Watch Dogs was supposed to be the first "true" next generation game for PS4 and Xbox One. When it was announced way back in 2012, it was accompanied by a mind blowing trailer that ended up being not so representative of the final product. When the game finally released in 2014, it didn't look nearly as good as the initial trailers portrayed it. This graphical downgrade was pretty much all anyone could talk about at the time, the game itself was secondary. Recently, Watch Dogs was included as part of the games with gold program, so I thought I'd finally give it a shot since it was "free." It didn't take long for me to regret that decision.
They say first impressions are the most important, and Watch Dogs starts off on the wrong foot. The first thing you're asked to do in the game is shoot an unarmed man begging for his life, murdering him in cold blood. When you pull the trigger the gun clicks empty, what a fun surprise! I'll give them points for getting straight to the heart of Aiden's character as a murderous douche bag, but the whole scenario really turned me off.
Following this, you play a short tutorial mission that lets you play with some higher level tools so you can get a taste of Aiden's hacking abilities. These hacking abilities boil down to 2 types, one time use items like an ability to blackout the city and jam communications, and environmental hazards you can trip by holding a button. You have to unlock a lot of these abilities by leveling up and going through various ability trees, leaving you somewhat weak at the beginning of the game. Luckily you also utilize a wide variety of firearms, and the shooting is tight. Hitting head shots feels good, and everything about the combat feels snappy. The only exception is the way Aiden moves. There's a delay between pushing the stick forward and Aiden starting to run. I assume it's this way because Aiden's walking and running animations are very detailed, and the game prioritizes the look of the movement over the feel of it.
Once you build up your hacking arsenal a bit and get a few key weapons like the grenade launcher, you become a god among men. You die after only a few shots, but no one will ever get close to you after a point. It becomes comical after a while. Anytime a mission involves being attacked by a gaggle of goons, I would just whip out my grenade launcher and blow up their cars before any of them could get out. Any stragglers would quickly get shot in the head, sometimes utilizing the games focus system to slow things down. The only missions that ever game me trouble were missions where you had to drive. The driving itself is perfectly serviceable, the problem is that you can't shoot and drive. So you end up having to ram enemy cars and hope that the cross over something you can hack. Compounding this are the police and their psychic AI. Losing them is a hopeless endeavor sometimes, they're goddamn professionals. Until you unlock blackout and jam coms, you are at a severe disadvantage. Jam coms is especially important because the cops utilize a scanning system occasionally, and it's pretty much impossible to avoid being scanned and chased again without it.
Watch Dogs is a prime example of the Ubisoft open world design. Outside of the main campaign, you are inundated with random boring side content that you unlock by hacking towers. It's laughable at this point how by the numbers Ubisoft's games can get. At least in this game unlocking the towers is kind of fun, since you have to solve environmental puzzles that combing hacking and climbing. These towers were the only thing I bothered completing all of, because everything else is a slog. You have gang hideouts, which are basically Far Cry checkpoints. Fixer contracts, which are a set of short missions centered around driving. Convoys, where you set up traps to murder a group of people on a set route, and a half dozen collectibles with their own mini stories that weren't interesting enough for me to want to pursue them. I'm a huge completionist, I generally 100% every game I play, I just couldn't do it this time. Outside of this, there are 4 completely different games to play in Watch Dogs called digital trips. These mini games are surprisingly fun. There are 4 of them, and I had more fun in 2 of them then I ever did in the main game. The highlight is definitely a trip called "Alone," which puts you in a dystopian future where Robotic sentries patrol the world and keep it in perpetual darkness. You break the darkness by getting close to and hacking generators spread around the map. These trips even have their own skill trees and save progress if you leave and come back.
The campaign in Watch Dogs is relatively enjoyable, but the narrative is horrible. It can be a lot of fun to sneak through groups of people, using your hacks to divert attention as you run by in the shadows. When things go wrong, you can fall back on the shooting mechanics and still have a good time. The real problem is that it's hard to feel anything for the characters or their problems. The gist of it is that Aiden was attacked for hacking something he shouldn't have, and got his niece killed in the process. Now he's on a path of bloody revenge, murdering everyone who was involved. His sister, who's kid he got killed, just wants Aiden to stop, but of course that's not to be. So Aiden's sister gets kidnapped and blah blah you kill everyone. I mean you kill every fucking person you see. Security guards? Fuck em. Cops? Fuck em. Random people? If it helps me further my goals they can burn in hell. Fundamentally what you do in this game isn't any worse than what Tommy Vercetti or Niko Bellic do in their respective open world crime games, but they at least had a personality. Aiden might as well be a cardboard box with a gun.
The most interesting thing in Watch Dogs is it's multiplayer, particularly the invasion mechanic. If you opt in to be invaded, from time to time a live player will come into your world an attempt to hack you, and you have to find them in a certain amount of time to win. This mechanic works into the narrative as well, as you're often being pursued by fixers, who are basically hackers assassins for hire. It's a lot of fun getting into these PvP situations randomly as you play, though the game leans heavily towards the defender. Once you ferret out the hacker they have no defense other than running, and that's when you whip out the handy dandy grenade launcher and go to town.
Watch Dogs is frustrating and fun, but not in equal measure. The core on foot gameplay is fun, but the driving segments inspire frustration. Core campaign mission variety is excellent, and almost every one is fun to some degree, but outside of that core campaign lies only repetitive drivel. The world is cool, the NPCs on the street actually exhibit a good variety of behaviors, but the things you do in that world are boring. Most importantly, nothing about the main characters or core story inspire interest. There are some highlights like the digital trips, but they don't make up for the fact that the overall experience is an exercise in drudgery.