Watch Dogs review (PS4): Not the next-gen smash we were after, but more than enough

PS4, Xbox One; Ubisoft Montreal; £40

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The Independent Tech

With another story this week warning Apple users to change their passwords, or face a ransom to have their phones unlocked, Ubisoft have released their open-world hacking adventure at an apt time.

Many were frustrated when Watch Dogs was delayed from its original launch date of November last year, but wouldn’t we rather wait for the finished product rather than one rushed to meet the PlayStation 4/Xbox One release dates? As a result of the wait, the pressure on Ubisoft to present something which justifies the hype surrounding its next gen title has been huge. Thankfully, Watch Dogs largely delivers.

Though the graphics aren’t quite as impressive as those promised at E3 two years ago, they are solid nonetheless. The gloomy world of Chicago which protagonist Aiden Pearce inhabits sets the scene for a battle of morality, as a vigilante who can hack into practically anything seeks revenge for the murder of his niece. A nice touch is that information on people’s personal details such as “widower with three children” might cause a guilty pang before stealing their money. But the delay doesn’t last long.

The elements of stealth within Watch Dogs is a great contrast to the open-world environment. There are obvious comparisons to be drawn with Grand Theft Auto, particularly with the option of following the structured missions or taking on varied tasks dotted around town - or simply cruising around to explore. The smooth, slick, driving makes navigating the city a pleasurable experience, although perhaps less challenging than GTA, with impacts much more forgiving. The ability to hack the traffic lights and leave chaos behind you as they all turn green is particularly fun. Ubisoft’s Chicago doesn’t have as much charm as Rockstar’s San Andreas, nor does its residents, though there are definitely characters worth meeting.

While the game opens to an epic beginning, the narrative doesn’t always manage to hold full attention, and Pearce can lack pizzazz.  Away from the story there are loads of missions – there certainly isn’t any scrimping on the amount of content with 100 hours of gameplay apparently on offer. Though there’s already been facepalms from users who noticed that you can avoid police detection by jumping in the water.

Of course the thing that sets Watch Dogs apart is the wealth of information at the tip of your hands. The hacking mechanic is undoubtedly innovative and soon you’re into the mentality of wanting to immorally hack everything around you, from CCTV cameras, to vehicles or residents’ mobile phones and ATMs, at the click of a button. But because it is only one click of a button, it feels like Ubisoft could’ve been slightly smarter with the challenges and consequences of the crime.

Despite some interesting new approaches to the open world experience, some of the areas in which it excels can already be found elsewhere. But Watch Dogs has been worth the extra wait, and it's just the beginning of the potential for next gen gaming.