Video Review: The Video Game Equivalent of Pizza
Here's the video, it works better in video format: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dULA4n8IneI
Here's the script:
For me, open world games are the video game equivalent of Pizza. There’s a lot of good and bad pizza in the world, but I usually prefer mediocre pizza to most other foods. Watch Dogs is an open world game, so I’m already predisposed to like it more than most people. But for everyone else, you’re more likely to dislike the game if you think it’s something other than just plain old pizza.
In Watch Dogs you play as Aiden Pearce, a hacker genius living in Chicago. Chicago has recently responded to its rampant crime with COS, a network of video cameras and security measures installed all over town. Aiden uses his hacker skills to manipulate COS as a means to complete his goals. The hacking is the hook of Watch Dogs, which is otherwise a run-of-the-mill open world game. It has guns, cover mechanics, cars, side quests, open mission structure, and even a half-assed online mode. To anyone who’s played an open world game, Watch Dogs should be pretty familiar.
+Hacking Everywhere You Go
The hacking in Watch Dogs is definitely the most interesting part of the game. Watch Dogs is a slave to its genre conventions, so you’ll definitely do a lot of driving and shooting but the game tries its best to imbue the hacking wherever it can. There are specific hacking mini games which are neat, but even ordinary encounters like shoot outs and car chases have a hacking spin. You can access any camera in the game and there are various environmental elements that you can manipulate to gain the upper hand in any situation. Clearing bad guys using environmental traps or disposing of pursuing cars by changing traffic lights is always rewarding.
+Open world with life
A lot of open world games don’t really know why they’re open world and I’m glad to say Watch Dogs is not one of those games. This is one of the few open world games where I actually enjoyed walking down the street and reading the secrets of Chicago’s denizens. The game keeps context in mind so you never stumble into a multi-millionaire in the ghetto or find a homeless man whose bio says he’s vegan. Watch Dogs doesn’t give NPCs lives to live or homes to commute back to, but little things like pedestrian beatboxers or listenable phone calls made me feel like there was an actual world going on around me. Chicago itself is very detailed with little idiosyncratic details in every alleyway or backyard. This level of detail may be expected in games after GTA and Assassin’s Creed paved the way, but I couldn’t help but be impressed.
+A lot to do
Watch Dogs differs from its intercompany brother Assassin’s Creed by having a lot to do in the world. In addition to the campaign being pretty lengthy, there’s a plethora of side activities to engage in. The game frequently reminds you of these activities and offers to set your GPS when one is nearby. I skipped most of these during my playthrough of the game, which I wouldn’t recommend since they provide some decent benefits and a lot of them are actually pretty fun. I personally enjoyed the convoy and hideout missions, which loosely ask you to takedown a target. You can use whatever weapons, vehicles or strategy you can think of to tackle the objective. I thought these missions were the open-world design in its purest form and I couldn’t get enough of them. Most of the side activities don’t allow this level of freedom but what’s there is appreciated.
+Bad Story, Bad Character
Unfortunately most of Watch Dogs problems come from it trying to be a big important triple A game, starting with the story and main character. Aiden constantly sounds like he’s doing the Batman voice and it never stops being ridiculous. It’s even worse considering he dips out of the Batman voice frequently, which makes you wonder why they tried giving him that voice at all. My theory is the voice actor started with the voice but it hurt his throat too much so they just said “Eh, forget it.”
The story is relatively easy to follow it’s just not very good. There’s a load of clichés which could be an issue on its own, but even if you lower your standards the simple fact is nothing that goes on is very interesting. Some characters come across as likable but any positive attribute they have is outclassed by their inherent dullness. They’ll serve their purpose and keep your attention until the end of the game but nothing about the story or its characters is very exciting.
+Unbelievable Mission Design
While playing Watch Dogs I found myself repeating the phrase “What year is this?” over and over. Watch Dogs is a triple A release that unironically has escort and timed driving missions. Seriously, what year is this? The gaming populace has deeply hated these types of missions for decades and we’re still using them? If it isn’t immediately obvious, these missions are the worst part of the game.
There were a lot of times I died in Watch Dogs in increasingly frustrating ways. I started to get the vibe that I was in Vice City again where spike traps appear out of nowhere, enemies materialize out of thin air, and NPCs have a tendency of blocking your path. Maybe it’s just the escort and timed driving missions but I found myself throwing my controller more times than I’d like to admit.
+Half baked, dumb multiplayer
Watch Dogs also has an online component which takes a few pointers from the Dark Souls series. Players can invade your world and hack money from you. It’s an interesting idea but it amounts to exactly two outcomes: either the hacker completes their objective unopposed, or the victim immediately kills the hacker. It’s not fun for either party and considering the hacker can’t attack or harm their victim, it seems like a really lame version of hide and go seek. There are some other multiplayer modes you can choose to partake in but they’re all boring.
What’s funny about all these complaints is that none of them really matter. This is an open world game, a genre that prides itself on having freeform design and a lot to do. Watch Dogs has exactly that. There’s a lot to do and some of its best content really takes advantage of the open world format. The story is dumb, the multiplayer is dumb, and the campaign has some annoying missions. You know what, that sounds like every open world game I’ve ever played.
Again, I like the genre as a whole, even the dubious entries like True Crime New York City and Mercenaries 2. It’s like pizza. It might not be the best meal you’ve ever had, but there’s a lot to eat and most of it is pretty good. Watch Dogs did not set my world on fire or convince me the next generation is here, but I didn’t expect it to. I expected it to fill my time with a quality game for my new console, and that’s exactly what I got.