There’s no denying that Ubisoft has crafted a recognizable style of open world gameplay. Whether you love it or hate it, the company tends to stick to an approach that works for them: player locates tower, tower brings up objectives on map, player completes map objectives. And while Watch Dogs certainly fits the mold well, it also introduces some interesting ideas that make it an undeniably fresh and fun experience.
Released in 2014, Watch Dogs was developed by Ubisoft Montreal, the company’s Canadian branch famous for kicking off the Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell series. In Watch Dogs, you play as Aiden Pearce, a criminal hacker whose family ends up tangled in his seedy and violent world due to a job gone wrong. After his niece is killed over the mess he created, he sets out on a vengeance-fueled escapade through the streets of Chicago, using his hacking skills to control the city’s central operating system and give him an edge against his foes. To complicated things, his mentor has grown bitter and kidnaps Aiden’s sister, adding fuel to the proverbial fire. You’ll meet some help along the way in the form of some fellow hackers, admittedly some of the best supporting characters I’ve seen in a while.
Gameplay admittedly takes some time get used to. Watch Dogs utilizes RPG elements that increase Aiden’s hacking, driving, crafting, and combat abilities as the game goes along. This unfortunately makes some of the earlier missions seem much tougher than they should. But it doesn’t take long to settle into a groove and lose yourself in the thoughtfully abridged version of Chicago that Ubisoft created.
The action really heats up as skills are acquired. Aiden’s growing access to the csOT (central operating system) allows him to cause blackouts or interfere with traffic lights to help manipulate things his way. Navigation around town is clearly influenced by the Grand Theft Auto series, where driving is reckless, and cars can be either stolen or purchased for on-demand use. Around town, players can hack citizens’ mobile phones for access to their bank funds, keys to their car, a song for the playlist, or even just to spy on their personal conversation. The game also includes a reputation meter, one that is increased when players step in to stop crimes, but is decreased when players harm innocent NPCs. However, this system sits squarely at odds with the character’s motivations and willingness to hack civilians at every turn.
Is Watch Dogs worth a playthrough in 2023? Absolutely! Its gritty story, satisfying missions, colorful supporting cast, and well designed open world make it more than worth the 20-30 hours of playtime. If you don’t like the Ubisoft formula in general, you might steer clear of this game. But if you’re okay with a familiar concept with some original ideas, give Watch Dogs a try.