Feature Article

Watch Dogs: What Can You Do Besides Hacking?

Looking for distractions.

If you've been paying even the slightest bit of attention to Watch Dogs, you'll know there's one dominant theme that runs throughout Ubisoft's latest open-world action game: hacking. This is, after all, a story that concerns itself with our modern reliance on technology and all the ways one clever individual can exploit our personal information.

This focus on hacking extends beyond the narrative. Your ability to tap into Chicago's citywide security infrastructure is a central part of Watch Dogs' gameplay, in the way you deploy distractions to quietly sneak past security guards and tamper with traffic signals to evade police during a high-speed chase.

It's enough to make you wonder: is there anything in Watch Dogs that doesn't have to do with hacking? As it turns out, the answer is very much "yes." At a Watch Dogs preview event last week, I challenged myself to spend as much time as I could exploring the gameworld in search of missions and activities that had nothing to do with popping firewalls or bypassing mainframes...which I'm pretty sure are actual hacking terms.

At any rate, here's what I got up to.

Head outside of Chicago and you'll find yourself in beautiful Pawnee, the Paris of America.

Hitting the road

Within the first few minutes of Watch Dogs, you meet a character named Jordi Chin. Despite an eccentric personality and hair best described as adventurous, Jordi is a man who can help you get things done. He is, as they say, a fixer.

For the first few missions, you might call on Jordi to deliver you a boosted car when you're in a pinch, or set you up with black-market weaponry when the stuff you have access to just isn't cutting it. But in time, Jordi's connections open up a new series of missions outside the main storyline: driving contracts.

I challenged myself to spend as much time as I could exploring the gameworld in search of missions that had nothing to do with hacking.

These missions allow Aiden to earn some extra cash on the side by serving as the wheelman in a number of less-than-legal scenarios. They can be as simple as decoy missions, where you drive a hot car around town for long enough to keep the police distracted while your criminal pals do whatever it is they need to do.

More complex, however, are the getaway and showroom missions. Getaways have you picking up a car someone has ditched because things got too hot, while showroom missions have you breaking into luxury dealerships to make off with brand-new sports cars. In either scenario, you'll need to deal with tenacious police, giving you the opportunity to test out some of the interesting vehicular stealth mechanics Watch Dogs employs. Personally, I'm a fan of pulling into a garage, cutting the engine, and slinking down in the driver's seat with the hope that the police won't get close enough to see you through the window. It doesn't always work, but it's a neat twist on the standard technique of simply outrunning the cops. Plus you feel like Ryan Gosling from the opening scene of Drive, which is really the closest most of us will ever get to feeling like Ryan Gosling.

Games within the game

Watch Dogs can get pretty serious. Aiden Pearce is a talented hacker who pisses off the wrong people, and they make him pay for it by going after his family. The story that follows deals with the way people process grief while wrestling with feelings of helplessness.

But it's also quite silly at times, a fact most easily seen within the various in-game video games. Yes, Aiden's phone can be used for more than just hacking: it's how he unwinds after a long day of vigilante justice.

There are a couple of interesting augmented reality games to be found in Watch Dogs. NVZN is a wave-based arcade shooter where Aiden has to take on swarms of polygonal aliens, running around shooting enemies only he can see as pedestrians walk by and wonder who this absolute madman is. Then there's Cash Run, which tests your parkour abilities by spreading a trail of 8-bit-style gold coins across all manner of surfaces. This one's a time-based game where you need to free-run as quickly and nimbly as you can while avoiding nasty skull things that add time to the clock.

The digital trips in Watch Dogs are a bit crazy.

Far more interesting than that stuff, however, is a collection of elaborate transformations of Chicago called "digital trips." These are more or less a combination of video game and drug-induced hallucination. I say "drug-induced hallucination" because you acquire the games by strolling up to a sketchy man, selecting the one you want, and then tumbling to the ground while clutching your head as the screen begins to transform in a swirl of colors. So, you know, basically your standard trip to GameStop.

Anyway, digital trips are way bigger, way crazier games than those AR activities. The one I enjoyed most is called Tank. In this game, you control a giant robotic spider that can dash straight up skyscrapers and leap a few dozen feet into the air. It's pretty much just mindless destruction as the game throws different objectives your way, such as destroying four helicopters or demolishing three rooftop satellites. Think of it as a Japanese kaiju movie come to (virtual) life as you skitter along, laying waste to Chicago and earning skill points to further your destruction. It's especially interesting because the scope and sense of movement feel absolutely nothing like Watch Dogs--it's as if the development team borrowed the city layout and snuck an entirely different game in there.

Another digital trip I tried out was called Madness. This one transforms Chicago into a reddish hellscape, putting you behind the wheel of a nasty muscle car as you run over demons for their souls. It's...weird. The whole thing felt like a grindhouse version of Carmageddon, an interesting distraction from the very serious Watch Dogs storyline if nothing else.

While you may think this man is stressed over his poker hand, it's actually because Aiden hasn't washed that jacket in months.

A bit of street justice

Some of the other side missions you'll find in Watch Dogs include raiding gang hideouts and taking on heavily armored convoys. I'm cheating a little bit here because you have to profile civilians (hack their phones, basically) to find the location of these activities, but once you've found them, the missions themselves can be completed without any technical wizardry whatsoever.

Gang hideout missions are little combat sandboxes that present a large, well-fortified base and a simple goal: get to the gang leader by any means necessary. You can employ stealth or run around like a madman--it's up to you. But you have to take down the leader non-lethally, because simply killing him isn't part of your goal. You want to teach him a lesson, use him to show fellow gangs that somewhere in Chicago exists a mysterious man--let's call him Shmaiden Smearce--who isn’t going to take this anymore.

...it's as if the development team borrowed the city layout and snuck an entirely different game in there.

Convoy missions, on the other hand, require you to wipe out an armored car at the center of a fleet of vehicles and then take out the crew inside. If you're like me, your first instinct is probably to steal a fire truck and then plow those vehicles straight into Lake Michigan in one fell swoop. Turns out, my first instincts are pretty terrible. A more effective tactic is to craft remote explosives, plant a few on the road, and then wait for just the right moment before hitting the switch. It's not as exciting as the fire truck approach, but it gets the job done.

Both these types of missions can be found in various places throughout Chicago, and they all help you earn the experience points necessary to unlock new skills in what is a fairly elaborate upgrade tree. Some of those unlocks are pretty fascinating, like the ability to trigger a citywide blackout to flee from your pursuers, while other are a little more predictable, like Watch Dogs' take on the popular focus mechanic that lets you slow down time during a shootout. Still, there are a ton of new abilities to choose from, and it seems like you'll want to check out plenty of side missions to explore the full extent of that skill tree.

Odds and ends

Finally, we arrive at the odds and ends. What happens when Aiden is just strolling around Chicago looking to kill a little time, not embark on some dangerous gang raid or crazy hallucination? Well, you can always pop into a clothing store to choose from any number of new hats and trench coats to suit your vigilante lifestyle. Maybe brown isn't your color. Maybe you want a black trenchoat, or a snow white one, or the classiest shade leather known to man: magenta.

Watch Dogs multiplayer doesn't so much feature friends as it does frenemies.

You can also swing into a coffee shop to play chess against fellow patrons, or simply buy a cup of joe to quickly refill your focus meter. If you'd prefer something a little more high-stakes, there are various bars throughout the city where you can engage in drinking games with strangers. These simple minigames boil down to moving an increasingly uncooperative reticle over an increasingly hazy target until you fail or your challenger drinks himself to sleep. But don't think you'll be able to drive drunk: Aiden has the metabolism of a superhero, sobering up pretty much immediately upon leaving the bar.

And of course, we haven't even touched on what happens when you're minding your own business and another player begins hacking you, invading your world and forcing you to search them out among a throng of nondescript civilians. Take them out quickly and you'll boost your online XP, unlocking online-specific combat perks. Freak out and start accusing every civilian on the street of being a hacker and you'll have tasted the sweet flavor of irony. Either way, you really should find that other player.

That's more or less what I was able to find during the handful of hours I played Watch Dogs. I'm sure I missed plenty of side missions--the map screen is absolutely crammed with mission icons--but hopefully this gives you an idea of what you can find in Watch Dogs when you take some time off from the main storyline and all the opportunities for hacking it provides.

For more on Watch Dogs, including more details on multiplayer and my thoughts on the story, be sure to check out GameSpot later this week.

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Discussion

114 comments
klorglork1
klorglork1

Parks and Rec reference in Watch Dogs?!?

youre_a_sheep
youre_a_sheep

I hope this game is more like Sleeping Dogs and Deus Ex HR than GTA.  Side missions should enhance your ability and options to complete the story rather than merely serve as distractions.

smokeless_0225
smokeless_0225

I don't really know what people have to complain about this article. It's pretty much on MINIGAMES ONLY! There is still so much to the whole game that we don't really even know yet. I actually think this game will be great! Will it be a 10? Probably not but I'm still super excited about it!

Trev9421
Trev9421

I'll enjoy the annoying people long before I buy the actual game.

balrogbane
balrogbane

This is a far better read than a resolution article, bravo Shaun.

Tuckpoint
Tuckpoint

Good article Shaun, thanks for answering questions gamers care about.

Kinguard73
Kinguard73

I will get this...eventually... kinda busy focusing in on FFARR for PS4 right now but it looks good from the screenies.

macatk78
macatk78

"...Pawnee, the Paris of America" ... Classic, made my morning. :)

virtualskill
virtualskill

Looks like some winner ideas. Especially giant robot spider & the Dark Souls style online : D

balrogbane
balrogbane

I hope for Ubisoft's sake this game incredible cuz if not they'll have a real s***-storm on their hands.

cyloninside
cyloninside

graphics look great on PS4.... i dont think there will be much difference between PS4 and PC versions.

chieflion
chieflion

I love the enterable buildings...

thats like my crack in games these days...

enterable buildings...mmmmmhmmmm....

Truly though, love how its not taking itself Super Seriously. I like minigames, i like teaching gang bosses lessons, im going to like this game regardless of its number.

jski
jski

Its funny all the people that dislike the mini games. I think it adds some flavor and life. In Far Cry 3 I would regularly stop and play cards with the locals. It felt real and I enjoyed it. I like to get lost in these open world games and I am glad they offer these options. And yes, I was THAT guy in GTA4 that enjoyed going and playing darts, and getting shit faced with my friends. Sounds like the game is shaping up nicely.

warriors30
warriors30

I will definitely buy this game on PC, for two reasons: Graphics and modding. Good article, Shaun.

Microsteve
Microsteve

The digital trips sound great fun :)

isshiah
isshiah

Sounds good. I was hoping for more storytelling with my side missions, but ubisoft seems fond of repetition. 

troller83
troller83

waaay to high expectations.......smells like trouble

vibroknife
vibroknife

After reading this I could not be more uninterested. It will probly being as boring as GTA, and as repetitive as GTA. What a overhyped pile of crap. THIS is what they have to offer for a open world chicago with HACKING? Do you know how much missed potential there is in that?

Dragerdeifrit
Dragerdeifrit

a bit dissapointed that the robotic spider its actually just a drug mini game, nothing wrong with a twist of sci-fi in a game like this, i imagined Aiden being such a treath that the goverment had to send the big guns and mech spiders against him lol.


Anyways the game looks great, glad to hear that theres so much to do, i just hope we don't fight the same gang members and mafia guys through the whole game.


This'll be the first "next-gen" game i'll truly enjoy i guess. i didin't like infamous nor Ttanfall. both were very simplistic and featureless. Watchdogs seems like will be worth the full price.

redmac27
redmac27

Loving the Parks & Rec reference

XNEXUS666X
XNEXUS666X

Not really interested in playing cards, but I'll be hanging at the cafe drinking coffee quite a bit.

Baconelite
Baconelite

What brand of toothpaste would you recommend?

LiquidGold
LiquidGold

I came to see gameplay all i got was wrods :(

endorbr
endorbr

Definitely seeing at least one episode of The Shaun Method in this games future.

HipHopBeats
HipHopBeats

That black dude with the skull hoodie looks like Biggie Smalls.

MN121MN
MN121MN

@balrogbane  Well, they postponed half-a year just for this game, so I'd bet they would want to make it that better...

scorpioisrising
scorpioisrising

@cyloninside BIG DIFFERENCE actually the PC version will support higher quality textures and much better AA and AF also supports better shadows and a more realistic dynamic lightning. Also if you own a Nvidia graphic card you can enable TXAA and HBAO+ making the game look even better

MN121MN
MN121MN

@cyloninside  I don't know, while I expect it to be that, there's that NVidia on the other hand....

jski
jski

@chieflion Totally agree. A GTA6, or Watchdogs where I can explore and play in every nook and cranny of every building and I might as well just hook up an occulus and check out.

youre_a_sheep
youre_a_sheep

@jski I generally dislike mini-games because they take resources from the main game.  It's the same gripe as when multiplayer is tacked onto a single player game.

warriors30
warriors30

@vibroknife  You should make a game then. Show us how easy it is. I'm sure you're much smarter than the people at Ubi or Rock*. You can download Unity 4 or UDK right now, click the "Make open world game button", and you're done. Right?

surfepic
surfepic

@XNEXUS666X I will play a card game, and as soon as I discover I have no money left, I will take my gun and shoot them all, take their money and run away to the café and have some drinks, as I watch the sunset trough its windows.

lunar1122
lunar1122

@scorpioisrising @cyloninside  Amd owners are able to use HBAO+ as well. Just not txaa..     Txaa is crap anyway compared to MSAA so thats hardly an issue for anyone

Wistful_Gamer
Wistful_Gamer

@youre_a_sheep @scorpioisrising@cyloninside  Educate yourself. Don't think too much about TXAA and MSAA and their brothers (they are all AA techniques), just know what AA and AF and SSAO are :)

That is,of course, if you care to know what they mean, they are basically graphical options that can be turned on or off in the PC version to change the visual quality and the performance of the game.

There are more options BTW, depending on the port and the game, certain graphical options can be featured in a game with or without the possibility of turning them on and off, or they can be not featured at all in the game.