Watch Dogs – Completed and Reviewed

So I finally put the time in to play through Watch Dogs on Playstation 4.  I didn’t want to review it before playing through the whole thing and I have to say despite the multitude of complaints levied against the game, I particularly enjoyed it.  It’s not flawless and some of the complaints are valid, but the game was fun for me.

I’ll agree with the complaints I’ve read about Aiden Pearce himself.  Ubisoft didn’t do the greatest job in presenting him and fleshing out his motivations.  His main story makes sense; he and his partner ran into trouble on a heist and got caught, someone sent a hit crew after him who inadvertently killed his niece and he’s been trying to track down who was responsible.  That makes sense for the main story pursuing that end, but it doesn’t really explain why he became the vigilante taking down criminals around Chicago.  Why does a criminal turn vigilante to stop muggings around the city?  We never really find out.

I also felt like Pearce wasn’t given enough room to develop beyond the gruff vigilante. He shows almost no emotion.  When his sister and nephew get mixed up, his nephew learns the truth of his extra activities, or tragedy strikes in the story, he doesn’t seem to be terribly affected. No tears or anything.  We see that he has some self loathing in blaming himself for his niece’s death, but not much more other than his quest for justice/vengeance.

If you’re creating your own Batman emulating hero, you should really put more into his motivations as a whole.

Other complaints I’ve seen have been directed towards the handling of the cars, the open world being boring, the missions being unoriginal, and the game being overall repetitive in main mission and side missions.  I’d seen some complaints about lacking options as well, particularly claiming that the game gives you no options other than shooting up everything that opposes you.

I admit I’ve not played much of the games in similar style. Grand Theft Auto was never my genre, though I played True Crimes on PS2 and I’m not a racing game enthusiast.  I didn’t find much particularly troublesome with the driving. Once I got the hang of it, I enjoyed flying through Chicago streets, hitting turns in slides and even spinning around to head back the way I came during chases.

As for boring, unoriginal, and repetitive aspects of the game, I can see the complaint.  I found enjoyment by mixing up what I did from main story to gang infiltration and chasing down the side investigations.  I’m willing to accept these complaints for now and hope Watch Dogs is a form of investment and Watch Dogs 2 will be the return on that investment much as Assassin’s Creed II was such an improvement over Assassin’s Creed (which was far more repetitive with dull side objectives than Watch Dogs).  What Ubisoft has at the core of the game is fantastic and some improvements can make the sequel a real gem.

I don’t feel like the game forced you into shoot outs, though.  I felt like the game actually gives you a great range of choice there.  My friend approached the game like the Punisher, even telling me to get the grenade launcher as soon as possible as it was “the great equalizer.”  On the other hand, I rarely drew any gun through my entire play through, despite unlocking all of them.  Every mission, every gang hideout infiltration, I made judicious use of the tools and the environment.  I tried to handle missions by getting in and out unseen as much as possible.  There’s some real satisfaction in taking out an entire gang of enemies without firing a shot and only directly attacking a single one.

Overall, I liked Watch Dogs and, while some sections felt unnecessary, and a few key plot points seemed to end more abruptly than I’d have liked (or weren’t explored as well as I’d like), I think some changes could really make the game better.

As I finished Act I, I started looking at what could be unlocked through side missions.  I saw the Vespid LE which had resemblance to the Dodge Charger from finding all the burner phones around the city.  Burner phones…Dodge Charger….Burn Notice reference?  Once I made that connection, I started realizing the game has a rather strong Burn Notice “feel” to the whole game.  With Aiden still continuing to be the vigilante “the fox” at the end of the game, stating he will continue to watch, protect and, if necessary, punish, I assume he is likely the intended protagonist for the sequel.

If that’s the case, I think Ubisoft should spend some time looking at Burn Notice for further inspiration.  Having Aiden still working from the bunker as the vigilante, but coming across people that need help, contacts or even friends coming across people needing help and having missions with purpose unrelated to one another with an overarching story building up towards the end.  A twitter message from the Watch Dogs account has noted high crime cities are increasing surveillance and Camden, New Jersey had the highest crime rate in 2012.  Perhaps T-Bone calls Aiden in for help on a job and the reputation of “the fox” has spread to other cities?  This approach of actually helping people needing it would also allow for some additional variety in mission objectives to scare or influence enemies rather than always taking them out.  Speaking of scared enemies, shouldn’t some of them turn tail when things are exploding and bullets start flying? Some even say “I don’t wanna go out like this” so why don’t some of them do something to ensure that?

It might be worth considering adding more of a difference in the game depending how you approach with power vs finesse, going in guns blazing or going for minimal casualties.  Since I’ve already touted support of Burn Notice influence, add more gadgets and more ways to handle situations outside of blowing up or shooting enemies with the environment since “Guns make you stupid; better to fight your wars with duct tape. Duct tape makes you smart.”  In other words, creative ways to bring down enemies other than shooting them would be nice, more than just blowing up fuse boxes, panels, and grenades the enemies are carrying.  Though, sure, once in a while a gun fight with properly placed explosives are absolutely fun too.

They should definitely tweak the way the world interacts with your actions and how the UI reacts.  I had a few too many situations where I’d stop a crime just after a gunshot went off and the police would respond to the call and bee-line for me guns blazing in the opposite corner of where the shots were fired.  It would be more fun if they swarmed the area in force and you had to sneak past their dragnet.  On the other hand, there were times I had to wonder where the police were after a gunfight and explosions.  And to top it off, why do the police seem willing to ignore the gang bangers firing automatic weapons at them to chase me down because I was leaving the area?  Tweak the AI to end the “psychic cop syndrome.”

Since Watch Dogs has such a healthy dose of Assassin’s Creed to it, I’m hoping we see the bunker, or whatever other HQ, built up over time with upgrades to the HQ available.  Likewise, I think you should be able to set some choices and customize the cars a bit.  I do enjoy a sleek black car fulfilling the sense of having my hacker-mobile emulating Batman, so the random colors Jordi supplies you with can be a bit hit or miss.  Having the ability to customize the cars would be nice to have your preference in looks and performance with some give and take.  Add speed, lower handling, etc.

All in all, I think Watch Dogs was a fine start for the series and I thought it looked okay, but I agree even the PS4, based on what other games are showing, seems like it should have been able to come closer to 2012 E3’s graphics, if not right on them (and yes, PC will always have the highest potential for graphics).  I think it’s worth playing through if you like this type of game and there’s plenty of side things to do to spend some time here and there.  Hopefully, though, the sequel will show some real improvements much like Assassin’s Creed saw with its sequel.

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