Saturday, July 5, 2014

Gaming Review: Watch Dogs

Aiden Pearce is a hacker.  He and his partner Damien decide to do a massive hack on the rich patrons of the Merlaut Hotel, a swanky spot owned by Lucky Quinn, notorious Chicago Mob Boss, and the premier destination for the elite and wealthy. During their electro-heist, the hackers become the hacked, and Aiden decides to bail before they get caught.  Unbeknownst to them, their little job did not go unnoticed, and a hit is put out on he and Damien.   

While traveling with his sister and her two young children to the neighboring town of Pawnee,  yes, Parks and Rec fans, Pawnee, the hitmen assigned to him, shoot out his tires, causing Aiden to spin out of control, causing an accident that kills his 6 year old niece, Lena.   

A year later, Aiden is still traveling down the revenge rabbit hole when he is found by Damien, who wants to blackmail him into finishing the Merlaut job.  This opens up the floodgates of Chicago corruption stories, with everything from human-trafficking, to political cover-ups, and even a little more blackmail.  All the while, you're allowed to hack into ctOS, the Central Operating System, owned by Blume (or Google if you want to call a spade a spade), which controls everything in the city from bank accounts to the bridges and steam pipes. 

Uh...I wanted to like this game sooo much more than I actually do. 
I don't hate it.  But it didn't quite fire on all cylinders the way its original E3 trailer did two years ago.  Let me explain. 

Chicago?  Where? 
So, one of the huge marketing points of this game, was that it was going to take place in Chicago.  Not very many open-world, sandbox games, if any, have taken place in my hometown.  Grand Theft Auto, for example, one of the headline sandbox games, has visited Miami, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, and New York, (among others), and has never once touched down in the city of wind.  I'm not quite sure why not, it costs a lot to film here, but game design?  Probably free, I'm guessing.   
Anyway, with the promise of finally seeing Chicago, myself, and I'm sure many others, were already sold. 
Not to mention, the trailer was jump-out-my-skin exciting. 

Now, while the game does in fact take place in a city called Chicago...I don't know this place.  There are mountains across the lake.  Navy Pier consists of just that,...a pier.  There is no giant Ferris Wheel, or even sightseeing crowds.  The neighborhoods are small and some really lack personality.   

SO many opportunities were missed here.  No Art Institute, no museum campus.  How much fun would it have been to have a mission take place on the inside of the Museum of Science and Industry?  To steal from the Art Institute?  To walk along the Lakefront?  To steal and hack during the city's annual "Bike the Drive" where people walk the historic Lake Shore Drive?   

There was just so much more to be done here, that I kind of felt cheated.

Aiden Pearce is very uncareaboutable.   
So, the entire premise of the game is revenge.  Aiden Pearce is sad about his niece, and what the loss has done to his family, but instead of him taking that as a life lesson and devoting more time to his sister and nephew, the latter of which has PTSD from the incident, Aiden instead is jumping in and out of their lives while he focuses on his hissy fit.  AND, I'd also like to point out that NO ONE wants to dal with the fact that there were no seat belts in this accident.  AND, as one of the characters tells him in the course of the game, Aiden isn't a "good guy".  He mows down anyone in the way of his vengeance, and because his niece was killed, that somehow makes it okay?  Now, this is also true of many characters in GTA, but their stories are fleshed out in such a way that there are redeeming qualities for them built in.  There was LITERALLY nothing to care about with Aiden.  
So,...the driving was kind of horrid.  My library teens actually compared it to driving through butter.     
Ubisoft has a habit of giving really great marketing campaigns to games that sometimes boil down to a lot of repetition and incompleteness.  Assassin's Creed and Far Cry both tend to fall into those categories for me.   

But there are some good points also: 

Say what I will, but I'd be lying if this game didn't make me want to change all of my internet passwords, and reset my online accounts.  It does a great job of bringing to light just how vulnerable it is for us to rely so very heavily on technology.   

One of the cool hacking tasks of the game is intruding on the camera feeds of apartments and homes, and these are some of the most heart-wrenching and/or humorous glimpses into the lives of Chicagoans.  I would have loved to see them go farther with these.   

The hacking in general was a great new tool to bring to the gaming world, and I'd love to see this find its way into other games soon.  It was a great sense of victory to complete an entire mission without ever entering the battle.  I beat one level without ever crossing the street.  I hacked cameras and explosives from a nice safe distance, and then walked away unscathed.   

Notes from my Teen Gaming Alliance: 
So Watch Dogs was the June game for my TGA, and here are some of their responses. 
"Aiden Pearce is something like Batman."  - We talked a little about the theory that Gotham is actually Chicago, and the connection that the writers may have found there. 

"The Soundtrack Sucks."  - Yes.  Yes it does. 

"This game is kind of like Heavy Rain, but there were real dynamic characters in that game." - WELL SAID.   

The TGA gave the game a 4-7 out of 10 rating.  

In all, Watch Dogs was an enjoyable game to play, and I'll probably go back in to finish the side missions, etc., but it did feel rushed and incomplete.  I've learned my lesson though, so the next time someone promises me Harold's Chicken and Michigan Avenue, I'll know not to get so excited.  Buy this one used or marked down: You'll need the time to complete it, but won't be as let down when you finally do.

I'd pair this one with:
Trafficked  by Kim Purcell
Sold by Patricia McCormick
Feed by M.T. Anderson
Scored by Lauren Mclaughlin


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