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Gaming Review

Watch Dogs review (PS4): Open-world hacking game a slow starter

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Released on Tuesday, May 27 2014

Watch Dogs is an open-world hacking game for PC, current and next-gen consoles

© Ubisoft

Watch Dogs protagonist Aiden Pearce


Release Date: May 27 (Worldwide)
Platforms available on: PS4, Xbox One, PS3, Xbox 360, PC
Developer: Ubisoft Montreal
Publisher: Ubisoft
Genre: Action/adventure

There's a strong sense during the opening act of Watch Dogs that Ubisoft's latest could be the victim of its own hype.

The first act is essentially one long tutorial for an open world game without much it can call its own, barring a few hacks and some cheesy dialogue.

Fortunately, as more characters are introduced, more hacks unlocked and new missions opened up, Watch Dogs really starts to come into its own.

The game revolves around hacker Aiden Pearce's attempts to bring the people behind his niece's murder to justice.

Bedbug in Watch Dogs

© Ubisoft

Bedbug is one of the more entertaining supporting characters


After some ham-fisted attempts to evoke sympathy and show the strain on Aiden's family life, Watch Dogs begins to further explore the much more interesting concept that information is power.

The story recovers from a slow start thanks in part to characters such as Quinn, a genuinely menacing mobster whose eerie, softly spoken dialogue leaves a real impression.

As more characters are introduced, more hacks unlocked and new missions opened up, the game really starts to come into its own.

Characters like Bedbug, meanwhile, provide some comic relief, showing equal levels of bravado and cowardice depending on who's watching.

As both manipulator and manipulated, Pearce has the ability to tap into Chicago's infrastructure, hacking everything from cameras to traffic lights, trains to ATMs.

Watch Dogs is an open-world hacking game for PC, current and next-gen consoles

© Ubisoft

Aiden's phone is key to hacking the city


Some of the best missions see Aiden use this power to get the drop on his enemies and gather information to use against them.

There's one particularly memorable sequence, in which Pearce uses a recording to blackmail a low-level street thug in order to gain access to the heavily protected servers at the heart of a gang operation.

During the same multi-level sequence, Pearce must stop an assassination attempt, gain access to a criminal auction using a stolen identity, and safely guide his pawn to safety using the hideout's camera network.

Watch Dogs is occasionally guilty of lacking variety, but this sequence really highlights the strength of the game's hacking mechanic. It's the hacking that makes Watch Dogs feel less like every other open-world action game.

Watch Dogs is an open-world hacking game for PC, current and next-gen consoles

© Ubisoft

Hack traffic lights, bollards and helicopters to escape justice


While games like GTA 5 excel with the bullets flying and rubber burning, Watch Dogs is much better when it forces players to stop and think.

While players can go into hideouts all guns blazing, it's much more rewarding to use forklifts, car alarms, shutters, blackouts and cranes to lure enemies into traps.

With the ability to hack into cameras worn by the occasional guard, you can even access a district's servers from outside of a complex, without engaging the enemy at all.

If and when enemies do give chase, players can escape by hacking lights to cause huge traffic pile-ups, or take out pursuing cars by clocking the rear-view mirror to hack bollards and spikes.


Our favourite means of escape involves jumping over hacked bridges, bursting steam pipes and shaking off remaining helicopters by temporarily jamming their signals.

Fans of the film Drive will also appreciate the low-key police escapes, avoiding the eyes of the law by sticking to side roads, jamming scanners, killing headlights and hiding in back seats.

It's just a shame that while increasingly challenging and entertaining hacking mini-games appear by the dozen, environmental puzzles, such as the one involving satellites and walkways, are kept to a minimum.

It's something that ultimately hurts the pacing of the game, with consecutive missions often revolving around the same objective.

Watch Dogs is an open-world hacking game for PC, current and next-gen consoles

© Ubisoft

Aiden hacks his way into a CtOS tower


Players looking for a change of pace are instead forced to explore the city for side missions and points of interest, hacking phones for funny backstories, cash and even new music to listen to.

We particularly enjoyed accessing apartments for a look at the weird and wonderful residents of Chicago, and making our way to the top of CtOS towers in moments not too dissimilar to Far Cry 3.

Unfortunately, while we were consistently entertained by its residents, Chicago isn't the most memorable open-world environment.

After an opening act bogged down by tutorials and dodgily scripted story sequences, the game removes the shackles, takes some chances and begins to live up to its own hype.

With the exception of Pawnee on the outskirts, the city is a little bland, lacking those wonderful vistas that makes the likes of San Andreas such a magical location.

The water effects are superb and the city looks fantastic during a thunderstorm, but we'd be hard pressed to pick out ten memorable locations.

However, with outlandish 'digital trips' - augmented reality games set on the streets of Chicago - involving giant mechanical spiders and hellacious hotrods, not to mention a fully-integrated multiplayer mode, the game will distract you where the environment can't.

A Spidertank in Watch Dogs

© Ubisoft

Outlandish Digital Trips provide entertainment outside of the main campaign


Rival hackers and street racers are only ever an invitation away, providing a glimpse of a future where the lines between single and multiplayer are increasingly blurred.

Although we would have liked greater rewards and penalties, the technology powering multiplayer is impressive, and there's lots to do, from hacking rivals and hunting fixers, to searching for files and escaping a tablet-controlled police force.

After an opening act bogged down by tutorials and dodgily scripted story sequences, Watch Dogs removes the shackles, takes some chances and begins to live up to its own hype.

Despite its pacing issues, Watch Dogs manages to tell a worthwhile story that's backed up by some novel new ideas in both single and multiplayer.


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