The first game I played since my last reboot was Watch Dogs. Specifically, I played the demo, which came with the Xbox one that I was reviewing. Though it was a limited trial, I was immediately impressed by its potential. The game doesn’t exactly reinvent the wheel but tweaks it in such a way that makes a whole new experience out of it.
Before the Revolutions
Anyone who has ever played a Grand Theft Auto game knows the basics of what to expect. You play as a vigilante who robs and kills people in spectacular fashion. At least, that’s the basic premise behind GTA.
But GTA was inspired by a novel that Rockstar and its founder, Take-Two Interactive, both credit as a major inspiration for the game. The novel, The Outsider, is set in a future where computers have taken over and society is divided into two distinct groups: the Haves and the Have Nots. The former live in a world of leisure and convenience while the latter exist in a life of deprivation and struggle. The main character, Theodore Duquesne, is an Outsider, someone who does not fit in with society and seeks to right its many wrongs. Duquesne is very resourceful and constantly solves problems with hi-tech gadgets and weapons.
Based on that novel, GTA evolved into a science fiction version of the western, a future where technology and social division divide and conquer the world. The world of Watch Dogs is very similar. Its hero, Aiden Pearce, also robs and kills people. However, he does so in a futuristic city that has been divided along financial lines. It’s a divided society where the haves live in luxury and the have-nots struggle to make ends meet. Watch Dogs’ world is in a state of constant flux, as the lines between the haves and have-nots are blurred by constant social upheaval. The way the world is structured and governed changes constantly, which provides a lot of dynamism and variety to the game.
Anyone who has played an Assassin’s Creed game knows what to expect from that series’ flagship title. You play as an Ezio whose job is to vanquish his enemies by any means necessary, be it stealthily or with a sword. And like all good assassins, you get a set of top-notch weapons at your disposal, which in your case are the bow (for stealth attacks) and the sword (for more direct interventions).
Even if you’ve never played an Assassin’s Creed game, you probably know what to expect from that series, as the gameplay and mechanics are very similar to what you’d find in an RPG (role-playing game). And that is basically what Watch Dogs is. For the most part, it is an open world hack-and-slash game where you wander from location to location, talking to people and collecting info and items that you can use to your advantage. However, the game does contain stealth missions and the occasional driving mission where you have to race against the clock to escape from a pursuing group of enemies. In the latter case, you’re frequently given directions on where to drive or where to walk, so if you’re unfamiliar with the area, you’ll have to study the map to figure out where you’re going. In most cases, attacking and defeating a group of guards or soldiers will reward you with either cash or drugs, which you can then use to your advantage. In some missions, you have to protect a computer key or a scientist’s work, and in these cases, your task is to keep an eye out for hackers trying to steal the documents or technology you’re protecting. Your character builds as you play, which means you’ll have access to better and better gear as you progress.
One of the things that initially drew me to Watch Dogs, aside from its beautiful presentation, was its unique approach to gameplay. Unlike most other open-world games, Watch Dogs places a heavy emphasis on stealth, and more importantly, it makes you feel like a ninja. You have to be extremely quiet as you move through the shadows and quickly learn to love the feel of the wind against your cheeks as you silently rush towards your goal.
Though mostly focused on stealth attacks, Watch Dogs does give you the option of being more direct. If you don’t want to be detected, an alarm will go off when you use a certain item or perform a specific action, so you have to decide whether you want to keep the element of surprise or do you want the cops called.
In addition to the stealth component, the game also features an element of deduction. One of the things you have to do as you play is figure out what is going on in the shadows. Sometimes, you have to be patient and watch a lot of people as they come and go from a location, while other times you have to make an assumption and act on it, without being detected. It’s all about what you and your team of hackers can accomplish without being caught by the authorities. Of course, being detected and killed isn’t something you want to do, but it is a possibility you have to consider as you play.
Despite all of its unique qualities, Watch Dogs still has some fundamental flaws. Specifically, the lack of diversity in its cast of characters. Though you start the game with three main characters, your roster of companions doesn’t change much as you progress. This leaves you with a somewhat homogeneous group of allies who don’t provide the protagonist with much in the way of variety. On top of that, the game’s world is beautifully realized, but it often feels empty, as there isn’t much going on in terms of narrative other than the occasional street punk trying to pick a fight with you.
Though these are issues that can be fixed by the developer, they don’t do much to detract from what is otherwise an excellent game. It’s just a bit too easy to be stealthy, which some may find frustrating. Still, overall, Watch Dogs is a triumph for Rockstar and an incredible game that will no doubt find a home on many “best of” lists this year.