So we come to that time, one of the most highly anticipated games of the year. The question is did the game live up to the hype. I’m going to go on a quick tangent before I talk about the gameplay. Our industry is suffering. We have too many instances of publishers believing they can rush games out and not worry about the state of the game. Well as I go through this review I’ll talk about many bugs that plagued this game and problems leading up to the eventual release however we must remember as consumers that we should not be pre-ordering any games. It gives publishers incentive to not care about how the game is when it launches and just do damage control afterwards. Now back to your regularly scheduled review.
Watch_Dogs is an open world third person shooter that features a futuristic Chicago where everything is controlled by one system, ctOS. This allows the main character, Aiden Pearce, to control many things including power boxes, traffic lights, street blockers and even steam pipes under the street. This is supposed to be a huge part of the gameplay but it feels like at times it is just a secondary feature to an otherwise generic open world game. There are times where you are being pursued by either police or some other organization and you can activate a traffic light to cause the cars to crash or a garage door to elude them but it feels like it wasn’t made to be a primary feature. Now that isn’t to say the story doesn’t highly rely on the “hacking” mentality but the gameplay itself isn’t needed as much. The hacking is fairly simple, if you come up to a object to hack you can hold Q and it will either let you take control (ctOS boxes or cameras) or activate itself (traffic lights, steam pipes, etc.). Along with the hacking units there are also small gadgets that Aiden can use including grenades, IEDs, ctOS cones (disables ctOS scans) and blackout devices. One of the really cool things I enjoyed about the hacking was being able to see random information about anyone on the street. Their name, hobbies, age, occupation and even their yearly salary. It added a whole lot to what an open world game can be, allowing you to see into the lives of all the NPCs.
Besides the main story there are also various other missions throughout Chicago including fixer missions that allow you to either escape police pursuit, chase down random enemies or distract the police by racing around town. There are also convoy missions that have you stopping a convoy of vehicles from reaching a certain destination on a route and gang hideouts which has Aiden going to a gang hideout area and taking out one of the main guys in control. Along with these separate missions there are several other small side features that can have Aiden running around town for hours in order to complete them all (took me about 6-10 hours to complete them).
However there is a huge problem with this game and it doesn’t seem to be limited to PC. This game is poorly, poorly optimized. As you can see above thanks to gamers nexus, those are the average fps and frame rate drops that occur during the game. I know whenever I’m driving I get frequent frame rate drops as well. Sometimes it gets so bad that the game isn’t even moving for a few seconds. I have no slouch of a machine either (i7, 8 gigs of ram, 780 ti), so there is really no excuse for that extreme of frame rate drops. It feels like this game was tested only on consoles and not on PC. Thanks to the frame rate drops the gameplay also suffers. At times where it would feel fluid to just enjoy a driving mission, it isn’t enjoyable at all and becomes frustrating when you crash your car because of a huge frame rate drop. On top of that it took the community to figure out how to limit the frame rate drops which is sad that Ubisoft didn’t even want to address this issue. By the way if you are curious how I got my frame rate drops to a minimum, Use borderless window mode, lower textures to high instead of ultra, set pre-rendered frames to 1 and use the launch option –disablepagefilecheck. Also if you have multi-monitors I would suggest turning all but the primary ones off through either your AMD or Nvidia control panel.
The story is not actually half bad but kind of suffers among other problems. You are Aiden Pearce who was on a mission a year ago that went south. Thanks to that missions going poorly someone found out his identity and decided to make sure he didn’t try to hack ever again. While travelling through a tunnel, Aiden’s SUV tire was shot sending his car crashing and killing his niece who was in the car with him. A year later he is finally back to a point where he can go after those that killed his niece and get revenge for her. With the help of Dedsec, a organization against ctOS and the evil security company Blume, he will try to find who made the call that killed his niece and get them back. Here is where I have a problem with this story. All during the game he is being touted as the vigilante, fighting for justice. But in missions like the convoy missions you stop the convoys on public streets and the eventual shootout occurs which usually ends in the death of a few civilians. His reckless abandonment causes more harm to the populace than if he didn’t even bother. This all in the name of his niece who is dead because of him in the first place. On top of that he is regularly getting missions to distract the police so the “fixers” can do some crime of their own or he is helping criminals in general including the mob. All this while he shows little to no emotion except when it comes to his desire to protect his sister and his nephew at whatever cost. His character seems extremely flat and bland. Now that isn’t to say some of the other characters in the game don’t have a lot of personality, I personally really like Clara and Jordi.
The graphics of this game are quite impressive but not nearly as impressive as we were lead to believe they were going to be from the E3 2012 tech demo. Even all this time we kept getting reassurances that the graphics were from the PC version and they would look better. Well that hasn’t been the case however thanks to modders we might be able to attain that level of graphical fidelity that was promised 2 years ago but only after the game has been patched to run better on machines that should be able to run it no problem and not have a memory leak. There are some nice features to the graphics including the weather. The rain in this game is the best I’ve seen in any game. The way it accumulates on the ground and reflects looks amazing. Unfortunately a staple part of that E3 tech demo was the wind which is non-existent in the release.
EDIT 6/6: I realized that I forgot to mention how Chicago looks aesthetically. I feel like the city is bland and not very busy like. The buildings look same old, same old. Now I understand that this may be what Chicago looks like but the people, businesses, cars just make it feel lifeless. I feel like Sleeping Dogs does this 10 times better than Watch_Dogs does and I feel that might severely detract from the look of the game.
The sound of the game is for lack of a better word, just ok. The vehicles all sound nice, the guns are nothing spectacular and the music that is in the game is all actual tracks that have been licensed for the game. I will say however that the voice acting is top notch and really brings out the characters personalities well.
Now it may have sounded like I harped on this game but that might have been because I was expecting way more than what we got. Under the frame rate problems and generic open world this is a fun game and I have gotten a lot of play time out of it. So it isn’t to say that this wouldn’t be a game worth purchasing, just wait until they clean up all the bugs. Overall the game has a decent story, with fairly good characters and pretty graphics. But the generic sound, poor optimization and big plot holes really bring this game down a level for me.