REVIEW: WATCH_DOGS / DEVELOPER: UBISOFT MONTREAL / PUBLISHER: UBISOFT PLATFORMS: PC, PLAYSTATION 3, PLAYSTATION 4, XBOX 360, XBOX ONE, Wii U / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW
After repeated delays, to the frustration of console owners and manufacturers alike, WATCH_DOGS has finally arrived. Set on the streets of an alternate Chicago, WATCH_DOGS’ premise is very much a Grand Theft Auto-style excuse to leave a path of destruction across an open world. Months after his actions against another hacker inadvertently led to the death of his niece, Aiden Pearce is out for revenge. Determined to hunt down the true culprits, Aiden will fight through whoever is in his path to bring them to justice.
This quest for justice takes place in a free-roaming world filled with police, gangs and guns - all with the bonus of hacking any ATM machine you want and even being able to arm the enemies' grenades (whilst still attached to them!). With Aiden unable to take the same punishment as characters in the GTA or Saints Row series, combat is far more methodical, and even vehicular rampages allow for far more control over the environment, helping WATCH_DOGS stand out from the crowd. The option to hack traffic lights alone is a godsend for anyone with a high wanted rating.
Even ignoring that main gimmick, the game still stands up well with fantastic cover based shooting and a level of detail which brings the city to life - even whilst employing the graphical downgrade the game still looks fantastic. Unfortunately the enemy AI rarely fails to present a challenge far above the cannon-fodder, law-enforcers, of other open world series.
The game suffers from other problems despite these good elements. Along with police forces running to assist heavily armed gangs fighting Aiden, immersion-breaking elements involve WATCH_DOGS’ attempts to present Aiden’s crimes as heroic. In an effort to avoid presenting him as a criminal, acts such as stealing from charity workers and other abhorrent behaviour are dressed up as justice. It’s very off-putting, even more so than playing as a true villain in any title.
Even accepting this, the game is hamstrung by an astoundingly close pop-in distance. Not only is it very distracting to have buildings suddenly teleporting into existence only a short distance away, but this can easily lead to you ruining your reputation within the game, after all, accidentally running over civilians by the dozen during a high speed chase would be enough to turn public opinion against anyone...
WATCH_DOGS certainly has a few problems, but it’s a solid release nonetheless. If you’re after an outstanding open world experience and GTA 5 failed to interest you, give this one a look.