High tech 'Watch Dogs' worth the wait

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The wait is finally over for Ubisoft Montreal’s “Watch Dogs.”

After five years of development and nearly two years since it was first announced, this take on the open-world genre is ready to be released. A development period like this one brings lofty expectations. Judging by the game’s quality, “Watch Dogs” is worth the wait. Ubisoft may have found their next big franchise.

'Watch Dogs'

Rated: Rated M for Mature

Price: $59.99.

Platform: PS4 (reviewed), PS3, Xbox One, Xbox 360, PC.

It’s no easy task to make waves with a new open-world title. Rockstar Games’ “Grand Theft Auto” series casts a large shadow over the genre, while the popular “Saints Row” series has carved its own humorous niche. “Watch Dogs” proves there’s still room for innovation -- in this case, the power of modern technology.

Rather than focus on guns, the protagonist Aiden Pearce’s strongest weapon is his phone; a handy little tool that can hack into nearly any electronic device in Chicago. The city is connected by an invention called ctOS, or Central Operating System. Pearce is able to hack into this program, giving him control over traffic lights, bridges, security systems and even the city’s water system with the tap of a touchscreen. This power is integrated into the driving and shooting that is typically found in open-world games.

Not only is Chicago’s infrastructure accessible, but so are the citizens. In the digital age of people putting their entire life story in their phones, that means it’s up for grabs for a skilled hacker like Pearce. Every non-playable character that Pearce passes can be hacked to view personal information, and robbed if they have enough money in their bank account.

Pearce wields the most powerful tool of all: information.

His power transfers perfectly to the player, giving a level of control that isn’t found in other similar games. He plays like a superhero, but not one that is defined by brute strength.

Having control of the inner workings of an entire city proves to be terrific gameplay mechanic.

When power like that is up for grabs, there’s always a long line of usurpers who want it for their own. Pearce finds himself in a world where hackers are constantly trying to outdo each other, stealing and trading the city’s secrets to the highest bidder. The stakes are raised when his rivals begin to target his sister and nephew.

The 15-to-20-hour story gets convoluted at times, with its hacker vs. hacker and double-crossing twists and turns. The constant is Pearce’s drive to protect his family. Apart from that, it’s occasionally difficult to tell what the other players are really after.

The main story is just the top layer of everything one can do in this gorgeously realized virtual Chicago. It’s easy to pass the time just joyriding around the neighborhoods and seeing the many sights around one of the country’s largest cities.

Pearce has options to stop criminal activity or head to a bar for a drink or play a game of chess. More than 50 hours will pass before seeing every little detail this game has to offer.

After the storyline comes the multiplayer, and “Watch Dogs” manages to make that feel unique as well. The Decryption Mode is a chaotic take on Kill the Carrier. Players will have to carry a file long enough to download its contents. Holding the file means every other player is gunning for the carrier. Mixing the action up on foot and behind the wheel makes this mode a manic free-for-all of fun.

Other modes include races where players race to the finish line, but while hacking the city causing wrecks and mayhem in their path.

“Watch Dogs” proves there is still plenty of room for growth. The game is certainly worth its long wait, and a fantastic first entry in what is sure to become a long-running franchise.


Max Parker is The Game Guy at communityvoices.sites.post-gazette.com. Twitter: @GameGuyPGH.

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