HANDS-ON: Watch Dogs - PC Retail

HANDS-ON: Watch Dogs

One of the most highly anticipated titles of the year is finally here. PCR accesses the mainframe and lets the Watch Dogs loose…
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One of the most highly anticipated titles of the year is finally here. PCR accesses the mainframe and lets the Watch Dogs loose…

Hotly discussed since its announcement in 2012, Watch Dogs is one of the biggest PC and next-gen console games of 2014 – especially for publisher Ubisoft, which revealed that the open-world hacking adventure is its most pre-ordered new franchise ever, and second-highest pre-ordered game of all time.

The game sees players take control of hacker vigilante Aiden Pearce as he uses an array of cyber skills to track down those responsible for causing personal tragedy in his life – as well as exploring the dangers and questions surrounding a world where everything is electronic.

Throughout a roughly 30-hour story, players will use Aiden’s stealthy tactics and adaptable parkour movement alongside a variety of armaments such as guns and explosives as he battles against gang members, criminals and corrupt policemen, but his deadliest weapon is his mastery of electronic warfare.

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Able to hack into the omnipresent CtOS – or Central Operating System – that runs throughout the game’s gorgeous recreation of Chicago, Aiden can manipulate security cameras, power transformers, rising bollards, traffic lights and more in order to slow, stop and neutralise enemies.

Examples of techno-combat include turning traffic lights at an intersection green as you drive through, causing a pile-up reminiscent of the Italian Job and a big nuisance for any pursuers; luring unsuspecting baddies towards a trap by setting off a car alarm or smartphone ringtone; and disabling the entire city’s electrical grid when cornered, allowing Aiden to slip away into the night.

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The game is wired throughout with modern examples of an always-online world – while walking through the city, Aiden can wirelessly access citizens’ phones to steal funds from online bank accounts, unlock new vehicles, music and items, and trail would-be criminals in order to dish out pre-emptive justice.

Such hacking instances use fun human touches to remain fresh and avoid becoming rote: accessing a passer-by’s phone can result in a short back-and-forth conversation, often punctuated with satirical and realistic uses of emotes, acronyms and txt shrthnd.

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When in hacking mode, Aiden’s phone also displays the details of each smartphone owner – which appear to be completely unique. Details range from hobbies (‘Loves sailing boats’) and careers (‘Former child actor’) to morals (‘Hired killer’) and amusing trivia (‘Owns three cats’), and add a sense of personality and depth to each and every virtual individual.

The game also blends in online multiplayer. Players can hack into other players’ games, in a manner recalling the invasions of the Dark Souls titles, and attempt to install a back-door virus infection onto the player’s phone. The random occurrence of such events can lead to frantic scanning of crowds to try and identify the real-life player before the malware takes hold, making the game mode a unique virtual twist on hide and seek.

Other multiplayer modes include online races, free roam and other cyber-orientated competitions for up to eight players.

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While Watch Dogs’ story and setting address serious topical concerns that are on-going in the real world today, the game also provides plenty of additional content and unlockables, which embody the use of technology for fun.

Side missions include Saint’s Row-style destructive romps through the city – including missions where the player takes on the form of a gigantic robot spider or does battle against bright purple aliens – as well as random occurrences such as crimes, which can be ignored or halted.

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While Watch Dogs may have suffered a delay in arriving in its release, having to be moved backwards from late last year, the game itself hasn’t suffered for it. With hours upon hours of story, activities and exploration on offer in a rich, detailed world which takes advantage of next-gen hardware, Watch Dogs is a cyber-hacking heaven.

Watch Dogs is available now on PC, PS4, Xbox One, PS3 and Xbox 360, with a Wii U release slated for later this year.

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