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Watch Dogs

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, WiiU, Xbox 360, Xbox One
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: Ubisoft
Developer: Ubisoft Montreal
Release Date: May 27, 2014


Xbox One Review - 'Watch Dogs'

by Adam Pavlacka on May 27, 2014 @ 2:15 a.m. PDT

Watch Dogs is an open-world action-adventure in which players enter the dangerous world of Aiden Pearce, a new class of antihero whose ability to hack into any connected system could be his most powerful weapon.

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First announced in 2012, in development for five years and delayed six months past its original release date, Watch Dogs has built up plenty of anticipation for Ubisoft. The game has racked up record numbers of pre-orders for the company, while the marketing overkill (no game needs 11 different editions) has generated a bit of backlash. Ultimately, the game has to either stand or fall on its own. As far as Watch Dogs is concerned, the game delivers.

Set in the present day, Watch Dogs follows the story of Aiden Pearce, a hacker-turned-vigilante after his niece was murdered on the order of an anonymous opponent. Determined to root out the truth and bring his niece's killer to justice, Pearce is on a quest for vengeance. Unlike other open-world games that focus on the gunplay, Watch Dogs puts a lot more emphasis on stealth and playing smart.

Watch Dogs drops you into the story as soon as the game starts but does a good job of doling out the hacking lessons over the first hour or two of gameplay. You quickly learn that a gun is probably the least useful tool in Pearce's arsenal. Just like in real life, knowledge is power, and that's where Pearce's Profiler comes in. Described as facial recognition software loaded on your phone, the Profiler allows you to quickly learn key information about NPCs. During the story missions, this can be used to your advantage. For example, you can distract a guard by sending a false message that his mortgage has been denied.

Infiltration in Watch Dogs happens both in the traditional sense, where you're navigating around guards, sneaking from cover point to cover point and generally trying to stay out of sight, as well as in the virtual sense. Instead of barging in to a new area, you can recon by hacking your way into local security cameras. Bouncing from one camera to another, it is possible to complete a number of mission objectives without placing yourself in physical danger. In one early mission, you have to hack a laptop after getting the security codes from a guard. Instead of trying to sneak into the office where the laptop is located, you can simply hack into a hidden camera carried by one of the patrolling guards and use that to remotely hack the laptop when he walks by its location.

The sneaking and hacking carries over to the driving aspects of the game. As you make your way around the city of Chicago, it is possible to hack various parts of the environment based on what you've unlocked in the tech tree. Being chased by some gang bangers who want your head? Raise a barricade just after you pass by, causing them to crash. Need to avoid the cops? Remotely open a garage door on the fly as you take a shortcut though a private, underground parking garage. Trying to lay low when the whole city is on alert? Pull into an alley and cut the engine. So long as an officer doesn't drive right by your car, you're as good as invisible.

It's worth calling out that the cars in Watch Dogs all control very nicely. Ubisoft's Reflections studio contributed its experience with driving games, and it shows. While the driving may not be 100% realistic, it is fun because the cars don't fishtail at a moment's notice. Sure, you can powerslide around corners, and it's quite possible to get into trouble, but if you just want to use the cars to get from point A to point B, you can — and you can do it at high speed. Taking a corner at full throttle may not be realistic, but it's fun.

In case things start moving too quickly, Pearce has a focus ability on hand. Just tap to go into slow-motion for a few seconds, effectively increasing your reaction time to superhuman levels.

Although there is a focus on hacking, Watch Dogs isn't shy when it comes to guns. Hand guns, shot guns, assault rifles ... there's plenty here if that's your thing. The gunplay isn't bad, though it does feel like a secondary solution. If you're pulling out your gun during Watch Dogs, it's usually because whatever you tried to do originally failed, and you're now on to plan B.

Players who want to focus on the story can plow through the campaign missions, but to really experience what the game has to offer, you need to explore the side missions. These open up in an organic way, with contracts appearing on-screen as you drive by certain locations or when you snoop on a specific person and learn that he or she may be planning a crime. One side mission might have you trying to keep a criminal from getting to a certain location, while another might have you tail and protect an innocent. Minigames and collectibles are also present.

Watch Dogs has traditional collectibles hidden throughout the game, but the city hotspots are worth calling out. Instead of being tucked away, the hotspots are out in plain sight at Chicago landmarks. The hotspot system is modeled after Foursquare, with players collecting them by "checking in." Watch Dogs keeps track of how often a player checks in to a specific spot, with the most active player earning the title of mayor. There is a wait time of 60 minutes between check-ins to prevent someone from just sitting on a tile and spamming the action button. Each hotspot also offers a bit of trivia about the location.

Going online with Watch Dogs is different than most games, as the multiplayer aspect is asynchronous. You can play entirely offline if you choose, but doing so misses out on an innovative portion of the game. While you're playing, it is possible to "invade" another player's game or be invaded. When this happens, the game is a high-tech version of cat and mouse, with you and the other player trying to either stay hidden or discover the hacker in the crowd. In some ways, it feels like a more evolved version of what we saw of the multiplayer modes in the Assassin's Creed games.

In addition to the one-on-one contracts, multiplayer also offers up racing, free-roaming with multiple players, and what amounts to a treasure hunt among many. Watch Dogs also promises console versus mobile play via the iOS and Android companion app. We were unable to play with the companion app, as it was not yet available during the review time frame.

As a game, Watch Dogs has a few rough spots, but the bumps in the road never felt like major obstacles. One mission had to be restarted because the target we needed to meet somehow appeared under the road (rather than above it). There was occasional screen tear during the cut scenes, but it wasn't something that stood out during gameplay. Additionally, while it's purely aesthetic, we do have to point out that Interstate 15 is a West Coast freeway and is nowhere near Chicago.

Ultimately, Watch Dogs feels a lot like what you'd get if you asked the Assassin's Creed team to make a game in a similar vein as Deus Ex: Human Revolution. While it doesn't quite hit the high points that Deus Ex does, Watch Dogs smartly combines elements of the two franchises into something that's certainly worth playing.

Score: 8.5/10

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