Watch Dogs is a sandbox game. You can follow a story or just do anything you want. We’ve seen this before, but the creators made the game stand out by adding the ‘hacking’ part. You can use various elements in the city to your advantage. This makes for an interesting approach and it’s refreshing to see something new in the genre. Not that I would call sandbox games dull – they are, in fact, my favourite games. But there is one thing in particular that makes this game very, very entertaining. We’ll get to that later.
Backalleys or Disneyland?
The game is set in Chicago. The creators did a fine job in crafting a living and breathing city and for a moment, it actually seems like you are there. Thanks in large part to the abundant pedestrians who not only walk and drive but engage in all sorts of activities from playing with a football to beatboxing to just sitting around texting their friends.
If you look closer, some things are odd, though. People hang around where you’d expect them: shopping malls and parks. But also where you wouldn’t: they stand in groups in shady backalleys like it’s Disneyland.
Pedestrians are also shocked when they see you on a motorcycle. Driving on the road, peacefully, makes them react the same way as if you were racing on the sidewalk. NPC’s also never use motorcycles which make these vehicles seem like an afterthought. Other than adding the half-baked motorcycles, they didn’t try to copy a game like Grand Theft Auto in terms totally different vehicles.There are cars, more cars, a few trucks, 2 boats and 2 motorcycles. That’s about it. But a ridiculous sheer amount of vehicles was never the goal and I accept it.
A last note: in the real city of Chicago, I doubt whether every 1 out of 10 cars on the street is a Ferrari or Maserati. It’s not that wealthy. Nonetheless, they have created a satisfying atmosphere for the game.
It plays as expected with familiar mission-types and game mechanics. Sometimes, the game doesn’t feel as polished and refined as, it’s hard not to mention this title, Grand Theft Auto. For instance, motorcycle handling feels awkward, especially when you make a handbrake turn. Also, you cannot lean forward or backward when you jump off a ramp. On the other hand, balancing your motorcycle or car in mid-air isn’t really necessary since it’s nearly impossible to land it on its roof. Sometimes this is a good thing – it makes getaways easier – but at the same time, it feels like a limitation on your freedom of movement.
The online part is blended beautifully in the singleplayer experience. This is where the game really shines. You can do online challenges between singleplayer missions and sometimes, online games start without you knowing, such as when a (real-life, human) hacker is on your tail. The online hacking game is by far the coolest part in the game. You have to get near a player and hack him. He will notice this and must start searching you. The hide-and-seek game that follows is simply brilliant and ont of the most fun things I have played on the internet in years. It’s so much fun to mess around with other people, playing mindgames with them and see them frantically running around chasing their own tail. Of course there are dozens of tricks you can use which I will, obviously, not mention here. But planning and executing a succesful hack is simply one of the most satisfying gaming experiences I have had in years.
I have yet to finish the game’s storyline but frankly I doubt if I ever will. I am having too much fun harassing other players with my elite hacking skillz.
I’d rate this game 9 out of 10.
This review was also published on GameSpot.com.