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 Post subject: WATCH_DOGS REVIEW
 Post Posted: Fri Jun 06, 2014 11:37 am 
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Joined: Sat Oct 19, 2013 6:27 am
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Location: San Marcos, TX
I've spent a good amount of time playing WATCH_DOGS so I figured it was as good a time as any to write a review. Though you're going to have to bear with me with the length as this review is an evaluation of Ubisoft as much as it is one for the game itself.

GRAPHICS

The graphics in WATCH_DOGS is a mixed bag. It'd be difficult not to call it polarizing. You can tell something went wrong with the development process somewhere down the line. This game was hyped to hell, and the first red flag came when Ubisoft published a game play video where the graphics looked apparently worse than they did during the first showing. I chalked this up to differences in hardware being used to render the game on both occasions. The first showcase occurring on a PC with two NVIDIA cards runing in SLI while the second had a single card.

I am reviewing the PS4 version, but according to TotalBiscuit, who did a first impressions of the PC version, even with his monster rig running two GTX Titans in SLI, he cannot maintain a solid 60 FPS on Ultra at 1080p, and instead has to scale it down to high and tweak it further. This is plainly unacceptable for PC gaming. As for as how it looks on PS4, and granted even the PS4 version had to be down scaled slightly from a native 1080p at least last I heard, the graphics are still a mixed bag. Some character models look particularly bland, particularly an early scene of the protagonist visiting his sister and nephew.

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It's scenes like this that just look very Heavy Rain to me, that is to say, last gen. While other portions of the game look amazing like when it rains, it realistically moistens Aiden's coat, and you can see realistic moisture on the streets with puddles collecting and travelling to nearby drains with the street lights reflecting off of it, it's a sight to see for sure.

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Something went wrong with the development, this much is clear. Either they couldn't meet the deadline, or they lost progress somewhere, but the graphics look extremely disjointed, given the fact that some facets of it look better than others, and the things it gets right truly do look "next gen", but the times it fails, it looks like nothing that couldn't be matched by other last gen games remade on PS4 like Tomb Raider or AC4. I am not big on graphics, so these things do not bother me, but if you are one of those folks, the game may not be the selling point you're looking for as far as investing in a new console goes. All in all, it's doable, but it's worth mentioning that there IS in fact a downgrade. But, it's very easy to look past if you're forgiving.

Story

I don't focus on story too much in my reviews, simply because an assessment of the plot is very subjective, and what I find to be a good story may not match with your tastes. That being said, I enjoyed the story more than I thought I would, it's a bit of a slow mover, but once you get to Act 2, things quickly ramp up, and they get progressively more interesting as things move on. You play as Aiden Pearce, a grey hat hacker who stole money from the wrong person, and subsequently calls out a hit on him to "scare him off", however, the attempt goes awry, and Pearce's niece Lena ends up dying as a result. Guilt ridden by this loss, instead of being scared of, Pearce becomes a vigilante, using his hacking skills to investigate into who called the hit, all the while bringing some justice to a very corrupt, hyper-connected, Chicago.

The characters are all well voiced, and interesting, and at many times the setting almost draws some parallels with the Batman mythos. The villains are realistic, whilst still seeming very similar to Batman villains. This is purely my own observation, but it's an interesting setting, especially with Pearce being more an anti-hero than a beacon of truth and loveliness, he's just the kind of heavy hand needed to skirt the law and bring the much needed justice to the misanthropes making the citizens of Chicago suffer. Plus if you're a 4chan visitor, and enjoy the Anonymous concept, you'll love this game as there is a lot of that going on.

Sound and Music

Let's get one thing out of the way right now. The licensed soundtrack for this game is downright dreadful. I can only think of one memorable song off the whole list, and that's because it's used in a story mission during a tense fight with gangbangers, and it fits so well, you'll remember that mission even after you've stopped playing entirely. Everything else either you're familiar with the artist but it isn't their best stuff, or you've never heard of the song, and you won't want to become acquainted. I spent more time skipping songs driving then I do listening to music, to the point where I just turn the music off entirely in cars, or ignore it. I don't know if the Xbox One has the ability to connect an MP3 player and play music in the game's stead, but if it does, do it. PS4 has no such capability.

Luckily, this game also has an original soundtrack, and it's actually very good. It sets the ambiance well, and scales appropriately. Any game that has a soundtrack I would like to download is a good one. So, mixed bag. You just can't rely on Wu-Tang Clan's C.R.E.A.M to carry your licensed soundtrack.

Online

Online components are usually a sketchy thing for a mostly single-player experience, particularly open world. Many times, online feels like it's shoehorned in, and it makes you question it's necessity when that effort could have been put elsewhere. This puts the game on a higher scrutiny level because of the aforementioned graphical issues. Luckily, the online is solid, and thoughtful, as well as completely optional. With a catch. Always a catch.

What people were most interested in is the invasion concept. A random player can invade your game, and hack you, while you carry on with your single-player campaign. Essentially, a player will spawn somewhere near you. They'll look like any random pedestrian on the street. They will then need to get close enough to you to hack your phone, and then install a backdoor, a meter will then rise to a 100%, you have until it fills up completely to find the hacker within a certain radius, and kill him/her. Every milestone in percentage the backdoor attains, the smaller the radius becomes, meaning the easier it is to potentially find your attacker. If you profile a pedestrian that happens to be the hacker, you will be alerted, and you then kill them. If you succeed in killing them, you will earn Notoriety points, the games online XP. They will also lose points, depending on the difficulty ratio. Harder opponents net you more points, with less a risk of loss. If they succeed in hacking you, the opposite occurs. They gain XP, you lose it. If you catch them, but they evade you, both of you will receive a small amount of points, as no one technically lost.

You can queue to be the invader from your smartphone menu. There is also tailing missions which are a bit different. A player spawns in your world, however, the game will not alert you to their presence, they need to get close enough to profile you, then simply follow you around observing till a meter reaches 100%. You may not even know they were ever there after they succeed. Luckily, there is no penalty to you for not noticing. The main complaint I have with this mode is, the game seems to push idea of blending in to the environment, acting like an every day NPC, but the truth of the matter is, when hacking other players, they will frantically run around like a chicken with their head cut off, with their phone out, profiling every NPC they can see to find you. Ergo, being out in the open is a horrible idea, so really what online hacking boils down to is a game of hide and seek.

There is nothing wrong with this in theory, but it's not all it's worked up to be, in general, being anywhere in plain view of the player you're hacking is a death wish. It's a fun mode, and luckily doesn't seem to be an annoyance. Matches are short, and happen rarely. Still, in the event you don't want people invading your game, you have the option to disable invasions. However, this comes at the cost of all your currently accrued notoriety. This is pertinent, because notoriety unlocks additional exclusive skills, which you lose access to, and some of them actually are handy in single-player. I find this to be a tad unfair, but Ubisoft I guess really wants people participating.

Besides those offerings, there are also more traditional MP modes easily accessed from your smartphone menu (for those wondering, I mean your in-game phone, not your actual cell phone in real life, though there IS a mobile component). You got your typical free-roam, Online Decryption which is a lot like CTF, Online Races, and the cTOS Mobile Challenge, where the people playing in-game evade the police, and those on the mobile platform control the Chicago Police force, dispatching assets where required, it's an interesting mode for sure. All in all, it's a solid MP mode, worth a look, but not essentially making the game.

Mechanics

I split the game play portion of the review into two sections, one for how the game feels and behaves, and the other for all the side activities found therein. First obviously, we need to talk about the most important facet of the game's style. The hacking. Through the use of Aiden's phone, he has a wide variety of tools at his disposal for all manner of actions. He can profile citizens to learn about them, tap into ongoing text messages, or listen to phone calls, collect intel on opportunities in the area and crimes to stop. He can also manipulate the city infrastructure against his enemies. If he is being chased, or chasing another person in a car, he can manipulate traffic lights or raise barriers to make his opponents crash, delivering a vehicle take down and taking it out of the chase. He can also blow up steam pipes under the roads, destroying the target vehicle and slowing down any other pursuers that survive. The controls for this are simple and intuitive, simply hit square when the game alerts you to it. It may seem like QTE sequences, but they can be forgiven, as it's merely a means to activate an action at the right time.

When dealing with multiple armed enemies on foot whom aren't aware of you, Aiden can take control of nearby cameras, ride along to other cameras, mark all targets, and blow up junction boxes or set off enemies equipped grenades, taking down a majority of them before he ever sets foot in the red zone. Other than that, you can also use hacking creatively, such as using it to cheat at poker. This makes it that much more fun!

There is gun play of course, and plenty of weapons for different situations, it handles well, and I have no complaints. Add onto this a "Focus" mechanic which slows down time so you can line up your shots, or even use this while driving to make hard turns in a heated chase; only complaint I have is that even with this is fully leveled, it's a tad too short, but luckily Focus Boost pills can refill your energy, and you can carry about 10 of them at any given time, so as long as you stay stocked up, you have a variety of ways to dispatch enemies.

The driving is the worst of the mechanics. It's very arcade-like and you can tell it was taken straight from the Far Cry series. Whereas the driving in Far Cry made sense because of the jungle environment, it doesn't mesh well with a busy metropolitan setting with traffic. If you're used to GTA style driving, this game will take some getting used to, but you'll adjust eventually. The physics are also way off. If I am driving a Prius, and slam full speed into a Dodge RAM, it shouldn't push the pick up truck all the way down to the other side of the intersection. Luckily, the bikes control just like they do in GTA, great speed and handling, and luckily one of the fastest bikes in the game is unlock-able on demand by clearing a table in Poker, very early into the game.

Finally, I have to touch upon the economy, cause if there is one thing Ubisoft never gets right, it's how to implement in-game currency that has any actual value. You'll learn real early into the game that the easiest and best way to get money is to hack bank accounts off random pedestrians. You hack the accounts, then collect all the money you have hacked from a nearby ATM, which this iteration of Chicago has about 40 of them for every block it seems. The problem is, there is absolutely nothing to spend the money on. There are stores in the game, but the problem is, almost everything you can buy, you can get without paying for it. Just breach the cTOS towers in the city, you'll get free weapons beamed right into your inventory. To make matters worse, if you kill an enemy that has a weapon you don't, picking it up ALSO adds it to your inventory. Any ammo or crafting items you can buy are just found when walking over dead enemies. The only thing you can't obtain without paying for is different outfits, and this is stupid, cause it's just the same fucking coat in all sorts of different colors. Look, I get he is supposed to be incognito, despite the fact he is wearing the most conspicuous fucking outfit there is, and also the fact that it wouldn't matter if he donned a mankini and started beating people over the head with a purple dildo. All the civilians KNOW it's him. They take pictures of Aiden on the streets "Hey look! It's the vigilante from the news!"

I am sitting on 2 million dollars right now, and I have no idea what to do with it. Seriously, Ubisoft. Get your shit together.

Side Missions

Finally, I have to cover the side missions. Cause inversely, if there is one thing Ubisoft does REALLY well, it's side activities. There is so much to do in this game that it easily turns a 20 hour game at max into a 60-80 hour game, and unlike some other games I could name, none of these activities seem like pointless busy work. All of them have meaning, are rewarding, and fun. With the exception of the Fixer Contracts, of which there are 40 of, and they start to get repetitive, or the 100 "hot spots" you need to check in at, everything else is just perfectly integrated, and loads of fun, and luckily, Ubisoft as usual does you a favor by telling you where all this stuff is, so no need to go online and find a special map.

There is a whole host of investigations to do, such as breaking up a weapons trading operation, a human trafficking ring, and even bringing to justice a serial killer. There are numerous games to play like Poker, Shell Game, and drinking contests. Gang Hideouts to clear, Criminal Convoys to break up. Then there is the games within the game. AR games like Cash Run where you collect coins in a virtual reality environment and beat the clock, or NVZN, a retro-styled alien shooter.

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But none are more interesting than the Digital Trips, essentially virtual drugs, they affect the auditory system to create vivid hallucinations which turn into extremely fun games, none more fun then Spider-Tank. I mean look at this shit, it's like a whole other game.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XRz5Yl1OHk0

All in all, the side missions are fun, and well worth the 59.99 purchase price alone. Add into this the great story and atmosphere, and you have a very strong recommendation from me. It's AT LEAST a rental.

OVERALL RATING: 8/10

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