First Impressions - Watch_Dogs

Admiring the Chicago skyline

Ah Watch_Dogs. It's been at the centre of much controversy hasn't it? If the Steam reviews are anything to go by you definitely shouldn't be buying this game right?

Hey at least they wrote entertaining negative reviews :)

Yes I'm aware of the controversy surrounding the early trailers they had of the game and how the graphics don't look as good, now we have the final game. To be honest though, this doesn't bother me too much. Provided the graphics are passable, the gameplay is what's important. I'm running Watch_Dogs on Medium settings and it does the job. So the only thing that bothers me are the ethics revolving around displaying a trailer which advertises "actual gameplay" when it in fact isn't (or at least won't be included).

I've managed to sink over 15 hours already into Watch_Dogs though and I haven't finished Act 1. Admittedly, I am getting to the stage now where I just want to get on with the story but considering it took me this many hours of stuffing around in Chicago to get to this point is saying something for this game, since I don't normally waste much time with sandbox GTA games or its clones.

What I like

  • Chicago: This is the real star of the show, the city of Chicago. I love games where you get to explore real life locations, probably why I picked up games like Test Drive Unlimited 2 or Sleeping Dogs in the past. Yes, some of the locations are fictional in the game (although they're usually based off a real life location) and it's not an exact copy street-by-street, but it's close enough. They even have achievements you can gain from visiting several city hotspots (with bits of tourist information to boot)
  • Neat mini-games: One thing I didn't like about games such as GTA were that the mini-games didn't interest me. Don't get me wrong, they went to a lot of effort to make their bowling or pool mini-games as realistic as possible, but they're not the sort of games that interest me. Besides the obligatory car races, in Watch_Dogs you have games such as the shell game (i.e. pick the ball from three shuffled cups), a drinking game, Texas Hold 'Em and (my favourite) chess. Yes, you can actually play chess in Watch_Dogs, although from what I've seen so far they're only in the form of chess challenges but they do test your logic and that to me makes chess the perfect fit for a game that at least advertises itself as a thinking man's sandbox shooter. You also get hacking mini-games (obviously) for many of the puzzles which I also enjoy. Not only that but there's a whole bunch of online mini-games you can get involved with too that are seamlessly integrated with the single player experience, such as playing hide-and-seek with another player while trying to hack their phone. Admittedly, this isn't everyone's cup of tea and it can get annoying at times so at least there's an option to turn it off.
  • Immersion: I think they've done a good job to hook me into believing this is a living, breathing Chicago - at least for now. The ability to read people's messages, check out their secrets, spy on their homes, channels the inner voyeur that exists in all of us. Ubisoft manages to achieve a sense of immersion on a visual level too, filling streets in the distance with car sprites to simulate traffic instead of empty streets which looks especially impressive at night.
  • Not exactly the bad guy: Maybe this is just me but I find it hard playing the bad guy and this might be the problem I had with playing games like GTA or Saint's Row where you're one by default. Basically it gives you a carte blanche for wanton violence without any consequences. While you get a lot of freedom in games such as Sleeping Dogs and Watch_Dogs, there are ramifications to criminal behaviour since in one you're an undercover cop and the other you're a vigilante seeking justice. So it seems I like the game to have a purpose, a mission, a goal that isn't a selfish one. Either that or I just like games with "Dogs" in the name.

I can see cleaaarly now the stairs have gone...

What I don't like

  • Bugs: There are quite a few bugs in this game. Visual bugs (like missing staircases), audio glitches and then more serious ones which prevented me from even getting past the introduction thanks to a BSOD. The fix was to install the most recent ATI drivers which seems to have fixed the issue but now I get occasional BSODs on my desktop - so maybe not entirely Ubisoft's fault.
  • UPlay: Hooray for having to run another Always-Online DRM system in order to play your games. I now have three of these (Steam, Origin and UPlay). Thankfully, I only have three games on UPlay and it hasn't given me too much grief so far but wouldn't it be nice if the world was DRM-free?
  • Mission locks: I can see the reasons for doing this but locking you out from doing anything else once you've started some missions means it's actually quite dangerous to start one if you're not prepared. Imagine the situation where you haven't levelled your skills enough or brought enough ammunition for a mission yet every time you die, it restarts at the beginning of the mission. This means once you start a mission you have to make it through with the resources given to you - otherwise, you'll have to start the game again. At least that's how I think it works, and if it is, I'm not a big fan.


I have to admit that despite the many negative comments I've been hearing about Watch_Dogs, I've actually had quite some fun with the game already - that's provided you can get the game running of course. I don't think it's going to be one of those games I'd come back to replay again (at least not from what I've seen just yet) but I think I'll be getting my money's worth.

[LINK: Official Watch_Dogs website]