Instead of using its unique premise in creative ways, Watch Dogs adheres to the open-world formula in a strict way, making this a derivative title.
Watch Dogs is a lavishly produced open-world game with one of the most enthralling premises in some time: what if you could point your smartphone at a random person on the street and see their income, age, recent browsing history, occupation and medical conditions? Watch Dogs sees the world we’re living in today (a world where everyone has a computer in their pocket with their most private information) and re imagines it as a playground where you can not only spy random people, but also hack everything that’s run by a computer. Sadly, hacking, the core of the game, is never put to good use and the uninspired plot and repetitive mission design make Watch Dogs a run-of-the-mill experience with a lot potential that’s never fully realized.
There have been several games about gaining access to computer data before, but none of them of this scope. So how does hacking computers in Watch Dogs is like in practice and more importantly, what are its limits and why are you able to hack everything in this recreation of Chicago? In Watch Dogs you can hack smartphones to get information, traffic lights to stop pursuers and cameras to see inside private residences. Pretty much every electronic device can be hacked because the American city is run by ctOS, a supercomputer that controls everything, allowing hackers to do as they please. In the game, you assume the role of Aiden Pearce, a trenchcoat-wearing vigilante who has recently lost his niece in a car accident after some hitmen crashed into him. The hacktivist wants revenge so he will do everything he can to find the people responsible and make them pay for what they did even if that means destroying Chicago, spy its inhabitants and gain access to every electronic device in sight.
This translates into missions where you shoot enemies in parking lots and steal information from them, you tail someone keeping a discrete distance, hack bridges so that the police can’t catch you or infiltrate inside government buildings to download incriminating videos. Although there’s nothing particularly unique about these missions, driving, shooting and training feels natural enough that I enjoyed most of them.
Apart from the story missions, this version of Chicago is filled with side activities to participate in, including crime-solving, fixer contracts, human trafficking investigations, weapons trade, poker games, online hacking, and chess and drinking games. Additionally, as you progress through the game so does your character. The more enemies you kill and the more missions you complete, your character gains experience and leveling up grants you skill points you can spend on different branches of a skill tree that include combat, crafted items, driving on hacking perks.
There are some online missions where you can hack other players. Once initiated, you go to the vicinity of the other player and wait until a bar fills and then escape. The other player needs to investigate the surroundings to find you and kill you before you steal their money. It’s worth mentioning that these missions take place even when you don’t want to, so you might be exploring the world or driving from mission to mission and still be interrupted by an online mission. And, like most modern open-world games, there are online races. Personally, I don’t understand who would want to participate in online races in a game that’s not about racing, but this game has that.
In the 20 hours or so I spent playing Watch Dogs I kept seeing flashes of brilliance. What it could have been but it wasn’t. The premise of the game was promising, but it never fully delivered. Being able to hack everything in a modern city, glancing at someone and seeing their most private secrets and manipulating the environments using an app on your smartphone. It all sounds phenomenal in theory, but in practice, Watch Dogs is another open-world game with tedious mission design and an uninspired story.