When I’m playing a game that involves stealth mechanics, I can usually measure my enjoyment of the title with two simple questions. The first is an obvious one: are the stealth mechanics implemented in a meaningful way, and not tacked on? It’s a good start if the answer is yes, but the most important aspect, for me, is how well the game handles itself if you play badly and get caught.
Developer: Ubisoft Montreal
Review Platform: Wii U
Also Available on: PlayStation 3/4, Xbox 360/One, PC
EU Release Date: 21/11/14
NA Release Date: 18/11/14
RRP: £49.99 | $59.99
It’s all well and good when you’re monitoring your enemies, finding the best way to sneak by undetected, but what if you’re spotted? If you’re thrown into a gunfight, outnumbered twenty-to-one, and the mechanics just don’t hold up (Deus Ex: Human Revolution, I’m looking at you) it can make or break your experience with a game.
Thankfully, Watch_Dogs handles many of the important mechanics well. Stealth is extremely satisfying, as you work to infiltrate restricted areas, thanks to protagonist Aiden Pierce’s smartphone. You can opt into doing things the old fashioned way – sneaking up on enemies, taking them out one-by-one – or you can hack into the electronic devices around you. This includes cameras, which allow you to view the facility from the inside, then tapping into other electronic devices from here. You can also remotely access cars, tripping their alarms to cause a diversion, or even certain electrical terminals, which explode and take out any nearby guards.
Usually, missions revolve around hacking into the main server to access data, which in turn, helps progress the story. This involves stealing data from a specific guard, with the required security clearance, and making your way through that particular area – either unnoticed, or guns blazing.
If you choose the latter – or, like me, fail at hiding and get spotted all to often – not to worry. You’ll pick up a plethora of weapons and armaments along the way – from silenced pistols to sniper rifles – so if you want it to, Watch_Dogs can play like a very competent third-person shooter.
So, when you’re immersed in the action, Watch_Dogs is undeniably a lot of fun. Taken at face value – avoiding comparisons with other consoles’ versions – the frame rate is sturdy during these action-packed sections, and the visuals get the job done just fine.
Sadly, it’s when you get in a car that this starts to fall apart. As you build up speed, buildings start to appear from nowhere, and the ground textures ahead look dismal, as they don’t pop-in until you’re virtually driving over them. As for the frame rate, it’s… less than desirable here, and at times it even feels like the game’s suffering from some input latency.
Meanwhile, car chase missions appear a little too often, and these highlight a few other niggles I have with the game. The damage models are less than perfect, the sound effects emit a generic ‘thud’ regardless of the intensity of impact, while a vehicle setting on fire – and later exploding – on-screen causes some serious slow-down to the gameplay.
The sound department, in fact, is a mixed bag. There’s no radio stations, just a stream of songs which repeat themselves, although the attention to detail in terms of effects are often surprisingly neat. For example, you’ll hear the keys jangling as you turn off the ignition in an attempt to hide from a passing enemy or cop.
I’m definitely nit-picking here, but driving through the vast San Andreas in Rockstar’s Grand Theft Auto V has spoiled me, and Watch_Dogs’ interpretation of Chicago city pales in comparison, with no character and generic streets.
That’s not to say that driving can’t be enjoyable, though. There’s fun to be had hacking into draw-bridges, raising them as you blast over the gap, and watching your pursuers skidding out of control in your rear-view mirror as they bail on the idea of following you.
At its core, Watch_Dogs is a good game with a few too many issues to warrant a solid recommendation. The hacking is a nice addition to the usual sandbox formula, but it’s certainly not a must-play. The good missions require strategy and tact, blending a combination of stealth and action into an incredibly immersive game that’s totally worth playing. It’s just a shame that it makes you get in a car between these missions. If you can look past the issue that arise upon doing so, however, Watch_Dogs holds it own for those that haven’t already played a version of the game on another platform.