By Aaron Ynclan, Staff Writer
Welcome, readers, to the newest segment of This Week in Gaming: Marginally Late Reviews. For our debut, we look at the cyber-connected world of “Watch_Dogs”.
Set in a present day Chicago, “Watch_Dogs” follows hacker, Aiden Pearce, on a familiar tale of redemption. Following a botched heist, an attack is issued on Pearce and his family that results in the death of his young niece. Wracked with guilt and rage, Pearce embarks on a path as the Vigilante of Chicago to enact his vendetta against both his niece’s killer and the man pulling the strings.
Any rehashed story can be made fresh and exciting again, given strong enough writing, yet it seems the developers were happy to let convention take over. The campaign unfolds across a five-act arch that sees Pearce interact with nearly every shady element of Chicago.
Whether addressing gangsters or his own family, Pearce and his gravely voice maintain a stoic attitude in every situation. There are attempts to paint Pearce as a fully-fledged character, but none succeed in transforming him past a one-dimensional caricature that sounds like Harvey Fierstein.
The guilt he carries over his niece’s death boils down to a single cutscene played repeatedly for emphasis, and though there’s greater success when exploring the relationship between him, his sister and his nephew, Aiden’s likeability as a character simply falls apart when placed within the context of the game.
There’s little that can be revealed without ruining the story, but suffice to say when the time comes that his family is inevitably thrown in harms way, it becomes impossible to sympathize with him knowing that everything that happens to his loved ones is, at least partially, Aiden’s fault.
“Watch_Dogs” gameplay similarly suffers from a severe case of “not bad, just average.” Ubisoft’s obsession with towers perseveres here, as players are able to unlock cTOS regions of Chicago by hacking specific servers. Doing so opens cTOS access in one of Chicago’s six districts as well as a number of the city’s cTOS Towers, which can also be hacked to reveal collectible locations.
During combat, Aiden can use the network to disrupt enemy forces in a number of ways, such as by hacking enemy comms or various environment prompts. Additionally, Aiden is capable of crafting various tools to aid in combat or stealth, such as noise sensors and communication jammers.
The sheer volume of options available to players is astounding, and can easily cater to any gamers preferred playstyle. Unfortunately, there’s little else to the gameplay that’s particularly inspiring.
As a vigilante hacker, Pearce isn’t a typical soldier in body armor, and the problems regarding a player’s ability to control Aiden are, at times, infuriating.
The cover system is serviceable but not nearly as intuitive or elegant as other cover-based shooters. The lack of numerous features, such as blind-firing, prevents Pearce from being particularly effective in the majority of “Watch_Dogs combat situations”.
Coupled with Pearce’s low damage threshold and the enemies’ tendency to rush his location, and player’s will find themselves repeatedly frustrated by scenarios they normally wouldn’t find challenging.
There’s an interesting approach to multiplayer, as players are able to accept one of six online contracts with varying goals. There are standard free-roam and racing contracts, as well as hacking and tailing contracts that essentially play out as a game of cat-and-mouse as players must hack into one another’s phones for various purposes.
Decryption plays out the closest to conventional multiplayer, as an individual or team must be the first to decrypt a specific file while fending off opposing players. While it’s not likely to garner a significant install base, it remains a different take on multiplayer with enough groundwork laid for improvement in future installments. This, unfortunately, is the core problem with “Watch_Dogs”.
While the game has an interesting premise and several elements working for it, none of them are able to break past their flaws to truly shine. “Watch_Dogs” isn’t a bad game by any means, but it’s disappointing how remarkably ordinary it is.