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This article was published on June 8, 2014

Watch Dogs review: This long-awaited game is addictive, but mostly a mess

Watch Dogs review: This long-awaited game is addictive, but mostly a mess
Owen Williams
Story by

Owen Williams

Former TNW employee

Owen was a reporter for TNW based in Amsterdam, now a full-time freelance writer and consultant helping technology companies make their word Owen was a reporter for TNW based in Amsterdam, now a full-time freelance writer and consultant helping technology companies make their words friendlier. In his spare time he codes, writes newsletters and cycles around the city.

The hype since E3 2012 for Ubisoft’s Watch Dogs has been continued since it was unveiled at E3 2012. Many who watched that early game footage, like I did, reacted with a collective “whoa.”

Watch Dogs represented next-gen gaming at its best.  However, at E3 last year it became clear that the game had obviously not quite worked out the way the company had promised it would, with many of the graphics and dynamics of hacking pared back over the preceding year.

Then, Ubisoft announced it was delaying Watch Dogs because it didn’t have enough “polish,” a fact that gave me hope the company would make up for going back on its word and would bring the game back to its previously promised glory.

Awesome, fun and terrible – all at the same time

Over the last two weeks I’ve been playing Watch Dogs for Xbox One and what I’ve seen has been a mix of awesome, fun and terrible – all at the same time.

The game is such a mixed bag that sometimes it’s a total chore to play, but at others it’s totally addictive. The concept of Watch Dogs is an interesting one. You’re in a world that’s not too distant from now, but with a centralized operating system (ctOS) that connects all electronics to one another so they can work in harmony.

Your character, Aiden, is a grey-hat hacker who is able to hack essentially anything connected to the network and exploit it to your heart’s content. On top of this, you’re able to ‘profile’ anyone in the city as they walk past using your mobile phone and find out about their past and any scandalous things they’ve done.

Watch Dogs is an interesting fusion of free-roaming games like Grand Theft Auto and other games like Assassins Creed. You’ve got the ability to go anywhere and do almost anything on a relatively large scale, but unlike Grand Theft Auto, Watch Dogs has an extra layer of interesting depth in the ability to hack the city and people around you and cause major events to happen as a result.

Like any free-roaming game, Watch Dogs has a main storyline that you follow plus a series of side missions that you can choose to complete. As you roam around, these are revealed on screen and can be picked up at any point along the way. There’s a range of side missions available, such as ‘Fixer Contracts’ in which you need to move a ‘hot’ car somewhere safer, without being caught by the police.

There are a bunch more side missions, for example ‘Gang Hideouts’ where you infiltrate a gang’s hideout and take down the boss to embarrass him for something he did. Then there’s ‘Convoy’, where you intercept a gang’s convoy before it reaches its destination and kill its drivers.

All of these elements are quite fun and addictive, especially at first. I certainly can’t say I’ve played a game that’s similar to Watch Dogs in terms of the fascination I had at being able to interact with the world by changing the traffic lights and causing major accidents or exploding a transformer to impede a police chase.


Unfortunately, while Watch Dogs is fun, it’s an unfinished, buggy mess. For example, when I started out with the game, I completed the first few main missions and decided to pick up a side mission, which was one of the Fixer Contracts I mentioned earlier.

What I discovered quickly is that the game’s car driving is sometimes near impossible to use. In this first mission, all I had to do was evade the police but didn’t succeed until 20+ attempts later. Not only is the driving floaty and uncontrollable, often the poor draw distances in the game mean that you can’t see a wall or turn coming before it’s too late.

Driving is better in low-powered cars, mostly because you’re only able to move at a much slower pace, but half of the fun is tied up in the driving at ridiculous speeds with these types of games and I just find myself hating it for the most part.

The other problem I found during this very first mission, is that while police chases are fun and generally more interesting than GTA (you can take-down police cars in a variety of ways, such as by changing the traffic lights and causing accidents), the police don’t actually try to arrest you.

Yes, they will try and corner you and get you off the road quite successfully, but instead of tackling you and stripping you of your weapons and money, they instead will just try to kill you over and over.

This oversight signalled laziness to me; why would the developers not allow you to be arrested? There’s a full police precinct in the game, so it would make sense to have it as at least one of the police-chase eventualities.Oh, and if you want a sure fire way to get away from the police, just use a boat.

As it turns out, the police can’t go on the water at all. This all might sound picky, but even many of the ‘hacking’ dynamics that Ubisoft trumpeted so boldly are entirely pointless during missions. You’re encouraged to stay concealed and not be detected by guards in order to complete missions, instead of hacking cameras and getting your objective unlocked via these electronic means.

Sadly, it’s actually easier to just sneak around and pick off the guards one by one (as seen above), than complete your mission unhindered. Yes, if you complete the mission without doing this, it is kind of fun, but the problem is that there’s no point doing it the correct way as it’s often significantly harder. Unfortunately, these bugs/oversights do not end there and the game just lacks that overall polish that Ubisoft delayed it for. Sometimes you’ll get stuck in between a pole and a wall, sometimes your car will unexpected blow up, flip (when a car flips, you just pop out through the underside perfectly fine) or get stuck for no particular reason.

There are graphical and physics glitches galore, too, such as train tracks that connect at 90-degree angles(?!) as well as trains that stop on a dime if you drive in front of them. Perhaps most frustrating, is while all objects in the game collapse like toothpicks when you hit them, trees are completely solid and stop you in your tracks if you hit them.

The below video illustrates hundreds of these bugs that all degrade the experience to the point of silliness.

I desperately want to love Watch Dogs and do enjoy it at times, but the game is just so far from finished that it’s disappointing. After playing for an hour or two, you’ll likely do what I did and give up in utter frustration before coming back for more later.

Addictive but disappointing

Watch Dogs is an insanely addictive game which you may enjoy playing, but it’s nowhere near where it was promised to be.

While it’s a fun take on an old genre, the game’s dynamics are disappointingly broken, which will probably leave you utterly frustrated on a regular occasion. They’re interesting enough that you’ll find yourself hooked and amazed by the game’s premise, but you are likely to quickly discover that much of it is only on the surface and how the game’s hacking dynamic is a let-down.

I loved some of the different hacks you can do, such as jamming a police guard’s radio so he can’t call for backup, or rendering a helicopter unusable by overloading its circuits. It’s certainly fun, but after a while all it seems like you’re doing is exploding stuff and killing guards.

Perhaps you can overlook these bugs and enjoy the fun new dynamics in Watch Dogs. There is a lot to do in the game, with lots of depth to the city and amazing amounts of detail given to each person on the street, as well as a bunch of mini-games hanging off the side, such as ‘Alone’, a mode in which the city is abandoned and controlled by robots.

Watch Dogs is certainly unique; it’s just a pity that Ubisoft decided to ship the game now instead of spending a bit more time trying to get it right. I think Watch Dogs could have been the defining ‘next-generation’ game for the Xbox One and Playstation 4, but it’s missed the mark.

Watch Dogs is available now for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 and PC. We tested the Xbox One version.

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