On paper, Watch Dogs sounded exciting; An open world game that players were free to hack into and manipulate to suit them.
Overall I enjoyed this game and I am excited to begin playing the sequel, Watch Dogs 2. There were some flaws however which I feel were very disappointing and let down what could have been an amazing game. Like the ctOS system that the player spent the game hacking and destroying, there were too many faults.
The player reputation mechanic was a good addition to the gameplay. It gave the player the conscientious choice to either be a good citizen and vigilante by not harming innocent civilians and police officers or, be a menace by killing them.
Being a vigilante resulted in citizens not reporting you to the police and good press whilst the menace reputation resulted in constant police notoriety. It reminded me of the ‘Good Cop/Bad Cop meter in the 2003 game ‘True Crime: New York City’ and the ‘Triad XP and Police XP’ collection in 2012s ‘Sleeping Dogs’.
The hacking gameplay added a contemporary spin on first person shooters and traditional open world games. The player had the choice to complete missions in a confrontational style with guns blazing or they could use the hacking mechanics and be stealthy. I chose the latter in most cases and opted to hack security cameras, hack explosives on enemies and use sniper rifles.
My favourite missions were ‘Collateral’ in which the hotel shootout was cinematic and challenging, ‘Uninvited’ where I enjoyed the setting of booby traps and use of stealth to defeat gang enemies and ‘Planting a Bug’ where the majority of gameplay is via the hacking controls. I would argue that the entire second act offered the best gameplay and is the peak of the game.
Of the mini games offered, the Digital Trips and Madness were the best; they offered hours of fun outside of the main storyline.
Narrative and character development were major issues. The only character I feel I have learnt anything about was the protagonist, Aiden Pearce and we only know is a hacker with a sister, a nephew and a deceased niece. Every other character seemed one dimensional and lacking depth and only there to provide tasks or antagonism, regardless of the opportunity for character development they had.
For example, what about Clara? You spend the majority of the game working with her but learn little to nothing about her except her alias and that she is a tattoo artist. Damien too. He antagonises Aiden and we barely know his motivations.
This happens all too often in Watchdogs. Things are left undeveloped and it’s unsatisfying.
Another flaw is that the storyline was too predictable and at times confusing and cliché. For a game that innovatively incorporated hacking into open world gameplay, I expected better than the stereotypical ‘save the damsel in distress’ storyline in the fourth act and the repeated ‘I have become exactly who I wanted to destroy’ monologues of reflection. Yawn.
I hate to compare everything to Grand Theft Auto V but with it being a common reference, it is difficult not to. Hacking is about adapting programmes and codes to do what the user wants it to do. Because of this, I feel that a game based on this should have incorporated this theme into more aspects than just the hacking controls and therefore had more customisation options.
I’m not saying that Aiden needed to be able to grow a beard or get tattoos like Franklin Clinton in the GTA universe but he definitely needed more customisation options than the palette swaps for outfits available.
The music selection was also disappointing. As set in Chicago, I would have preferred to have heard music from Chicago’s thriving Hip-Hop scene; Chance The Rapper, Kanye West, Chief Keef, Tink etc. on the Hip-Hop playlist instead of Machine Gun Kelly.
In summary, Watch Dogs was a well thought out and semi-innovative concept. I just wish I could use Aiden’s skills to hack the programming to make it a little better.