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Watch Dogs review - Magical hacking

Gameplay

The game jumps from exciting car chase to mass murder in the blink of an eye, but repeats this so much that destroying most of Chicago loses its luster, and somehow genocide becomes a 9 to 5 job. Thankfully there are plenty of things to do to relax after wrecking havock across the windy city, or invading everyone's private life.

Watch Dogs is also a mish-mash of previous Ubisoft titles. It takes a few queues from FarCry 3 when it comes to exploring, a few queues from Assassin's Creed when it comes to free running, and I think Sam Fisher would be amazed at Aiden's lurking abilities. However, it does bring a brand new mechanic to the table, namely the hacking.

Watch Dogs - Hack

The hacking in Watch Dogs is nothing like real-life hacking. Its possiblities are limitless, and using the ctOS, Aiden is able to trace, identify and invade the private life of everyone in Chicago. He can hack into bank accounts, spy on people by using their webcams, and tap into conversations or text-chats. This is the way to get money, unlock soundtracks, cars, or steal software-keys. There's this creeper type-o' fun to have just prowling the streets, checking who's got an STD, who ran with the bulls in Spain, or just listening in to private conversations. The amount of phone-call audio, and text message logs is simply astonishing, and it all works into creating this broad, believable world.

If what I described until now sounds like something a whistleblower might make public, know that Aiden's smart-phone is also a magical remote, able to control traffic lights, road barriers, sewer pipes, generators and even helicopters in mid flight (aaaand here's where my suspension of disbelief went 'bye, bye!'). You can also craft gadgets able to jam communications, create block-wide blackouts, or jam ctOS scans. All this variety works to create a bizzare sense of empowerment, and the system, though flawed, has a certain elegance to how it works. 

As one might expect, there's also a mandatory hacking mini-game, which plays out like a puzzle, swiveling wires (pipes) in order to complete a circuit. It could be slightly engaging when the time limit forces you to think fast, but for the most part it feels more like just another chore you need to get done, if you want to return to the interesting stuff. 

Watch Dogs - Steampipe

Aiden's most powerful ally is the security-camera. Often, missions can be finished without even entering the a barred perimeter, just hopping around from camera to camera, until you find the console you need to tap into. Not only that, but it also provides a better view of the area, tagging opponents and granting access to environmental hazards to get the job done.

I am also begininng to wonder what Aiden used to do before becoming a hacker. He is the killing type-o-individual, able to sneak around and avoid being seen, or take an assault rifle and a grenade launchers to get the job done. Though there's not any substantial difference between taking the non-lethal route, taking down any opponent slowly, or just busting in guns blazing, head shotting everyone. In fact, I think the game encourages the violent route, since the XP rewards are higher when you drop the 60 unfortunate fellas who just happen to stand between you and your objective, carrying automatic weapons.

Car handling ranges from cows with wheels on a tight-rope, to perfectly tuned racing machines. As such, car chases can be often exhilarating thanks to the ability to use the environment to your advantage, or nightmarish ice-skating experiences. The game also has some vehicular stealth, either by sinking in your seat to fool pursuers (works great in multiplayer!), or avoiding ctOS scanners whilst being tracked down by the police.

 Watch Dogs - Cars

Watch Dogs has a lot (and I mean a lot) of stuff to do. From the most mundane, like stopping criminals before they commit a crime, or clearing out gang hide-outs, to various Fixer missions, criminal convoy interceptions, or the crazy digital trips, where you might end-up controlling spider-tanks trying to destroy Chicago.

Crimes are randomly generated, which means you could just wanter around, and suddenly find someone trying to mug an old lady on the street. Capturing the perp grants some XP and reputation (the way people see you) points, especially if said old lady can walk home with both her kneecaps intact.

Watch Dogs - Spider Tank

Oddly enough, money only has limited uses in the game. Sure, at the start of Act I, you don't even have a dime to your name, and that shiny automatic shotgun seems so expensive. However by the end of Act II you're potentially swimming in money, able to purchase every gun and clothing apparel in-game. Sure, the car library still has a dozen cars that you might not have purchased, but that's because six of 'em aren't unlocked yet.

Watch Dogs's world feels more alive than any other sandbox world in recent memory. Chicago isn't just a play-pen where you can exact your godly revenge and cause wanton destruction to its inhabitants. The city feels alive, populated, and Aiden, with his psychotic murder tactics, seems to belong in this world.

 

Multiplayer

The online play is reminiscent of Dark Souls, with Watch Dogs allowing players to invade one-another's world. Whilst trying to finish a mission, you may get interrupted by another player who is after your data. Tracking him / her is like a game of cat and mouse: scanning an area, identifiying NPCs, trying to Profile the NPC lookin' player who's stealing precious data from you. Of course, you can invade someone else and do the same, and with each success, you gain notoriety points. The game frequently nags you with online opportunities to go after other players should you choose to only play the campaign. However, once you do accept the online "suggestion", it might take up to 10 minutes until the game pairs you up with someone.

Watch Dogs - Online Tailing

Just like the rest of Watch Dogs, there is a great amount of variety in the online mode too. From Online Races to Decryption Mode, which is more of a Capture the Flag style of mini-games, or the aforementioned invasion, there's a great of content for 2 or more players, all of it seamleassly merged with the single-player. From my point of view, the Invasions are the most interesting, because they're the right mix of sneaky play and high-paced running / action. Sure, Race and Decryption are a great way of destroying Chicago, but they rely on multiple players, who are willing to make the experience entertaining, and that doesn't happen all the time.

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