Watch Dogs is the best game Ubisoft has released in years. It has the most interesting and well realised open-world ever created. The combat and multiplayer are downright revolutionary. The story goes to dark corners of the human psyche that most developers would never dare to touch. It reinvents police chases to make them perpetually thrilling and unpredictable instead of a bog-standard annoyance. It contains side-missions that are endlessly addictive, some of the most realistically creepy villains in a video game and a quality story in downloadable content which I ravenously played to completion.
Considering how this game was received, those previous statements may sound insane to some people. I completely understand why. Nobody saw this game for what it was. Just for what they thought it should be. It should have been the spearhead for next-generation consoles. It should have been the game that paved the way for stunning visuals, groundbreaking gameplay and anything else you wished your new PS4 or Xbox One could deliver. And you know what? It’s a damn shame. A shame that nobody realised that Watch Dogs is all that and more.
When I load up my completed save of Watch Dogs, I wait until the dead of night and then walk the streets of Chicago. I breathe in the alleyways. I stroll past dive bars and newsstands. Occasionally, a crime happens and I decide to shut it down before it gets out of control. Then I continue walking. Maybe catch a train or admire some architecture.
The point is, I’m still attached to this world. This world where the Blume Corporation were overconfident with their automated city-wide operating system. Where the Chicago South Club engaged in crimes that no human being should ever be exposed to. Where Maurice Vega waited so long to die and Aiden Pearce is a fugitive whose name is now spoken only in whispers. Long after the story was over, Chicago still felt alive. I still felt unfinished with every street and every building. That’s why walking around at night feels right. There’s a constant underlying menace in Watch Dogs that is still present.
The only reliable company I have on these dark streets is Brian Reitzell’s thrilling score. His electronic melodies filled with tension and sadness reflects Watch Dogs’ present-day cyberpunk. It is an eerie, consistent collection of tracks. Without Reitzell’s work, this game wouldn’t have the final shine that gives Chicago that extra edge.
Details make up the solid foundation of everything here. Like how Aiden runs with his pistol slightly behind his back. Or the way Lucky Quinn looks at people with disgust. Whereas some Ubisoft products seem like a big mess with no sense of cohesion, Watch Dogs feels like a deliberate world. It’s littered with attention to the most ignored corners of itself. Nobody needed to write interesting, funny and disturbing stories when Aiden spies on people’s apartments. But those stories are there.
Ironically, it was the marketing of Watch Dogs that sold it short. Without that nine minute presentation at E2 2012, the response to it would have been very different. Instead of combing through every frame of footage to see how the light reflected off park benches, people may have allowed the tale of Aiden Pearce and his dead niece to stand on its own merits. Because when I did that, I discovered a thrilling open-world that I never wanted to leave.