‘Watch Dogs’ isn’t perfect, but it’s worth a look

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First Posted: 5/23/2014

Announced at E3 2012, “Watch Dogs” quickly became the most anticipated game on the horizon. What we saw in the trailer were insanely beautiful visuals that were clearly next generation and some really interesting gameplay concepts that revolve around computer hacking abilities. “Watch Dogs” is the reason that a lot of people rushed out and got a next-gen console. However, the release date got pushed back for a long while. I think the wait has really built some major hype around this game, but was it really worth it? The visuals are gorgeous, but they don’t seem to be as mind-blowing as the E3 videos, though the gameplay is fun and the hacking system, along with the way it tells the story, is really innovative.

“Watch Dogs” has a lot of similarities to the “Grand Theft Auto” series; it has a huge open world, a story based on a life of crime, and a ton of shooting and gun play. “Watch Dogs” does differentiate itself in some interesting ways. Your character is a hacker, and you can use your abilities to control the environment, steal money, and gain story insights by hacking civilian cell phones. The story is about protagonist Aiden Pearce, an anti-hero who uses his tech savvy to discover and take down the evil Blume Corporation that is responsible for his niece’s death. The Blume Corp has implemented the CTOS system, which automatically controls everything in the city of Chicago, and Aiden can use his hacking to control most things in the city, such as traffic lights, guard posts, and steam pipes, and he can disable cars, activate road blocks, empty citizen bank accounts, and many other things. Controlling the environment is most handy when you are being pursued by the police, who are much more aggressive than in “GTA.” Using these tools, you can evade the police, but the hard part is circling around blocks looking for things to hack while being chased. One good thing is you don’t have to take them all down; you just have to get away long enough for them to forget about you, so it turns into a game of hide and seek.

The driving is very similar to the “GTA” games, but it doesn’t feel as good. The vehicles feel like driving on air; if you crash into a light post or a bus station, your car doesn’t even slow down, and it is easy to lose control and fly off the road, making it frustrating when you have to run enemy vehicles off the road. When you are on foot, the action really shines. The shooting mechanics are very good, and there is a focus ability that lets you slow down time and align your shots. There are also several different stealth abilities you can use if you prefer a quieter approach. As you play through the game, you unlock new abilities, allowing you to jump between camera feeds to get the layout of each environment, show guard locations, and activate traps, which make the stealth segments a blast.

The story campaign plays out in a mission format, and there are several different types of missions to mix up the gameplay. There are tailing missions, find the item, escort missions, and many other types. There is also a huge amount of collectibles to find and plenty of side missions to take on, meaning completionists will have a lot to keep them busy. There are also multiplayer elements where people can break into your game and wreak havoc; you can also break into other people’s games if you want. There are options to join online races and some other activities, such as tailing mini games and capture the flag. I tried out some of the multiplayer activities, but mostly I opted out of them because I was looking for collectibles.

Overall, I enjoyed my time with “Watch Dogs.” Chicago is a big, diverse city with tons to do and find. The hacking was a really interesting mechanic, and the graphics and gameplay are truly stellar. If you are a fan of open world crime games like “Grand Theft Auto,” then you will love this game. If you want an action title to just mess around with, then this is a great game, especially if you are looking for something good to play on the new consoles. It is a solid first entry in a new IP and shows some real promise in upcoming games.

-Robbie Vanderveken is the digital operations specialist at The Times Leader. E-mail him at rvanderveken@timesleader.com.