Watch Dogs – Video Game Review

Staff Writer: Liam Gillin

Now, I know that Watch Dogs has a rather smudgy reputation among the die-hard video game community, especially those with high expectations on elements such as graphics, crashes, and memory. When Watch Dogs was released in 2014, the graphics were definitely not what gamers were shown in the trailers, neither cinematic nor gameplay. Common crashes mid-gameplay didn’t redeem it, either. However, now that it’s a few years later, these sorts of issues don’t honestly hold to that reasoning for ridiculing it. At least, not as much as it did before.

Overall, what I truly love in a video game – that which matters to me first and foremost, much of the time – come down to three things: story, genre, and gameplay. Graphics, as odd as it sounds, don’t matter to me quite as much (unless, of course, they make the game appear as if it were programmed with the technology of a floppy disk computer).

That being said, I am not going to sugarcoat the fact that, like all reviews on entertainment, everything here will be very subjective. It is my opinion, not necessarily yours; and I’m certainly not going claim it as fact.

Watch Dogs 1

Cover art for Watch Dogs when it was first released on May 27, 2014.

 

Personally, what I love in a video game genre is the player’s freedom of choice; whether it’s as detailed and thorough as dialogue options in conversations like you have in Telltale Games products, or something as simple as having one choice versus another; often focusing on the black-and-white moral boundaries (and sometimes more “grey” areas) between good and evil.

In Watch Dogs, you can “play it your way” in a number of scenarios.

Firstly, in police chases, you can either choose to use your hacking abilities to evade and escape the cops or go through the trouble of eliminating them first (though, this is nearly impossible). Additionally, you can silence a witness as they are calling the police to prevent them from tailing you in the first place, or simply be sneakier about your wrongdoings and thus out of prying eyes.

Once the police are contacted, they will perform a scan for you, highlighting areas of your mini-map thus allowing you to see which areas to evade. Though, you may want to escape the area of suspect quickly, as the scans become more numerous.

When attacking a gang hideout and similar areas, you can take out as many of the enemies as you like however you wish, so long as you only knock down the leader after identifying him.

Personally, I enjoy the “stealth kills” you can perform, which I like to call “Solid Snake” style. I always get a chuckle out of that.

Once detected after knocking down the gang leader, you can either eliminate the rest of the gang or escape the hideout.

Finally, the most notable choice (regarding morality) is at the end of the game; in which you can either choose to kill Maurice (the murderer of the niece of the main protagonist, Aiden Pearce) or simply walk away, letting him descend even lower into madness from his paranoia and guilt.

It was only here, during my first playthrough of the game, where I noticed there was a status for your “reputation” in the game. This determines whether people view you as a hero of the streets of Chicago, or simply a psychotic vigilante with little regard for innocent bystanders. This is also displayed by how people react to you in the game as you pass them on the streets.

The story seems to fall into a modern vigilante’s archetype, similar to that of The Punisher from Marvel Comics.

The main protagonist, Aiden Pearce, is an Irish-American male who is 39 years of age. Born in Belfast, Ireland, his mother took him and his sister, Nicki, to the United States; supposedly to escape their father.

In Chicago, Aiden took on a large family role as the protective male individual for his mother and sister, and fell into a criminal lifestyle. During his criminal activities, he became a hacker under the wing of Damien Brenks, until he caught the wrong person’s attention at the Merlot Hotel in a massive money-draining hack.

A hit was ordered on Aiden, but they killed his 6-year-old niece, Lena, instead. This left Aiden, Nicki, and his 9-year-old nephew Jackson devastated and grieving. Afterwards, an angry and vengeful Aiden begins a personal vendetta to find out who ordered the hit and why, which turns into his own self-righteous crusade against the criminal forces of Chicago.

Both part of the story and widely essential to the gameplay, Aiden Pearce uses his advanced cell phone to hack all sorts of machinery and technology; and everything has been connected to CtOS (Central Operating System) after a large-scale blackout costed the lives of 11 people in 2003 according to the game’s storyline.

Watch Dogs 2

Aiden Pearce, the original main protagonist of Watch Dogs, casually walks down the street as he hacks a stoplight on the road to cause an accident; likely to stop a criminal convoy.

 

This game mechanic opens up a wide range of fun uses and activities, including mini-games like my personal favorite, Spider Tank.

You can also use it to hack various elements of the open-world (another favorite genre of mine) environment of the game.

In combat, you can disable an enemy’s ability to call for reinforcements if they spot you, stun them with blaring feedback from their earpieces, remotely prime their grenades for detonation; cause wall-mounted power boxes, underground steam pipelines, and generators to explode; and open circuit protectors on the ground to serve as cover.

For more stealth-related or otherwise miscellaneous purposes, you can set off car alarms, unlock cars and doors, open and close parking garages, raise and lower spikes and blockers on the road (and do the same with extension bridges), change stoplights, and hack powerlines in order to create blackouts.

Watch Dogs 3

Aiden makes his getaway on a motorcycle as he hacks into CtOS to cover his escape with a parking garage door.

 

Other noteworthy things that you can do with Aiden Pearce’s cell phone include seeing and hacking through security cameras, disable enemy vehicles and helicopters, and monitor people’s texts and phone calls; which, in turn, serves as a game mechanic for finding crimes to stop. This is a good time-killer in the game, and offers opportunities to increase your reputation.

Now, I have not personally suffered any crashes, glitches, or the like since buying my copy of Watch Dogs; despite my PlayStation 3 being a used console. It would appear that, at least most, of the bugs that were initially all too common have been fixed.

One thing that seems to come to mind in terms of flaws, that I honestly take issue with, is really just a game mechanic they clearly didn’t think about while in development.

During a police chase, you can hijack a water vehicle and simply escape by moving far enough down the waterways. This flaw was so obviously overlooked that it’s almost laughable.

Regardless, nowadays with much fewer bugs and a rather interesting storyline to follow, as well as simply being a blast to play without crashes or glitches, Watch Dogs is definitely worth it’s price. I greatly enjoyed it, and hope that you will too.

Photos courtesy of: Creative Commons

Photos collected by: Emily Hailstone

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