Opinion PlayStation XBOX PC Other

Watch_Dogs is everything that's currently wrong with games

Watch Dogs.jpg

I'm glad I'm in print to track my views on Watch DogsHere’s me on why I think my obsession should not be a barrier to reviewing it (I stand by that argument thoroughly); here is the review itself (I also stand by that, but would blunt some of the joy involved).

It means anyone can call me out, can point to where I've let marketing break the lens of reality so I view broken products as whole. But, after giving the game some distance, finally reading other critics (I don’t read other reviews until I’ve written mine), and replaying it, there is a hollow sense where fulfillment used to be.

The hue of adoration has been diluted by this distance into monochrome appreciation: It’s a good game. Not a great game. Not a remarkable game. Merely good. I want to examine what happened in my perception and why I think Watch_Dogs’ failures are more unsettling in what it tells us about our culture and community than what it says about the game itself.

Watch_Dogs.jpg 

Hate the hype

Aside from “is this a game?”, one of the stupidest questions often fumbled around in game discussions is “Does it match the hype?”

By definition, a game will not.

Hype is an image of the game bloated by marketing, filling your attention with loud sounds and screens, blocking your view of the game’s contours. Hype is the conclusion of marketing, not the developers; and, as gamers, our focus should primarily be with the product of the latter group. We use the same senses to engage with the shiny new product, but it’s a false thing: it’s not the game itself, but the product resembling the game, concocted by a powerful, million-dollar marketing team. People who are trained to elicit emotions of yearning and want from potential customers.

Most of Watch_Dogs’ existence, it seems, was hype. It lived nowhere else except on tracks laid down by advertisement, going exactly where marketing needed to go – over heads and into wallets. It was even introduced in a semi-false way (gamers, even on high end PC’s, do not have out-the-box access to the graphics displayed at E3 2012); it was delayed for nearly half a year, missing the next-gen console launch that so many (including myself) had invested into specifically for Watch_Dogs.

Promises of life, of dynamic gameplay, of variety, of living cities, proved if not false then hollow. Because of course: that’s the promise of hype, not the game. We didn’t have the game yet. We weren’t buying the game; we were buying our hope, our expectation, and a tiny bit of a myth.

Myths aren’t about truth, in some sense. They’re about teaching us something more, about entertaining notions that often resound with common humanity and identity. Hype is myth - badly done, slippery from snake oil, myth - but myth nonetheless. We learn what we want, what we hope, what we dream. Games become this before we have them. The best “games” are the ones we never have, the ones we look forward to obtaining, the ones that are always about to be released. Watch_Dogs’ marketing was a master at this. We never got that game.

Instead we got its pale, sick twin brother.

Graphics

Enough has been written about Watch_Dogs graphics to fill university libraries, with as little importance as most English Literature departments’ theses. The short and only important version is: the graphics are not impressive, there is no real sense of the “next-gen experience” that was pegged to Watch_ Dogs, and little is seen resembling the beauty of E3 2012’s reveal.

I need to make it clear that I do not blame Ubisoft entirely for this. Instead, it’s a number of other powerful factions: the creators and maintainers of the hype machine, of which we are power and marketing teams are the drivers. Our hopes provide the energy they need to steer. Without our expectations and adoration and love for this magical entity, they’d be stuck. We are to blame, which is why I’m writing this, as someone who was part of that, to my fellow enthusiasts bleeding fuel for the dream.

The most notable graphical deficiency is seen in the faces – the ones that aren’t repeated a thousand times. Nothing is remarkable about them and some PS3 games, like The Last of Us, look many times better. Flat, lacking texture and depth and character: not only a description of the game itself but characters.

Also cars seem to have no texture whatsoever: damage is a joke, in terms of display and mechanics. GTA IV and V have responsive, demonstrative fracture physics on the cars. Also as George “Super Bunnyhop” Wiedman points out, shooting the ground displays no response. Seriously?

This does not mean the game isn’t beautiful. It’s stunning. But the only difference on current-gen is smoothness. Otherwise, this isn’t a game to show off your expensive boxes that you spent months saving for to play said game.

Characters

There’s a reason I made this joke on Twitter. Aiden Pearce is not even a stereotype of a white, male, mid-thirties, gruff-voiced, power-fantasy with a coat that seems to magically hold endless number of guns (seriously, where does he keep them?). He’s not even a caricature, because that would be far too interesting.

Instead he’s a template; it’s like he’s still downloading a personality but the reception is bad.

Pearce responds: he responds to his niece’s death, he responds to men shooting at him, he responds to cops chasing him. He never cares, he never has motivation, he never initiates – it’s just an endless series of responses to events that are largely meaningless.

Little girls’ death are not a motivator: it’s a cheap ploy to start the game’s plot, a rough hotwiring of an engine that refuses to start. “Please react to this!” the game says. To be fair to Pearce, this makes him no different to Batman – who by all accounts makes less sense than Pearce. As Alan Moore pointed out, our response to someone who witnesses his parents’ murder and claims “Time to become a bat!” wouldn’t be cheering. It would be a phone call to a therapist.

Pearce doesn’t have a story. He has a set of responses, using people where necessary to make sure his response is achieved.

You might say: “Everything we do is a response!” In a way yes, but usually there are a thousand and one motivators, hidden depths we don’t even know about why we act. It’s a reason to make us care. Not because some little girl we don’t know died, not because the bro we’re playing is angry about this. There’s a mystery that shadows all human motivation, which perhaps unites us in some small way, because we’re all universally uncertain.

This game is not so nuanced.

Like many games, you do x to get y to get z, to get to the end credits. But with so many games, there’s blood running through these actions. Watch_ Dogs has no pumping blood – only a trail of bodies and a line in the sand. I had no reason to care and just bloody hands at the end that painted no picture I was proud of.

Other characters matter even less, except for Jordi Chin. Chin by any measure is a generally interesting character – except for the fact that he suddenly betrays Aiden at the end (for 5 minutes). Clara Lille has a lovely accent but is otherwise unremarkable. “T-Dog” was fun if confusing – and not in an interesting way. “Lucky” Quinn was incredibly realistic in his  delivery: it was just unfortunate he was the bad guy, as opposed a bad guy.

Don’t even mention Aiden’s family.

Aiden’s sister is so bizarrely ignorant she doesn’t know Aiden is the notorious “Vigilante”, despite news stations reporting him by name. I could understand if, say, your Reputation was high and people were recognising you in the streets – but radio broadcasts are naming you. And yet she is surprised? This is the same person who, when she gets a threatening phonecall, ignores it as if she gets them all the time. Does she? That would be interesting, but we know she’s a teacher – not a spy or cop or anything that action-movie glorious.

The only other woman character with more than three lines of dialogue is the sex slave, Daisy. Her story might be interesting, though she serves as motivation to start a new line of side quests for Aiden to respond to. Indeed, even the completion of these quests delivers nothing so substantial as even seeing her again.

So female characters die, betray and get kidnapped. Well done, feminism in games.

Should we even mention the people of colour: African Americans are gangsters because of course. GTA, Saint’s Row, and other violent games that feature African-American gangsters provide depth and actual character – so far as to make them even playable. CJ and Franklin are two playable characters of colour in GTA games. No, in Watch Dogs, African Americans live in the bad part of town, call each other “B”, and are gangsters.

A gang leader called “Iraq”? Well there were some hints he could’ve been interesting, but it’s covered by brutality and idiot decisions that degrade the character greatly. His young cousin Bedbug was interesting, though fell into the bumbling large man stereotype as quickly as he’s revealed.

I felt nothing and feel nothing for these characters, except Jordi Chin. It screams so much of, well, “video games”.

Compare it to the first 15 minutes of The Last of Us. Within those minutes, we are introduced to Joel and his daughter. We don’t know what Joel does, who he is, what he’s done. He walks in, conveys his exhaustion to his daughter. The banter is fluid, alive, it shows depths of a relationship mined from years of love. She gives him a watch, having waited up for him. The game forces you to learn how to play in her shoes. Then the world goes to hell and she is dead. It’s traumatising, heart-wrenching, beautifully executed. In 15 minutes, I was tearing, I was feeling for her. Even now, I am fearing replaying this game for those opening moments.

Watch_Dogs has nothing like that. We have no people: we have red blips on the screen, we have blue ones. At first, the profiler, which tells you about the individual (“has a disabled child”, “has a clown fetish”, etc.), provides some humanity to the endless faceless thugs usually injected into games. But soon, the quirks are repeated. Can there really be five people with that clown fetish? Is there really nothing else I could’ve been told?

Again: the game hotwires its way into believability and humanity.

Again: instead of providing us with actual substance, the game itself uses a hack.

It’s tiring

This game’s message, communicated by saving women and shooting black people, punctuated by bullets and explosions, decorated by “hacking” shows that it’s another in the conveyor belt of male power fantasy.

Guns feel good, explosions are fun. The weird thing is how much this game doesn’t work: It doesn’t work in general (patches, patches, patches – even though it was delayed to iron out kinks); it doesn’t work as an open-world game; it doesn’t work as a modern day criticism of the surveillance state; it doesn’t work as a family-driven story of revenge (almost none do); it doesn’t work as a character study.

I hate saying what a game “should’ve” been, but I wonder how much better this works in closed, tight corridors; in places with plenty of hacking opportunities, instead of magicking a shotgun into your hands to shoot other men. The open world adds little to the game, strangely: it’s fun for a while, but considering the resources that went into it, I’d rather they did amazing levels, with smart hacking focus that mitigated the use of firearms.

“Shooty-shooty, bang-bang, rar-rar, I am man, hear me roar.” We can keep sticking that on nearly every game box art, with its obligatory man holding olbigatory gun in an obligatory morosely way, to summarise the contents. Rejoice I shall not. Why are we limiting our games so much to guns? To men? To revenge? This is a medium that allows you to explore moral choices, what racism feels like, love and hate, to become a paper swan or ghost child. But we are drowning in beautiful polygons made of manly power fantasies, glorified porn for the young desk-bound man. I am one and yet I do not want this.

We can do better. We should do better. Watch Dogs’ story, character and focus are those that should quickly belong to gaming’s Dark Ages. We can and must move forward, no matter how hard game companies want to keep us mired in their perception of male gamer wants. Gamers are more than that so let’s hope our games can be, too.

Tauriq's Twitter | about.me / MWEB GameZone Twitter | Facebook

Other news from around the NET:

Recent Comments

Community on Disqus

Latest Reviews

Forza Horizon 4 Review

Forza Horizon 4 Review

 

With a gorgeous open world, epic car roster and a new seasonal system, this year's Forza is the best...

V-Rally 4 Review

V-Rally 4 Review

 

V-Rally 4 delivers some great off-road racing that all rally fans will enjoy.

comments powered by Disqus