Watch Dogs: Review Reevaluated
June 5, 2014
Initial rating: 9.8/10
Final rating: 3.5/10
+ Quality graphics
+ Original soundtrack
+/- Interactive hacking
– Generic plot
– Generic characters
Ubisoft’s delayed release of Watch Dogs, an action-adventure video game featuring interactive hacking, fed the hype that surrounded the gamer community, only to leave me wanting more. Put simply: the game was generic. The concept was interesting, but the delivery left more to be desired.
Right from the start, we are met with your stereotypical video game protagonist, Aiden Pearce, a white male with a raspy Batman voice on his path to revenge after the tragic death of his family member. Boring. Several hours in, I found the plot twists to be all too familiar and predictable – the gang member kills the messenger, our vigilante hero encroaches on the cops, the police bite back – I’ve seen this all before, and that’s saying a lot for me, a novice player amongst a world of big dog gamers. But I suppose I like to give most things the benefit of the doubt. After all, with the proper execution, even the driest of plots can be revived with a riveting gameplay and compelling characters. And once again, I was disappointed.
First things first, it’s a bit tedious to control Aiden. While this game is open world, stealth components play a large part in the various missions the storyline and side activities have to offer, which is unfortunate considering how sticky the cover mode is. There have been times where I had to come completely out of the crouching position to maneuver through obstacles, which proved to be risky as I was exposing myself to all potential enemies in the vicinity. This factor, however, is only a minor hindrance when compared to the game’s driving aspect. Cars accelerate too quickly and turns are too wide, causing Aiden to pulverize stop signs and streetlights while they bounce with an animated (and very inaccurate) physics. Driving missions to me roughly translate out to “half an hour of horrible frustration and crashing into other precariously placed vehicles,” and I promise it’s not the novice in me speaking when I say this but, driving in Watch Dogs is extremely exasperating.
So that leaves characters left to be attended to, the last aspect that I cling to in hopes of the game’s redemption. But sadly, the ingame denizens lacked the extra zeal that could set them apart from other video games. Attempts to stay true to the Chicagoan vibe ended up being more stereotypical than testimonial while characters stuck to their cliches. Watch Dogs’ lingered around typical tropes, with the tatted up, pierced through bad girl, the vintage mob boss, and the black gang leader. Amazingly though, not only does the game succeed in being tastelessly generic, but it manages to work in vaguely bigoted stereotypes as well!
For one, women are portrayed in two ways: as victims to be saved or as sexual objects. Even our bad girl “heroine” Clara Lille dawns a low cut tank top, revealing a measurable amount of cleavage, for viewing pleasure of course, as necessary in a video game. And how can we forget Nicky Pearce? Aiden’s sister who he is viciously watchful of. On many occasions saying to her “You are not in danger because I protect you,” as if it’s his job to take care of his poor, defenseless sister. Now I know where he gets his nickname “Vigilante.” But nevermind those two and my insipid sarcasm, our Offensive Female Character of The Year Award goes to Donna Dean, an African American sex slave that Aiden has to save in the campaign mission (four points for quadruple stereotypes!). All I’ve got to say is: Listen up you macho technerds, your audience is no longer reserved for males alone, but for the growing number of gamer girls. It’s 2014 for goodness’ sake! While I’m not telling you to repent, I say it’d be in your best interest to take females in account as well, and to lower the sexism that’s prevalent amongst your games, as not to lose a growing population of consumers. We wouldn’t want that, of all things, would we?
Now that my mini-spiel is over, I’m able to launch into another one. This time concerning a topic on similar grounds: racism. African American characters are displayed as hard gang members with a gruff drawl to their words, excessive swearing and use of the n-word tainting their vocabulary. Hispanic characters are rarely seen, unless they’re in orange jumpsuits enjoying their rec time in prison. And while I can see that an argument for this may be based on the premise of “accuracy,” I see no means in portraying them in such a negative light, this is a pseudo-dystopian sci-fi portrayal of Chicago after all, something’s got to have changed. The questions of morality surrounding the game’s minorities and player ethics are discussed in this article, “Some Players Are Hunting Down Minorities In Watch Dogs,” by a fellow female gamer, who I will allow to do the talking about Watch Dogs’ hazy conducts.
If you thought that was bad enough, oh, it gets worse. The neverending offensiveness of Watch Dog’s characters seeps into the open world citizens who have no more than one line of dialogue if you bump into them. Using Aiden’s “profiler” you can see a single concise summary of their character, sometimes “Volunteers at a soup kitchen,” other times “Frequent online searches: Rape.” Shocking, right? I thought so too. The incorporation of these little tidbits of information are, I find, tasteless. They are tact and serve no other purpose than to perpetuate rape culture, something I find hardly charming.
And while it may seem that Watch Dogs is nothing but a bundle of negative bits and pieces wrapped together in generic packaging to me, I have to say that there are some redeeming qualities to it. The graphics are amazing from a PS4. I had high expectations from Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Five, and I’d say it delivered. The quality exemplified a next generation console, but I can only speak from a playstation perspective. Eurogamer has an in-depth comparative feature on Watch Dogs’ graphics across all platforms that you can read here. The next positive aspect of Watch Dogs, I’d say, is double sided. The concept of hacking is the driving point of the game, and it is interesting indeed. It’s completely novel amongst tank driving, gun shooting games and is implemented in a way that feels natural and blends cohesively within the world, yet, it’s subpar overall. You search for a camera, you bust a pipe here or there, open and shut gates — sequences that get repetitive all too quickly. You’re really just doing the same things over and over again, but in different contexts. That might fit well into some people’s niches, but not mine. I look for something a bit more engaging and interactive, which I found in a surprising place, the video game soundtrack. The musical accompaniments enhanced the experience, fueling rapid chase scenes or tense stealth missions. There was never a time the music was too much or not enough. I can safely conclude that I will certainly be downloading this soundtrack and allowing it to make it’s home beside my other OST collections.
Ultimately, I find Watch Dogs to be disappointing. The concept of hacking had tons of potential that went to waste by applying a generic storyline, generic characters, and less than average gameplay. Minor details could have been tweaked to massively change the game, making it a more immersive and engaging game — a female protagonist (Perhaps a kidnapped secretary?), more people of color who aren’t displayed as homeless people or gang members (I know it’s Chicago, but come on, that’s just offensive), or cars that don’t make you want to rip your face off (GTA did it).
For a price tag of 60$, I would say the game is hardly worth it, making it join the pile of unfortunately overhyped video games. If you’re looking to invest in it nonetheless, I suggest you wait till the price declines to a favorable 20 – 30$. As for me, I’m going to finish the game just to finish the game, and tuck it away in the back corner of my game library where it belongs.