About a year ago, in the wake of the next gen console announcement, whispers of Watch_Dogs sent the community of Ubisoft Montreal fans abuzz—ourselves included. For those who enjoyed the Far Cry games and obsessed over the Assassin’s Creed series, their take on a digital world ripe for the hacking was pallet whetting. Like any good gossip, information trickled out slowly; a trailer here, an article there and rumors of a release date kept us wanting more. Already convinced, I ordered the collector’s edition early this year from Amazon, my Prime membership securing a release date delivery day. (Something I’ve used successfully for each game that had to be here the day it came out.) All that was left to wait with eager anticipation for the next Ubisoft gem… Then May 27th came.
An experimental security software called ctOS has been implemented throughout the city much to the outrage of some and delight of others within Chicago. Our fallen hero, Aiden, is a Fixer: a more universally skilled hacker that’s not afraid to come out from behind the monitor and get his hands dirty. Wounded in the aftermath of a job gone wrong, Aiden is a good man (whether he remains honorable is up to you) dead set on retribution. You can hack into almost anything that has an electronic pulse to gather your information and use it—the most common thing to access are people’s cell phones, but there are also ATMs, car alarms, stoplights, security cameras, steam pipes, among a slew of other things at your disposal. With the skills that you develop and the choices you make, the world can be your playground—or your punching bag. The supporting characters—Clara, T-Bone, Damien, Tobias, Iraq, Quinn and my personal favorite, Jordi (he’s a riot,)—round out the cast with a wide enough range of personalities for everyone to love or hate.
Multiplayer options are Online Hacking, Online Tailing, Online Racing and ctOS Mobile Challenge. If you’re logged into your account online, your game is eligible to be invaded by another player at any time except while you’re on a story mission. The story is what introduces you to and gives you experience using all the tools that are at your disposal that are quite often integral in the online portion of the game. That being said, Watch_Dogs isn’t for those who don’t care to get into the role of the game. To be able to enjoy and take advantage of what it has to offer, you have to immerse yourself fully into the world.
This includes and is perhaps most suited to the multiplayer experience. You’ll need to exploit your environment to its fullest; duck into dumpsters, hide in cars, use the cameras that are littered throughout the city. If you just barge around trying to observe or hack someone, you’ll get nowhere—and probably shot. Conversely, when you’re being hacked or tailed, the point is not to merely book it out of town like a scaredy cat, but to seek out your attacker and stop them. Play the game how it was intended: stealthily.
Unfortunately this appeal is rendered moot when the basic camaraderie of online gameplay no longer exists between strangers—which was the only negative experience with the game after a week and half of consistent playing. It was the same lazy attitudes that ruined AC Brotherhood online play—lack of commitment to the role. But that can all be taken with a grain of salt and you can just enjoy the story mode because there’s plenty to do in the massively interactive environment.
Another option is the ctOS Mobile App for earning XP and playing online. It’s a game companion app you can download on your phone to play against console gamers. You’re a ctOS operator trying to prevent a criminal (your online opponent) from getting from checkpoint to checkpoint using all the hackable objects within the city, like roads, bridges, stoplights, steam pipes, electrical panels, etc. There are different levels and you can challenge particular people if you feel so inclined.
The controls and mechanics of the game flow quite smoothly. Getting in and out of cover takes some figuring out (it seems every game has a different take on that,) and a roll move might have been useful, but other no real complaints otherwise. Graphically, it looks stunning. Watch Aiden’s jacket flow while driving a motorcycle or burn some rubber in a muscle car, you’ll notice that the particles, weights and collisions were tended to beautifully.
On a final note, it still is the little things make all the difference in a game. Casual references and throwbacks, tidbits and subtleties that make the experience more memorable and fun. Body movements seem to be more believable when reacting to the things you affect; disabling someone’s radio causes them to cringe and topple over, explosions scatter and stun those nearby. If a car explodes, the driver makes an attempt to stumble out and get away instead of just sitting in the driver’s seat, dying. We are also awarded some heroic XP for pulling someone out of their car after an explosion—it popped up as a vulnerability that they were stuck in their car, frozen by fear. And most fun of all, Ubisoft managed a couple shout-outs to their other games, our favorite being the ctOS video of a kid playing AC while his dad tries to figure out what’s going on. (“Why’s he talking to the guy he just killed?”) If you haven’t already, go out and pick up the game. Ubisoft has impressed us again.