If your smart phone could hack the outside world with a simple button tap, what would you choose to do ? Watch Dogs offers you that freedom, allowing you to tamper throughout the urban city of Chicago, right at your finger tips. You could empty a citizen's bank account, control surveillance cameras, or even alter traffic lights to cause a collision. The hacking mechanic is simplistic, but an effective gimmick that makes you feel in control. It's unique, which makes Watch Dogs a memorable open-world experience.
You play as Aiden Pearce, an hacker, with the ability to control the entire Central Operating system (CtOS), that flows throughout Chicago. It's when Aiden suffers a family tragedy, with his niece been killed, that he begins to take justice into his own hands. He's determined to find those responsible, and to do so, he uses his hacking skills to track down the shady hackers. It's most a revenge-driven narrative that gradually increases it's intrigue as you progress. You'll meet a bunch of characters, some more interesting than others. Aiden, though, is a rather dull character, and he comes off as a rather lifeless protagonist.
Hacking the city is what makes Watch Dogs really stand out. Chicago is surprisingly diverse, and full of detail. It feels like a breathing city, with busy traffic and walking citizens. You can profile any nearby citizen, simply by aiming at them while your phone is active. Doing so exposes their personal data, displaying their age, occupation and income. Some can be hacked, allowing you to steal their cash, or listen in on phone calls. It's all a neat illusion, which helps makes the world feel lived in.
The mission structure is fairly varied for a sandbox experience. Despite it's unique hacking mechanics, missions tend to follow a familiar tradition. They seem to borrow many ideas from the open-world genre. Whether it's tailing suspects on-foot or behind the wheel, clearing gang hideouts, or sneaking into restricted areas, for instance.
I found Watch Dogs missions most rewarding when your given freedom in how to tackle them. Entering a thug compound, for example, can be executed quietly. But you could go in guns blazing if you have the itchy trigger finger. The stealth routine seemed the more satisfying option, as it makes great use of the hacking. Whether it's tripping vehicle alarms to cause a distraction, overloading a guards headset, or remotely accessing a forklift truck to reach higher surfaces or across restricted walls.
At times, you'll need to hack security cameras to access restricted areas. These have you switching from camera feeds, as you try to find something useful to the mission, such as a laptop or suspect. Occasionally, you'll intrude circuit boards, resulting in a mini hacking game. These crop up just enough so they don't become irritating. They have you swiveling circuits, as you try to connect power to each line. They become more challenging as you progress, and provide a fun little brain tease.
Chase segments are tied to many missions, some on-foot and in vehicles. Behind the wheel, things can turn a bit tedious, as there's no ability to fire weapons through windows. Yet, it does encourage you to hack the environment to create traps. It's always a thrill when your enemy collides in slow-mo with your perfectly timed hack. Whether it's altering traffic lights to cause a collision, or simply raising road blockers.
Visually speaking, Watch Dogs looks beautiful most of the time. Character models are nicely rendered, and Chicago looks stunning in rainy weather. The draw distance isn't that great, though. You'll see occasional vehicles popping into view, but that's not the main concern. On Xbox One, screen tearing is present at times, which can hinder the experience.
Aside from the main story, there's tons of little distractions to keep you busy for dozens of hours. Whether it's tracking down a potential crime, visiting clothing or ammunition stores, completing vehicle deliveries, or playing poker. The always- online component also adds something innovative and fun to singe player. At anytime, an online player could hack you, which sees you tracking them down before the hack reaches 100%. It's a smart feature, but one that can be disabled if you wish.
Other multiplayer modes entail street races, a 1 Vs 1 tail and hack, and a capture the flag style mode, which sees two teams trying to steal and defend a wireless file for a limited time. You can also roam around the city in a free roam. So there's plenty more to offer when you've finished everything solo.
Watch Dogs didn't win me over for it's story. What it did do, was provide me with an high quality open world experience, made memorable due to it's unique hacking mechanics.