Sunday, August 9, 2015

Watch_Dogs review

    Watch_Dogs is a heavily panned game in some circles while fiercely defended in others. It's a game I avoided because of accusations of a flat main character, sexism, cliched storytelling, and about a dozen other things which made it seem like the worst game of the year. However, several of my friends continued to pester me to play the game and while I prepared to get into the mood to dig into the Metro 2033 games, I figured I'd pick it up to give it a try.

    My opinion?

    People are way too hard on this game.

    There's definitely some flaws, don't get me wrong. I'll get into all of them but the short version is that there's serious tonal dissonance, a weak main enemy, several places where it's obvious they rewrote the script, many places they could have gone for social satire and didn't, plus areas where they went for the easy route rather than something more engaging. It's still a fun-fun game, though.

Wandering around Chicago, scanning people is fun by itself.
    The premise is the protagonist, Aiden Pearce, robs several extremely rich clients in a stand-in for the Marriot via his souped-up hacker-friendly cellphone. Traced by an unknown third-party, they turn out to be less than friendly and send a hitman to kill both he and his family. Aiden survives the hit but his niece is killed in the process. Spending the next year torturing himself with guilt, he makes contacts in the underworld and tracks down the hitman. The game opens with him interrogating him and finding out things are much bigger than they seem.

    I'm a bit iffy about the "dead little girl" as a motivation since that's about the lowest common denominator you can shoot for along with. It's up there with "your girlfriend has been kidnapped." John Wick parodied the trope of cliched action her motivations by having the villains kill his dog instead. The game does something interesting with it, at least, by making it clear that Aiden really is at fault for his niece's death as well as showing that his revenge is a tragically misguided attempt to make himself feel better.

    The problem is this motivation is never quite really followed up on as the game wants to have its cake and eat it too. Aiden is a vigilante but associates with criminals, Aiden claims to champion the downtrodden while stealing from their bank accounts, and Aiden is horribly treating his family but is desperately needed to stop the human trafficking rings around the city. In short, it's very obvious the developers had different ideas about what the game was about.

I love the French-Canadian character of Clara, who is blatantly Lisbeth Salander from the Millennium Trilogy.
    One seemed to be operating from the assumption it's a revenge story where a cyberpunk criminal tracks down his niece's killer, breaking the law along the way. One seemed to think Aiden was a character destroying himself and alienating his family with a pointless war to make himself feel better. The third seemed to think we were playing plainclothes Batman. These stories do not jell together, though I think the resulting mess paints an interesting picture of Aiden and his hypocrisies.

    Really, it's the supporting cast which brings the game to life as I learned to love Clara, Damien, Nicky, Lucky, and all the other wonderful as well as horrible NPCs which inhabit his colorful world. Some have argued that these would make better protagonists than Aiden but I disagree. I dislike the presentation poor Aiden gets but I think he's a perfectly fine lead and I'm interested in where his story goes after the game.

    One area some fans should be warned about is the game sometimes feels a little less than female friendly. While I very much enjoy the characters of Clara and Nicky, both women are imperiled more than is strictly necessary for a Triple-A title in the 21st century. This is in addition to Aiden's motivation being his guilt over a little girl's death. Beyond that, a substantial portion of the villain's plot relies on shutting down a human trafficking ring which goes a little beyond the realm of poor taste in terms of using a horrific real-world practice for cheap titillation. The game probably would have been a nine or even a nine-and-a-half if it didn't feel so adolescent in its depiction of women.

Aiden is constantly on the move, looking for crimes to solve (or perform).
     Either way, the gameplay is what makes it worth picking up. The basis of the game is Grand Theft Auto with the option for stealing cars, tooling around the city, and shoot up bad guys. It adds a stealth element where Aiden is capable of sneaking up and non-lethally disable his opponents like Deus Ex: Human Revolution.

    Honestly, I would have appreciated the game more if it had provided me more non-lethal options for dealing with opponents like a stun-gun or tranquilizer rifle but I enjoyed being able to knock people out instead of killing them. The real appeal of the game, though, is the enormous number of benefits Aiden gets from using his cellphone hacking skills to screw with his surroundings.

    Watch_Dogs becomes immensely fun as soon as you come to master the various ways you can screw with enemies by blowing up steam pipes, generators, and grenades they're carrying. You can distract them with car alarms, improper texts, and fake dog noises. You can change traffic lights, lift bridges, cause barriers to rise, and even cause helicopters to fall from the sky. It's like being a little cybergod and there's nothing more enjoyable than that.

Contract killer. Hitman. Father of a one-year-old baby he loves.
    There's flaws in the gameplay despite this as it would be very nice to be able to use your baton in combat rather than just when sneaking up on people. Likewise, the driving in the game is handled poorly with it seeming like you're moving around a brick-wall on wheels rather than any of the vehicles you actually cart around. This is compensated for, at least, by the fact you can always just steal another one. Likewise, it's a flaw to portray Aiden as a morally ambiguous anti-hero one minute and then have a counter for "civilians killed, injured" in vehicles which you can't help but hit them with.

    Sandbox-wise, Chicago is a beautifully realized city where citizens act more like people than any other game I can remember. They run away when guns come out, call the police, and have even been known to take cellphone pictures of my hero. The police are tenacious in this game and make the game all the more entertaining for how much of a challenge it is to take them down.

    The graphics are, as to be expected, much better on PC and Next Generation (now current) consoles with the city popping out if you take time to appreciate it. I even liked the little pop-ups where Aiden's scans of people reveal little details about them all such as being a Furry, cheating on their taxes, or being fanfic writers.

Irish mobster or Crypt Keeper? You be the judge.
     The game's multiplayer is an option I've chosen to not indulge but from what I've seen is a very interesting. It adapts the Assassin's Creed system of hunting down your fellow assassins to Aiden dealing with people hacking his system. There's lots of fun rogue operations where you get to use your hacking skills against people capable of doing the same against you. It's fun to watch, at least, and I think fans of the game would enjoy doing unto others as Aiden does to his foes.

     The sidequests of the game are a mixture of fun, lame, and fun but repetitive. It's always entertaining, for example, to track down convoys full of goons and eliminate them. There's also some amazingly weird "Augmented Reality" adventures which amount to hallucinatory journeys where Aiden does some pretty surreal stuff (that sometimes give insights into his troubled mind). On the other hand, no one really is going to enjoy shell games or drinking contests.

    In conclusion, this is a game which is really fun to play but could have used some serious rewrites-story wise. The bare bones of the story isn't bad but they needed to develop Aiden far more as a character and explain a lot of his actions better than, "I'm in a video game and this is what video game characters do." However, if you ignore the story then you still have a really fun game.



  1. Got round to finally reviewing this game Charles.

    Another good review with most points matching mine on the game. Though Aiden for me is still overall a boring main lead, I said it once how I felt watch dog was like assassin creed one. In that I feel both games showed much potential with their setting and lore, mechanics of gameplay. But let down by repetitive bits and a lead that was bland and dull.

    The side characters for Watch Dogs just felt a lot more developed and complex compared to Aiden who seemed mostly flat overall to me. It just made me feel like Arno in questioning why the writers felt this person's story was worth telling.

    Aiden for me is the type of video game lead I am fed up of seeing, the brooding gravely voice (which I feel is rarely ever good for a main lead). borderline emotionless guy who we are supposed to feel sorry for due to a personal tragedy. No matter how clichéd or lazy it is, that's what Aiden really suffers from I feel. Lazy writing from Ubisoft that I felt Arno from Unity suffered from as well.

    Bad writing is one thing since you have to make the effort to produce bad writing. But lazy writing is worse simply cause it requires no real effort from the writers.

    The game also suffers I feel from the fact it played out like nearly every Ubisoft one world game I have played, in that side activities are designed the same way, there it feels to pad out and not really connect with anything in the game all that much. Repetitive white male leads that are either like Ezio or Altair from Assassin Creed.

    Games that give more questions than answers, these flaws I feel have been in Ubisoft's games for years and the Twin dogs of Watch Dog and Unity last year is when I think these flaws took over the positives in Ubisofts open world games, that and the fact both games here hyped to immeasurable ends and suffered from really bad bugs on either the pc or ps4 or both.

    Coupled with Ubisoft's producers and marketing department coming off as really arrogant and hubris in their responses to criticism and as well as other stuff is what led 2014 to be very bad for Ubisoft.

    I hope they can take some of this to heart and try to do better with their games. As I feel they got complacent in recent years.

    Watch Dog is a good game overall I feel, but could have been much more and I hope the sequel does for the watch dog series what Assassin Creed 2 did for AC.

    Looking forward to seeing your metro reviews, finished last light last weekend I thought that was brilliant.

    1. Yeah, I think Watch_Dogs is a good game but it could have been a great one if they'd put a little more effort into the storyline and took some of the criticisms to heart.