing side missions.

Online multiplayer also serves up a platter of appetising distractions. From the hide-and-seek “Tailing” and “Intrusion” modes to the more traditional “Decryption” this is where Ubisoft Montreal show off some of their more ambitious ideas. For a more in-depth look, our multiplayer guide gives a complete run-down.

Gameplay and mechanics are one thing but, when it comes to PlayStation 4 and Xbox One releases, there’s no escaping one particular question: how does the game look? Pretty stunning would be the answer, despite Watch Dogs falling short of the original E3 trailer. There may be a few blemishes here and there yet it carries that “next-gen” look and sports it well. Chicago’s towering skyscrapers cast huge shadows, the sun glittering as you race past their reflective glass panels, and when in the suburbs and backstreets, the game still manages to look great, especially when venturing into Pawnee and the surrounding woodland. However, it only really manages to capture the essence of that original reveal when the heavens open and rain down on a miserable Chicago night.

What’s Good:

  • A sprawling, detailed depiction of Chicago.
  • Hacking is simple yet affects the flow of gameplay.
  • Solid shooting mechanics.
  • Unique approach to online multiplayer.
  • Tons of content to explore.

What’s Bad:

  • Story can often meander.
  • No clear main antagonist.
  • Police chases/evasion can get repetitive.
  • Progression system peaks too soon.

Watch Dogs was probably never going to be the ground-breaking “next-gen” experience many had envisioned back in 2012. It’s hardly run-of-the-mill but at the same time only makes a few genuine attempts to break the mould. However, in these areas – such as the online multiplayer – there are genuine glimmers of innovation worthy of merit, and if you look anywhere else, players will still find an open-world game backed by a unique premise and solid core gameplay.

Ubisoft has certainly upped its game in the past several years, with Watch Dogs being yet another display of both the publisher’s ingenuity and willingness to take risks, all for the benefit of players.

Score: 8/10


  1. Very good review this, you completely echo all of my thoughts, though I’d give it 9/10 personally just for the sheer scale and the amount of actual content in the game. You can’t go more than a minute without a job popping up or going past something to get involved in.

    • Also I’ve just thought what completely throws me is the use of the right stick to scroll through menus, but sometimes it’s the left stick. Never really quite sure which to use to scroll in which context but also who uses the right stick for menus? First game I’ve ever known to do that!

  2. Having been working late last week and away at the weekend I’ve only put about an hour into this so far and I have to say, maybe I’m getting old, but it’s initially a little overwhelming.
    The first mission does a nice job of introducing some of the mechanics but once you get to free roam a lot of things are popping up and it’s not too clear what to do/not do. I’ve already blown three crime-stopper things just by misunderstanding the map and stumbling right into the target! I guess it’s just practice.

    I do like the feel of the world though, very natural as well as good looking.

    One question; Can you change the view when in car? It seems much too close to the camera for me.

    • Yeah I felt completely overwhelmed for the first couple of hours too but it all starts to come together quickly enoug. Don’t worry about failing the crimes, they’ll pop back up again. You can fail them as many times as you like they’ll keep coming back.

    • Yeh you can change the view, I only played it once & put it away so can’t remember how to but there is 3 view options.

      • From memory, I think it’s left on the D-pad to cycle through the view options.

    • yeah I believe it is the left button that changes your view in car. Isn’t it weird when you play something your hands just get used to the controls, I play COD loads and yet when I play with someone like my bro in-law who never plays it so asks me what the controls are I am like errrrrrr have to think for a bit and like go through the motions!

  3. I was hoping the review would help me decide on what to do about this game. I have been trying to work out whether or not to get it for a while now and I was hoping a review would say it was a must buy or an avoid. This has not helped.

    I just am not sure whether it is going to grab me like AC Black Flag did or whether it is going to sit on my shelf (not even) half finished like Thief is.

  4. Personally for me, after the first mission till the point where they teach me hacking or tracing someone hacking thought it was shit, so ain’t bothered with it again. The problem I found with this game, you can’t walk at the end of the street without something happening. Like someone at the top said, when doing a side mission, you always end up stumbling right in front of the enemy & also the melee take down is not clear. The car handling is just bad, hopefully the crew don’t handle the same

    But the good thing, The character has a good selection of new era hats

    • How on earth is the game world being alive and packed full of things to do a problem?

      You don’t have to do those things, but it’s great to have the choice.

      • It’s a problem if it’s every 5 seconds & most time I activate the missions by accident cause am trying get rid of the notification

    • Gotta agree with you, the first hour so really put me off with shit popping up left, right and centre, the bad car handling and press ‘O’ to win melee takedowns. However, after a couple of missions it settles down and somehow you get used to the handling and it really does grow on you. I came close to walking away after that first hour, but after an evening with it, I’m hooked.

  5. Good review and I pretty much agree with all your points, although I think the lack of innovation in here is quite worrying. The game is basically built from a template that’s been shaped by Assassins Creed and (to a lesser extent) Far Cry 3. This is mass-production at its worst, imo and while its still a great game, there’s nothing here gameplay-wise you haven’t seen before in other games. For the first part of the game, I could’ve sworn I was playing Splinter Cell.

    I was a bit disappointed by the hacking as well, reducing what is such a critical selling point down to “Press X to hack” or when it get really involved, the standard ‘Pipemania’ clone.

    Also, considering the Snowden revelations about government spying and mass surveillance in the news, I surprised it has nothing to say about that.

    Overall tho, I’m sounding harsh about the game but it is really good fun and Uplay problems aside it works well and I’ve really come to enjoy it. £45 well spent, imo.

    • The hacking has to be fairly simple otherwise it would become a massive chore if you had some sort of mini game to perform every time you wanted to hack something.

      I agree that it is like a ‘ubisoft greatest hits’ with parts from AC, Far Cry and Splinter Cell (with a smattering of GTA).

      It’s a shame you can cant use weapons in cars. I know they want you to use hacking, but I have the choice of how to approach missions so why can’t I have the same choice when in a car?

      • Yeah, I get that and it does make sense that when screaming down a road at 80mph you dont want to be firing up a copy of nmap to get the traffic lights to change, it just would’ve been nice if the quiter parts (like hacking ctOS towers) were more than just the bog-standard pipemania-riff that every other games uses..

        Also, yes. Not being able to shoot out of a car is annoying as hell. Its cool to have hacking options, but forcing us to use it by taking away other options is pretty weak, imo..

  6. Good review, i’m enjoying all my time with it so far, Aiden is a dick but the gameplay is solid, especially the shooting. The sheer variety on offer is overwhelming at first but also makes it easy to sink a few hours at a time because it keeps the gameplay fresh.
    It may not be quite the gaming revolution we were expecting but they still delivered a solid and enjoyable game, i just hope Watch Dogs 2 has a jump button.

    • I hate it when games don’t have a jump button, for some reason I find the lack of control really hinders emersion.

  7. For all its flaws, I am very much enjoying it. Put about 15 hours into it so far and I’m only on the first Act in the campaign, there’s so much to do, excellent value for money.

    Remember this is Ubisofts first modern day open world game in such scope, a completely new IP, cross-generation title, very early in this console generation, on 5 different platforms, by a studio that regularly develops 3 games at a time.

    Really good effort I’d say.

  8. Sounds like fun game play, but it needed great characters and a really solid immersive story to sell it to me. Sleeping Dogs did a great job there, but it sounds like they didn’t put much thought into that on this game, so I’ll pass. Quite likely it will appear on PS+ eventually anyway as many Ubisoft titles do.

  9. I’m enjoying it, but I can’t help but feel a few more months would have given the game some much needed polish. The driving physics for example, are horrible, and there doesn’t seem like there’s much to spend money on, and as you said, the skills tree is far too small.

    It’s very reminiscent of Assassin’s Creed 3, with a wonderful location but dull characters and a lacklustre story that annoy me of how could the game could have been.

    The story could have amazing, but it seems the script was written by a 7 year old. It’s a real shame, because it could have been so much better if it explored the morality of hacking and the invasion of privacy. Yes, it’s funny when you hack peoples phones to hear a funny conversation, but if the game was more ‘adult’ with darker undertones, I think that would be a really interesting route for the game to take.

    Even though I sound a bit negative, overall I agree with your score and review Jim, I am having loads of fun exploring Chicago, but at the same time, part of me is disappointed at what a missed opportunity Watch Dogs is.

  10. I’ve already traded my copy in after about 4 hours play on the PS4 version.
    The storyline just didn’t catch me, Aiden’s character seemed completely empty, the car mechanics are plain awful & my biggest disagreement with the review is the graphics/visuals…
    As I’ve said before, apart from the main character model they’re pants & not up to scratch for next (now current) generation consoles. Maybe it has got a skyscraper with 5000 windows reflecting realtime lighting etc, it doesn’t mean it looks good though. The worst scenario is when you start at your first safe house/apartment. The brick & floor textures look like something a PS2 could produce at the end of its cycle & the rest just looks like a PS3 game. Very disappointing.
    One positive thing which came out of the game is the fact I traded it in for Infamous which I’m really enjoying (after thinking I wouldn’t) & it’s looks stunning.

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