- Sony PlayStation 4 / Rated M / $59.99 / released May 2014
- OFFICIAL SITE: watchdogs.ubi.com
- PURCHASE LINK: Amazon
- FINAL: You should TRY this game. 3 out of 5 stars
“Watch_Dogs” takes players to an alternate version of Chicago where the city’s infrastructure is controlled by a massive computer system. Security cameras, traffic lights and drawbridges are all connected, providing security and efficiency to the city at the cost of privacy and autonomy.
As expert hacker Aiden Pearce, gamers are given access to the underside of this abusable, inter-connected system. Aiden confronts crime bosses and rival hackers on his journey of revenge, all the while using his magic smartphone as a tool to activate party tricks up and down Chicago. Being chased by hitmen in cars? Cause a traffic snarl by turning all the stoplights green. Trying to sneak into a guarded facility? Hack into a sniper’s phone and make him receive a distracting phone call. This is the chewy center of “Watch_Dogs,” using the technology all around you to sneak and plot your way to your goal.
If only that promise could hold! “Watch_Dogs” simply does not have enough tricks in its bag, so the game continually falls back on a typical video game solution: just go shoot up the place. “Watch_Dogs” needs more clever, creative hacking options and less reliance on gunplay. You can see the game’s better half in fun environmental puzzles that involve jumping from security camera viewpoint to viewpoint in order to unlock a hidden door or locate a hidden item, but there’s just not enough of that.
With hacking reduced to a cute gimmick, the ever-present violence presents an immersion-breaking conflict for the player. His entire purpose is to avenge the death of his young niece, who was killed in a car accident during a mob hit on Aiden himself. Although understandably distraught by this, Aiden then spends the entire game actually causing car accidents by messing with traffic lights and road barriers, no doubt creating hundreds of new Aiden Pearces in his wake. It’s difficult to identify with Aiden. He talks like a weary TV crime drama victim but acts like a typical video game psychopath.
Aiden’s phone lets you snoop personal information for every character in the game. Turn on the Profiler and point towards a person walking down the street and you’ll instantly get his or her name, salary and a brief “secret.” These secrets can be trivial (“plays mobile games”) or heartbreaking (“has stage 2 cancer”) or even played for laughs (“attended furries convention.”) You’re encouraged to steal their money and spy inside their homes, free from any consequence to your actions. In a rush to replicate the wonderful diversity of humankind, “Watch_Dogs” paints everything with the same invasive brush.
“Watch_Dogs,” if you branch away from the glaring social issues, certainly does not fail in being a video game’s video game. There’s plenty to see and do, with side missions and extra challenges and bizarre augmented reality games-within-a-game. “Watch_Dogs” even includes its own version of Foursquare so you can “check in” at Chicago landmarks. Multiple online modes allow for players to compete against each other at any time during gameplay, including a unique two-player chase mode that allows one person to play via a free app for your real-life smartphone or tablet.
We’re right to expect more from a game like “Watch_Dogs,” as it ought to be challenging how we think about privacy, violence and identify theft. It wants to, but “Watch_Dogs” was not confident enough to stick with it, and the game suffers as a result. There’s a great virtual Chicago in there, plus the seed for a fun Super City Hacker game, but “Watch_Dogs” takes the mediocre way out.
This review is based on product supplied by the publisher. “Watch_Dogs” is available for PlayStation 4, PlayStation 3, Xbox One, Xbox 360 and PC. Image courtesy Ubisoft.