First things first: Watch Dogs’ title; the name implies some sort of collective group looking out for the citizens of the world (or in this case Chicago). However, what Watch Dogs provides is a bit of a vacuum of just that. The story centers on Aiden Pearce, but he is far from any form of vigilante. Sure, Ubisoft wants to paint a picture where Aiden is painted in some shade of grey, but mostly he only wants to save his family and try and forget a past betrayal that occurs in the very beginning of the story. In fact, if not for Damien Brinks (your partner in the first mission) holding Aiden’s sister hostage, the entire game would not have taken place. Aiden begins his journey as Damien’s pawn in trying to uncover some sort of grand scheme involved in their last heist together, and is then placed in the middle of a war between a hacking group called “Dedsec” and a security company called Blume. Aiden must at this point blur the line between champion of the people and destroyer of people, in a mish-mash sort of nonchalant attitude that simply does not compel you to play with any constraint in either manner.
Aiden has very few ways to accomplish the tasks given to him by Damien, mainly his phone and his guns.
Now that the explanation of the unimportant story is out of the way, the next issue is the gameplay. Overall, the game gives you every minigame and sidequest mission on your map immediately, and each of these can be done to give you unique weapons to aid you in the story and are for the most part completely optional. Upon my play-through of the game, my immediate reaction was to complete the side missions and mini-games first, as I did not want to rush through an expensive game. Doing this was a mistake for several reasons: they were repetitive and extensive, the rewards were not great and they were genuinely not fun. I found myself upset with the overall product of the game and had only played three or four story missions. The continual pop-ups of side missions as I drove through Chicago were maddening and it felt never ending. I then decided that I was bored with the game and decided that I would then rush through the story and trade the game in frustration.
There was a problem I ran into trying to do this; I really enjoyed the variety and gameplay associated with the story missions. On one mission I would go from feeling like a secret agent (like Ubisoft’s Splinter Cell), sneaking past several dozen enemies without them knowing I was even there, and then on the next mission I was pulling out an automatic shotgun in slow motion and killing dozens more in slow motion (like Terry Cruz in Expendables). I never cared about the story and it never bothered me, because the main quest missions were so well designed and fun with several different ways to accomplish them. The cover system was fantastic and very reminiscent of another one of my favorite Ubisoft franchises, Ghost Recon, and the guns were gratifying and unique all their own with each gun being useful in its own situation. It was at this point I felt my best about my purchase and was extremely happy with the game, but before I knew it, the 20-something missions were over, and all I was left with was an uneventful multiplayer and mini-games.
Overall, I loved the main story missions, the gunplay and the cover system, but I disliked the driving (the crashes felt like the cars weighed 12 pounds apiece), and the side quests. It felt as though Watch Dogs was at its best in an area that had the least amount of content, but at its worst in an abundance of areas. Watch Dogs wants to be Grand Theft Auto 5, but simply does not know how to accomplish the task, and seems unwilling to try. If you do buy Watch Dogs, just try and balance your time between the side quests and the main story to ensure you are never bogged down. Also, if you are being chased by the police in the game, just jump in the water—apparently their police AI doesn’t know how to follow you. If you want a “next-gen” Grand Theft Auto experience, just wait for Grand Theft Auto 5 to be ported to the new systems and save your money.