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One of the first publicly shown next generation games, Watch Dogs has had its ups and downs since its grand unveiling. What was once supposed to be a launch title for the PlayStation 4 was pushed back into 2014, with the game's once majestic graphics seemingly downgraded for last generation systems. Is the game that was once called a “Grand Theft Auto killer” still worth picking up?

At it's core, Watch Dogs has a lot in common with the franchise whose throne its attempting to usurp. As Aiden Pearce, a hacker on the wrong side of the law, you'll look to avenge the death of a family member at the hands of other criminals. It's the classic “anti-hero versus even worse villains” that we've seen played out many times in past Grand Theft Auto games, and it works to some degree in Watch Dogs. While none of the characters are truly likable, and the story often times becomes saddled with trope after trope, it's interesting enough that most players will be likely to see it through to the end. However, the meat of these games is never the story (no matter how much developers and publishers try to convince us otherwise), but rather the gameplay, and that's where Watch Dogs shines.

Watch Dogs is a mix between Grand Theft Auto and Assassin's Creed, in that Aiden will run, shoot, and take cover but at the same time he has a bit of athleticism to him, able to bound over small fences and parkour his way up a wall. He's no Ezio, but he gets the job done. The more enemies you kill, the more experience you'll get, unlocking such skills as better driving and shooting. Standard fare, except for one minor complaint: Aiden can't drive and shoot at the same time, making chase sequences a pain to complete.

The core of Watch Dogs' gameplay, and its one true claim to fame, is the hacking mechanics. Aiden is a professional hacker, able to hack into security systems, cell phones, bank accounts, traffic lights: If it's electronic, Aiden can hack it. Hacking is used to create diversions, to quickly escape from pursuers, or just to spy on a random individual's cellphone conversation. Hacking is also used to identify sidequests, such as gang hideouts, gang convoys and spy missions. Watch Dogs is loaded with content, easily taking the average player 30 to 40 hours to see everything there is to do.

To top off all the single player content is an interesting multiplayer approach, where you can “hack” into another player's game, attempting to follow them around discretely and collect information about them. If you've ever played the Dark Souls series, the multiplayer component is very similar. If you're spotted while hacking into a player's game, a firefight ensues, with the victor gaining points used to unlock extra skills. If you don't want to partake in this, the ability to turn off “invasions” is possible from the Options menu.

Watch Dogs sees release on the big five: PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, Xbox One, and PC. On all systems, the game looks nothing like it did when it was first shown off; however, that's not to say it's a bad looking game. On Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and PC, the game looks fairly decent, with dense crowds and nice looking rain effects being particularly noteworthy. As you'd expect, last generation systems have had to scale back the crowds and detail. Like most multiplatform games, it's worth buying the game for the current generation over the previous one if you have the option available.
Watch Dogs may not be a “Grand Theft Auto killer,” but it's still a great game all on its own thanks to the hacking mechanic. For a first try, it's an amazing effort, and one thing we know about Ubisoft is that the second game in a franchise tends to blow away the first: Compare Assassin's Creed 2 to the original, for example. While Watch Dogs is a good game, and lays the foundations for a great franchise, it's only worth picking up if you are craving an open-world fix. Otherwise, wait for the rumored Grand Theft Auto V to hit the current generation.

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