Big Brother Is Watching
By Adam Sturrock
Platforms: Xbox One, Xbox 360, PS3, PS4, PC
Watchdog’s Aiden Pierce is not a perfect soul. With a press of an app on his phone, your bank details, browser history, messages and phonecalls are his. A vigilante hacker, Aiden seeks to avenge a family member’s murder by any means necessary. Every shot fired and explosion caused is met without remorse and we soon begin to question his motives. While the game doesn’t host a worthwhile protagonist in Pierce (arguably the supporting characters are far more interesting), it seems that the political message it contains seems to take a higher precedent.
Chicago is vibrant. So vibrant in fact, that when playing through the next generation version of the fictionalized city, I noticed the varieties of seemingly real life characters that inhabit the world. If Ubisoft’s interpretation is to be believed, the Windy City is chock-a-bloc with perverts, cannibals and psychopaths. Behind closed doors, a man critiques potential dates by their potential of having sex with him, a woman casually stands above her lover with a gun while he sleeps and a couple have a Russian roulette fetish. As many people often say, “We have nothing to hide”, Watchdogs laughs at this.
At mostly any point of the game, you can “profile” a walking NPC with Aiden’s phone and listen in to their phonecalls and read their texts – discovering, intimately their inner most secrets that often, even their virtual families are unaware of. Some are funny in fact, one guy talks to another in excruciating detail about an unfortunate date that he had and these mini-stories seem to enliven the world in which we play in. The problem with this is that it seems to make any attempts at being serious uneven and also suggests to take a blind eye to the unethical surveilance techniques that seem the norm when only used by him. At a number of points in the game, you are able to view random snippets into people’s homes that are being filmed by covert cameras and while Aiden gasps in shock at the nefarious use of technology by the Chicago government, we fail to scrutinize why we aren’t questioning him as well.
Watchdogs allows a variety of methods to complete objectives, all of whom don’t punish you for pursuing one way over the other. The games’ stealth mechanics are satisfying, by sneaking up to an oblivious enemy you can club them over the head, leaving them unconscious or you can cause a power cut, bypassing any aggression if you so wished. The ability to look into people’s history added a sense of scale to combat. When about to shoot a guy in the head, I felt a pang of guilt when I could see he was a new father, or less so when it told me that he was a pedophile. Very rarely does a game ask if the characters have a differing life value when compared to another. Arguably, the shooting aspects of the game were the worst, not that it was terrible; although there is a huge arsenal of weapons, I could mostly get by with a basic weapon from the early campaign and I rarely felt a difficulty spike – the incentives to upgrade seemed minuscule and each weapon could mow down enemies just as well as the others. The game suffers in this exact regard when driving cars: yet again, it offered me little incentive to buy my own motor when, more often than not, a sports car was parked around the corner to use for free.
What Watch Dogs nails are its sheer variety of engaging activities to complete. Instead of focusing on the main campaign, I spent hours of my time switching between QR Code scanning, – in which you hack cameras to line up fragments of code into an image – solving a serial killer case by finding audio logs scattered across the map or trying to investigate a trafficking ring – the problem at the end of those however, was that the final missions of each didn’t seem to tie up things satisfactorily. In fact, a large portion of my satisfaction centred around the collection of the many audio logs in the game. While many people will overlook them due to not being compulsory to the plot, it really added depth to the supporting characters of Watchdogs – one collection from Aiden’s family murderer actually managed to blot the lines between black and white and make me feel sympathy for his actions.
Another collection of optional missions – the digital trips – could have easily have been sold as a separate game in its own right. Surprisingly, the best of the bunch involved you playing as an arachnid-tank, battering buses and the police, scaling buildings and piercing helicopters with your mounted guns (yeah, it sounds absurd but god, it is fun!).
Moving on to the actual campaign. Minus the side missions it took me something like 15-20 hours to compete (but I’m a wee bit meticulous so it might be a little bit shorter). The entire campaign settles on the aforementioned Aiden Pierce, a late 30s-ish aged hacker who is out to get everyone in Chicago, for sometimes really vague reasons other than justice. I often felt that he was just a caricature, a highly skilled nobody who modeled himself off of the Dark Knight trilogy, to the extent that he uses a chain smoker growl in all altercations with people and which very quickly grates on the ears (WHERE ISSHHH SHEEE!?!?!). The real intrigue comes from the supporting characters: Clara Lille, a Québécois punk-hacker phenom; Raymond “T-Bone” Kenney, a southern lunatic, alcoholic; and Jordi Chin, a calculating, unhinged gun for hire. After spending a whole story campaign with Aiden, I came out with little additional knowledge about him, which made me want to know why we weren’t given one of the other cast members as the playable character (DLC notwithstanding). For the most part, I actually enjoyed the campaign. Watchdogs offers a variety of mission types: from car chases to home hacks to “The Raid”-style hotel assaults to the top floor.
Throughout the game, unless you opt out, you are forced to take part in online missions. Whenever another player tries to contact you or steal your information, you have to stop what you are doing and try to find him – one time, while trying to start a new mission, the game forced me to find the player and blocked me from doing anything else. For me, who largely wanted to focus on the offline missions, this became annoying and frustrating.
From the Rossi-Fremont slums to the Upper class streets of Chicago, Watch Dogs always has something to do. While many have unfavorably compared this game to the lofty standards of GTA V, Watch Dogs to many extents can battle with the best of them.