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.
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.|
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.|
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).|
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.|
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 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.