“Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?” This Latin phrase is often associated with political corruption, which is an underlying theme throughout all of Watch Dogs. Roughly translated the phrase means ‘who watches the watchmen?’ and the answer is: you do or rather you, in the role of Aiden Pearce does.
A man possessed, Aiden is driven by guilt and a hunger for justice. I saw parallels to Batman and Punisher all the way through the game and like any vigilante, Aiden has an alias: the Fox. The name, though overused, is fitting. Primarily based in a fictional Chicago, Watch Dogs is fully saturated with corruption from the lowliest criminals to the mayor himself. Lucky Quinn runs The Club and everyone belongs to The Club whether they know it or not. The Club is Chicago’s crime family and political machine. You name a crime, they’re involved in it. However, slave trade and rigging elections seem to top the list. They also command many of the ‘fixers’ in the game world who are, for lack of a better term, mercenaries. Fixers and criminals are your primary opposition in Watch Dogs and who better to take them down than former fixer himself, Mr. Pearce.
Aiden meets plenty of allies and enemies along the way but Watch Dogs isn’t a world of black and white, with Aiden and his fellow cast members living in a perpetually gray area. Allies and enemies can change roles as the game progresses, with the plot being a basic revenge story. Fuelled by guilt over the death of a loved one, Aiden will stop at nothing to find out who caused it and why.
There are two main overarching themes aside from the main plot. The first is a sense of corruption and how vigilantes work to hinder it. The second is more subtle: a sense that redemption is possible for mostly everyone through decent behavior. The game sort of takes a page from V for Vendetta, in that the government is infringing on privacy and rights of the citizens. Hacking fans will notice similarities between DedSec (a group of hackers Aiden works in tandem with) and Anonymous (an influential network of hackers in the real world).
The gameplay is really what makes Watch Dogs. I once referred to this title as a beautiful baby born from a union of Grand Theft Auto/Assassin’s Creed and that was a pretty fair estimate of what was too come. Ubisoft have created a large open world with precise controls for pretty much every aspect of the game and while I dodged out of cover a few times not meaning to and I hacked a traffic light when trying to hack a phone for cash, by and large I found no issues when controlling Aiden.
Speaking of hacking, there truly are tons of things to hack in game, even if I found many of them superfluous once I bought upgrades to my hacking skill. Most of the time I hacked phones for money and cameras so that I could stay safely away from enemies and many times outsmarting enemies was just as effective as brute force. The former method was certainly more in-keeping within the theme of the game and using or hacking to achieve goals was often more satisfying than outright shooting stuff. There’s also a small morality bar at the top of the screen, which takes into account when you injure/kill civilians and police officers. The left path makes you a darker personality and people are more likely to turn you in to the authorities. The right path (no pun intended) makes you a hero to the people and they’ll tolerate you taking their cars and call the police less when they see you. The system wasn’t deep but it was noticeable.
The graphics in game were great and the sound was crisp and realistic. I played Watch Dogs on my 360 and I can assume the graphics are even better on the new systems and on PC. The soundtrack though, was unremarkable. I found myself listening to my iTunes more than the game music, which was at times comparable to the latest Assassin’s Creed in terms of quality. Buildings and pavement had texture palettes that obviously took some effort, while cut-scenes looked amazing. Characters had clear emotion and even facial features and piercings that were meant to be unobtrusive or subtle were visible, with the attention to detail in most places being top notch. Vehicles looked distinct and I became able to spot the best ones on the road easier than in any other game of its type. My only complaint was the little window that came up during profiling. This fictional Chicago is full of lots of people who look alike, but also very plain and usually angry. I feel more care could have been taken here but keep in mind that this didn’t detract from my fun playing the game.
While I had fun hacking my way though the ctOS and Ubisoft’s Chicago, there were a few hiccups along the way. The mini games and Digital Trips, while very well designed, seemed little more than distractions. I found myself only doing them to gain in game rewards, not even because I needed a break from the primary game. Of course though, not every mini game can be like Blitzball from FFX. Other side missions also felt very repetitive. I realize the same can be said about Grand Theft Auto or other sandbox game side missions, however in many of those cases a bit of flavor was added to each mission. The vast majority of the side missions in Watch Dogs felt a little generic. The replay fun of this game really came from finding new ways to tackle the opposition. This was highly enjoyable and kept me playing after I had already beaten the main storyline.
As for the addition of the multiplayer aspect, I’m not a huge fan of adding multiplayer to single player games but Watch Dogs turned me around on that. There is nothing like being hacked by an unknown player that you have to find and eject forcibly before they take your data. Alternatively, invading another players game and trying to stay under their radar while you steal their secrets was exhilarating as well. I’m not a big fan of the online races, but they are an option as well as a pleasant diversion. These switches to multiplayer were seamless with very short load times and while in it I had a lot of fun filling up my notoriety bar and gaining new abilities.
Overall, I was very pleased with my purchase of Watch Dogs. I’d recommend it to anyone who likes sandbox type games or who enjoys the Assassin’s Creed or Grand Theft Auto titles. It isn’t perfect, no, but everything Watch Dogs did I found enjoyment in. Very few games have such an interactive environment as well as great mechanics for driving and shooting and all of these approaches to the game were handled equally well, plus they are equally useful throughout the game. Watch Dogs also offers something for everyone, even if the plot isn’t deep. I honestly hope for a sequel with all the little hiccups fixed, as there is certainly room for more vigilante action and fighting to keep us free from the ctOS.