Who walks the Watch Dogs? / by Frixos Masouras

Although I am not all fond of calling it a franchise, this probably IS the new Ubisoft franchise and after seeing the backlash it received on release day I wanted to walk in Aiden's shoes. What I felt surprised me. Let's call this a first impression then...

There is darkness at the heart of Watch dogs, darkness which I very much look forward to dissect. This is what struck me as a bit odd while reading all the reviews and disappointment pouring out of the community as we speak. I cannot blame all of them however since graphically, at least, Far Cry 3 throws this game in a crocodile-infested ravine and leaves it repeating the definition of insanity for the better part of a day. Hell, a month. But take a step back, slap yourself and repeat after me "Graphics are NOT everything". If y'all bought into the hypemachine and the NEXT(current!)-GEN GRAPHIX then you are solely to blame!

My partner in crime (yes Andreas, that's you) is much better qualified to analyse just how much little ground there is to cover in that aspect (ya, graphics) in the gaming industry in it's current state.. Graphics aren't going to get much better than they are today until the next proper technological break-through. Which is probably not very far from now! Regardless, a modest PC built now for around 1000 euros (yes, the price KINDA bites...) outperforms both Sony's and Microsoft's current creations, that is no secret. So let's drop the next(current) gen=SUPREMO GRAPHICO WOW thing. Both the PS4 and Xbox One were prematurely released and if Ubisoft can't come up trumps creating that UBER, glittzing, sparkling title then chances are not many dev's can... for now!

I am no graphics-hound, therefore I decided to view the game for what it is. Is it GTA with hacking? Maybe. Is it Far Cry 3 with hacking and less sharks? Warmer. Is the hacking such a big deal in this title, to merit it a "fresh" title in the gameplay aspect? I certainly felt so after 3 hours of gameplay. No spoilers here so lets just say that the player controls Aiden Pearce, a man who has every right to be pissed! He was done wrong, major wrong! And he wants to do some (immoral, at times unjustified) right! Much like other sandbox games, Watch dogs gives you the chance to be anything BUT a saint. Quite the opposite actually and that, by default! There is some god-complex cum major voyeur at play here and it's evident from the start. 

Point your cursor at a civilian and at worst you get to know their full name, a sentence that describes them best, occupation and their income. At best, you can hack them, steal money from them, listen in on conversations and even follow-through on those conversations to track down crimes. Remember Dark Knight? Every phone hacked? Yeah, that. All the time, practically. And it doesn't stop there. I feel that Ubisoft covered the extra mile in making sure that the player feels that they are in control. We are not talking super-powers here but serious technological knowledge, a VERY powerful phone (seriously!) and some friends at dark places. 

The driving is really nothing special although there is a nice selection of vehicles, on and off road with the possibility of a real in-car dash cam which I found nice. I love racing, commentating and reporting on it has been a big part of my life for the past 9 years so I look into driving models of such games carefully. They handle similarly to FC3, again on and off the road plus the dashboard cam makes driving pleasant for me, even when crashing! And there is plenty of driving, which is not a bad thing necessarily. 

The gun play is much tighter than driving and I can't see how anyone can be disappointed by it. It serves its purpose well. What of the hacking though? 

Cameras (LOTS of cameras), phones, pipes, traffic lights (sweet chaos), gates, bridges (did I mention chaos?), ATM's, circuits and I don't even know what else is there since I have a lot of the game to go. The story drew me in instantly. I felt for Aiden and I believe a lot of people overlooked the narrative of the game because "Aw, man! WHY AREN'T THE GRAFIX BURNING MY RETINAS!!!??111one22binary!!?!". Granted, many different boats are rocked in many different ways. My boat, so far, is rocked with the story and the Chicago delivered in Watch dogs. There is a guilty pleasure in having the ability to "peek" into people's personal lives. And you have the freedom to be the vigilante that canonically the game wants to you be, or a grade-A asshole that gets off on wreaking havoc. 

There is a LOT yet to go. But for now I'll don the, now infamous (oh these morning puns...) coat and wield the phone of (seriously) immense power in my search for justice... or is it retribution? 
 

- Frixos Masouras 2014

Watch Dogs is a Ubisoft product through and through, all rights to them.