Watch Dogs: First Impressions

I’ll be the first one to tell you that I’m not a fan of the GTA type games. That being said Watch Dogs on PS4 is truly a fun gaming experience.

Hacking truly is your weapon.

Singleplayer

After two intro cutscenes, you start controlling Aiden Pearce. A short tutorial explains how to hack and you make your way out of the second Chicago location Ubisoft Montreal introduces you to.  Aiden has a multitude of tools, weapons(lethal/non-lethal), and a smartphone that he can use at a moment’s notice.

The campaign is broken into five acts with each act consisting of a random number of missions. Act 1 has nine missions.  While you can complete the Campaign at a pace you set, in order to unlock the second tier of hacking upgrades a certain Act 1 mission has to be completed. In Watch Dogs everything is connected. In order to profile and hack the NPCs, you are required to install backdoors into the ctOS Monitoring Centers. There are a total of 6 centers. Similar to the DUP Mobile Command Stations in Infamous: Second Son, once the backdoors have been installed the Centers have been successfully hacked. You are now free to profile, hack, and increase your assets (cars and cash, mostly). When you are connected to the district, ctOS Towers located in that district pop up on the World Map, which is accessible by pressing the Touch Pad on the Dualshock 4. Once backdoors are installed into those towers, objects of interest are then visible on the World Map. Waypoints can be activated to easily reach the activity. Fast Travel is also available between hideouts you unlock and the L-train stations. Fast travel is unavailable during certain gameplay modes.

After investing about 1-2 hours of gameplay into Watch Dogs, the city of Chicago became a digital playground for me to enjoy. Your in-game smartphone keeps track of everything you can do in the game. Pressing up on the D-Pad immediately opens the smartphone menu on the right side of your screen. Some of the choices include: On Demand Car App, Online Contracts App, Statistics, Leaderboards, Fixer Contracts, Progression, and a few of the minigames (Cash Run, Digital Trip, and NVZN). In the Progression menu you can see that there are six different categories. Opening up those categories reveals sub categories: Collectibles (6 different types), Investigations (5 types), Online Contracts (4 types, more on that later), Mini Games (6 types), and Side Missions (4 types). Depending on which Side Missions you complete, you can earn XP, Skill Points, or Cash. Earning XP gets you closer to the next level (cap is at 50). When you reach the next level a Skill Point is earned. Using Skill Points allows you to upgrade your skills. The 4 skill categories are Hacking, Combat, Driving, and Crafted Items. The Hacking category alone has 20 different skills.

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Choose the way you want to play. How you take out enemies (lethal, non-lethal) affects your Reputation. The better your Reputation the less chance a citizen calls the Police when you perform an Illegal activity like shooting your weapon and stealing cars.  Your reputation can fluctuate depending on whether or not you are a great driver. I have killed more NPCs with a vehicle. My real world driving skills are top notch but in Watch Dogs I collide with a ton of objects. I even collide with the same objects I hack to keep others from catching me.  I find that the Reputation system is very similar to the Good Karma/Evil Karma in the Infamous games. While I don’t know what effect Reputation has on the end game I am glad it’s in the game because I love playing the way I want to play. Helping people in a game or in real life is satisfying to me.

Multiplayer

Entering the Online mode is as simple as pressing the touchpad and pressing L1 or R1 to switch to Online Contracts. You also have the option to use the Online Contracts App in the in-game smartphone menu.

Earlier I told you that there were 4 Online Contracts. Actually there are a total of 6: Online Hacking (1 versus 1), Online Tailing (1 versus 1), ctOS Mobile Challenge (1 versus 1), Online Race (2-8 players), Online Free Roam (1-8 players), and Online Decryption (3-8 players). Because of the seamless switching between single player and multiplayer your single player experience can become a multiplayer experience at a moment’s notice. Pressing Options on the Dualshock 4 brings up a menu. Selecting the Options section & then the Online section allows a player to turn off Online Invasions. Doing this has consequences. You will lose all of the Notoriety points you have earned by winning the Online events you participate in and any skills you have unlocked will be lost. Also by turning off the Online invasions you will not be able to participate in the Online Hacking and Online Tailing contracts. I suggest that if you don’t want to get invaded then turn this option off early on in the game. I chose to leave this option on because I wanted to experience all of what this game has to offer. I have only been invaded twice as of Friday (May 30th).

In my opinion, the lack of character customization in multiplayer is a necessary component to make the single player world and multiplayer world a single space. When playing in an online session you see yourself as Aiden Pearce while others see you as a randomly generated person. The same goes for you when seeing the other players in your game. Both of you are Aiden Pearce but neither of you look like him in the other’s game. Whether you are in a car or just walking/running around the streets of Chicago your PSN ID is visible above your head/vehicle.

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Online request notifications appear in your game when you least expect them. Four of the six Online Contracts allow you to make a choice on whether to cancel or accept. Upon accepting the request a notification tells you that the player(s) is being searched for and an average wait time appears in the upper left corner of the screen. In all six Multiplayer modes you can continue on with your single player experience until the session starts. Before the session starts you still have the option to cancel the invite. The other two Online Contract modes do not give you the option to accept or deny the request.  When these notifications pop up and you accept them you do not encounter any loading screens or matchmaking lobbies.  The only time I’ve encountered loading screens is when I have created private online sessions and have accepted invites from my PSN friends. Once those loading screens are finished, you can go back to playing single player until the multiplayer session starts. When you are finished playing multiplayer just press the options tab on the Dualshock 4, select quit mission, and boom you are back into Singleplayer mode.

Final Thoughts

At the beginning of this article I stated that I’m not a fan of GTA type games. This statement is still true. While Watch Dogs falls into that category, the amount of hacking you can do makes this game stand apart from GTA type games. Hacking makes this game fun for me. The side missions are repetitive but I’m not getting bored with them.  I actually want to participate in the Multiplayer sessions. Whether I am playing with friends or random people the multiplayer is different and fun. I haven’t cared much about multiplayer in other PS4/PS3 games. I feel that even though the online modes have encountered problems, the multiplayer in Watch Dogs is worthy of being classified as a true current-gen experience. One more thing, I have downloaded the ctOS Watch Dogs companion app to my smartphone. I haven’t played around with it much, but I look forward to being able to interact with my PSN friends when I’m not able to play the actual game at home. So far my only complaint is that sometimes when I am trying to take out an enemy in a non-lethal way I actually climb an object and die because I’m exposed.

We would love for you to continue the conversation in the comments below. Have you picked up Watch Dogs? If you haven’t picked it, up let us know if this article is making you rethink your decision to purchase/play the game. If you are playing this game on a different console what are your thoughts on those versions of the game?

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