Does ‘Watch Dogs’ Live Up to the Hype?

Source: Ubisoft

To say Watch Dogs is an anticipated game is to do it something of a disservice. The game was announced at 2012’s Electronic Entertainment Expo, and the glimpses of gameplay Ubisoft has shown since have only heightened expectations for the game. It has just launched on Xbox 360, Xbox One, PlayStation 3, and PlayStation 4, and will arrive on the Wii U sometime this fall. So now that the game is out, does Watch Dogs live up to the hype?

According to most critics, it’s not perfect, but it’s a very good game all the same. As of this writing, Metacritic scores it at 81 out of 100, with 44 critics weighing in. USgamer, the site that liked it the most, gave it 5 stars out of 5, saying: “Phenomenal. No other word for it.” On the low end of the scale is Eurogamer, which gave the game a 7 out of 10, saying, “It certainly entertains, but mostly through borrowed concepts.”

Watch Dogs takes place in a near-futuristic Chicago, where many aspects of the city’s infrastructure are controlled by an operating system called ctOS. That’s what allows protagonist Aiden Pearce, a hacker, to break into the system and create disorder for the sake of his clients’ ends. At the start of the game, Pearce stumbles upon a major secret, and those wishing to protect that secret kill his niece to keep him quiet. This kicks things off, as Pearce sets out to right the wrongs and make those responsible pay.

Like Grand Theft Auto V, the gameplay takes place in an open world, so you can tackle the main storyline or hundreds of side quests at your leisure, all while exploring a huge, bustling recreation of Chicago. What separates Watch Dogs most from other open-world action games is a hacking mechanic that lets you trigger events in the city’s infrastructure. You can toggle traffic lights, raise road blocks, blow up steam pipes, see through security cameras, and even hack into citizens’ bank accounts.

In The Verge’s review, the writer enjoyed the game’s backdrop but didn’t think the story did enough with it. The game world, he says, “raises all kinds of interesting questions about privacy and the role of technology in our lives, but Watch Dogs only briefly and superficially touches on any of that — instead it’s a fairly generic revenge story where technology and hacking are simply tools to kill bad guys.” Ars Technica agrees, calling the story “horribly hacky.”

But even if the story doesn’t quite hold up to a critical eye, it’s the gameplay that really counts, and it’s here where Watch Dogs delivers. With solid shooting mechanics, a good cover system, and lots of different ways to complete missions, Polygon writes: “It’s not just that there are so many options. It’s that Watch Dogs’ strong fundamentals allow for multiple good options” to complete missions.

The hacking is a unique concept among open world titles, and the game designates most of the hacks you can do to a single button press. While Eurogamer calls the hacking “undercooked,” Joystiq liked the simplicity, saying, “the lack of granular fiddling is ultimately for the better.”

Then there’s the loads of side missions and multiplayer mode, which GameSpot calls “rip-roaring fun.” Like the side missions, much of the multiplayer integration is baked right into the single-player campaign. You’ll get a little pop-up on your screen asking if you’d like to accept or deny a multiplayer invitation. As GamesRadar puts it: “There’s no disconnect, no server hassle … just the tension of playing cat-and-mouse with a real human opponent.”

Overall, perhaps Watch Dogs was a little overhyped, but it’s still a very solid game, and even slightly better than other recent AAA titles like Wolfenstein: The New Order. If you’re looking for a meaty game world to dive into on your new or old console, Watch Dogs will scratch that itch.

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