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Game Info:

Watch_Dogs
Developed By: Ubisoft Montreal
Published By: Ubisoft
Released: May 27, 2014
Available On: Windows (reviewed), PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, Xbox One, Wii U
Genre: Third-person shooter sandbox
ESRB Rating: Mature 17+, Blood, Intense Violence, Nudity, Strong Language, Strong Sexual Content, Use of Drugs and Alcohol
Number of Players: Single player campaign with online multiplayer always enabled
Price: $12.50 on LeapTrade

Watch_Dogs was one of the most hyped games to come out in 2014. It originally started as the darling of E3 2012 but then was delayed until May of 2014. The game promised "next-gen" visuals, unprecedented control over the environment, a massive replica of Chicago, and a world that's always connected. It was even touted by some as a statement to the power of next-gen consoles. So did Watch_Dogs live up these expectations? 

Let's start with visuals. I played the game on PC and was not exactly blown away. I certainly wouldn't say this is a bad looking game, far from it, but it did not live up to it's E3 2012 Trailer. The lighting, weather effects and overall fidelity has been downgraded from that trailer. Fortunately since I played it on PC I was able to mod the game to get it closer to it's original look. Even with it's shortcomings, there's a lot of detail, the character models look good, the animations are mostly natural, and the textures are quality. 

There was not much promised in terms of the plot of the game and they delivered exactly that, not much. The story follows Aiden Pearce, career computer hacker, and his quest for revenge on those responsible for his niece's death. This takes him to the seedy underbelly of near-future Chicago. Here he fights organized crime and corrupt government officials. He enlists a couple of hacker friends to help solve who is responsible for his niece's death. Aiden makes many dubious decisions along the way and some of them end up hurting those around him. The game deals with the topic of justice versus revenge, but fails to nail down a solid definition. There is some interesting parts where it's not clear who the "good" and "bad" people are but that mystery doesn't last very long. I didn't hate the story, but it makes a few annoying missteps towards the end and most of the characters are bland and uninteresting. They do have a pretty playground to play in though.

Watch_Dogs
Highlights:

Strong Points: Impressive replica of Chicago; lots of freedom; good variety of optional content
Weak Points: Online multiplayer is lackluster and can be intrusive; plot is thin and makes missteps
Moral Warnings: Brutal violence, nudity, profanity, sexual content, drug and alcohol use

The replica of Chicago that Ubisoft has put together is impressive in scale but surprisingly restrictive. There are very few buildings that the player can enter and there are invisible walls all around places the player isn't supposed to go. One nice thing though, is that the waterways of Chicago are fully functional and more often than not the best route of escape is to take to the water on a boat. 

How much freedom do players have to control the interconnected Chicago? They can hack traffic lights, road blocks, bridges, ATMs, cars, and anything that is connected to the citywide ctOS. Sometimes players have to search out and hack ctOS towers to gain access to that part of town. Most of the time hacking traffic lights and road blocks is reduced to pressing the "hack" button when you're being chased by the police and it will cause one of them to crash, which is disappointing. Hacking people's bank accounts and ATMs was fun at first but money isn't exactly scarce. There are many times when the player has to hack more complicated security systems. These sections are a modified version of Pipe Dream. The player has to select and adjust different hacking nodes so that the data can flow from Aiden's phone to the target he's trying to hack. It's never very difficult and only the last few hacking sections are interesting puzzles.

The most interesting hacking is done passively with the profiler app on Aiden's phone. Here the player can see various bits of information about anyone that walks by. This information includes name, occupation, yearly income, and one random fact such as hobby, religion, or political stance. This never really gets old as the game goes on despite constantly using it. Sometimes you get interesting combinations like an illiterate poet who makes $50,000/year.  

The game strives to make the cars handle realistically when driven, except when they collide with certain objects like light poles, power lines, news stands, etc. This could be a positive or negative depending on the player. There is definitely a learning curve to the driving and different cars handle very differently. Players can hack and steal cars or have cars provided to them through a service. Gun play is competent, but nothing special. Stealth mechanics are functional but clunky. There is a level in a prison where stealth is required and this is where the weakness and occasional goofiness of the stealth system is on full display. Some prison guards will see Aiden from off screen and others will be oblivious to him standing right behind them. 

Watch_Dogs
Score Breakdown:
Higher is better
(10/10 is perfect)

Game Score - 74%
Gameplay - 14/20
Graphics - 8/10
Sound - 8/10
Stability - 3/5
Controls - 4/5

Morality Score - 35%
Violence - 4/10
Language - 1.5/10
Sexual Content - 0/10
Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 2/10

The player versus player and online features of the game are awkward and lacking. PVP missions feature two teams of 4 facing off to accomplish different objectives in four different game modes. The one I played the most features two teams fighting to secure a briefcase and download its data. I found that, on PC, there was considerable lag and rubberbanding. This seems to be a smoother experience on consoles. 

I've spent a lot of time highlighting the negative aspects of the game so I want to specifically point out areas that the game does well. The skill system is a nice addition, it adds a sense of progression that is sometimes missing in sandbox games. It also adds some nice customization as you can choose to upgrade hacking, combat, crafting, and driving. It is possible to acquire enough skill points to unlock all of the upgrades. There is also a progression system that rewards additional weapons, vehicles, and upgrades for completing different parts of the game. Most importantly the core gameplay is solid. The movement, gunplay, the AI, and cover system all behave like you would expect. The stage is set for the player to have unique and memorable experiences playing the game and that's really what a sandbox game should  strive for.

Watch_Dogs is a true sandbox; you can do almost anything you want. If you want to profile and kill every person of a certain background you can. However there are consequences. If you rob, injure, or kill someone, anyone who witnesses this will call the police. There is a meter that shows the public perception of Aiden. This meter will go up if the player stops crimes and completes certain story missions and it will go down for committing crimes. Non-lethal takedowns are rewarded more than lethal ones. If the meter goes down below a certain threshold it's possible to invade other people's games and hunt them down for a bounty. I found this to be frustrating as the game grinds to a halt once the invasion starts and the invaded player must find the invading player in a set radius. 

Other morality issues in the game includes the player being forced to gamble in a game of poker to advance the story. The player witnesses a sex-trade operation as part of the story. This is seen as very evil and Aiden helps a victim of the sex-trade escape. Portions of the game also take place in gang-controlled areas and there is a lot of gang violence. There is some nudity. Optional hacking has scenes involving masturbation and sex, however neither act is shown directly. The gore level is low, there are some light blood-splatter effects. There is a series of optional alcoholic drinking games as well as simulated hallucinogenic experiences. These are seen as neutral actions in the game. 

Fans of these types of games will have mostly likely played better ones. However if someone has avoided these types of games due to content; Watch_Dogs offers a good alternative. Some objectionable activities, such as drinking and drug use can be avoided completely. Gambling is necessary but minimal. The only crimes that are glorified are speeding and hacking. I spent 30 hours playing the game and feel it was worth my time (main story takes about 18 hours to complete). However, I'm not rushing back to finish all the achievements. I would only recommend this game to discerning adults. 

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Christ Centered Gamer looks at video games from two view points. We analyze games on a secular level which will break down a game based on its graphics, sound, stability and overall gaming experience. If you’re concerned about the family friendliness of a game, we have a separate moral score which looks at violence, language, sexual content, occult references and other ethical issues.

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