Archive for June, 2015

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I’m coming in late to the world of Watch Dogs. I wasn’t sure what I was getting into  – reviews have been mixed and it seems like game-Marmite. Now I can see why…

First impressions? This is a very confused game and I am now even less surprised at the initial backlash than I was before. It’s trying too hard to be everything. I thought it was a hacking game. I hoped it was a hacking game. I’m a geek. But this geek is vastly disappointed. It was so promising at that E3 when it toted its bells and whistles about hacking Chicago and causing chaos or being its baseball-cap-toting version of Batman, all ready to swoop to the rescue.

But… no. It didn’t just leave it there and specialise. Instead, it just spreads itself a little bit too thin, trying to be everything to everyone and quite quickly getting nowhere. It’s a real shame.

 

Dave Ja Vous

They took too long. By the time the game came out, it had all been done before and better. And not even just in games – real life had superseded it, and both tech and hacking had moved on to bigger and better things. If you’re quite a big a gamer, you’ve played this game before in other skins (sans hacking), and in comparison to what we were lead to believe, the hacking immediately takes a backseat ride to everything else that’s “popular” in gaming styles, much to my great disappointment.

Straight away, you’re thrown into a stealth-action sequence. One that involves a tiny bit of hacking. Sort of. Then there’s also driving (which is not easy to do) and being asked to “evade the cops”… and doesn’t say how. As in where the boundaries are. Well, it kind of does, but it’s not obvious and you’re busy fleeing, so it’s hard to take stock. The driving was so impossible I gave up in the end and ran… then I managed to get away. Grand Theft Auto this is not. And it’s definitely not Forza, either.

By the time I get to the “hideout” (or “hovel of an apartment/server room”), have slept, then gone out to blue triangles to bust some side-mission “crime”, it’s screaming of Sleeping Dogs.  You can also scramble up and over things and run about in stealth… a la Assassin’s Creed… and when you’re driving you can listen to some god-awful music choices (Alice Cooper and Smashing Pumpkins notwithstanding) in your car whilst cruising about… and there’s a lot of driving. I wanted to hack, not drive. It’s Chicago and I can hack ATMs, bank accounts and computer systems – how is it I can’t just order a cab online and pay for it with someone else’s credit card account? Even your most mediocre criminalist or fraudster can do that, so how a master hacker has managed to overlook this is head-scratching. He doesn’t even have a cab app – just the one to get his car thieving friend to drop him a new ride to drive.

He looks so menacing... yet he's just so boring

He looks so menacing… Yet he’s just so boring!

Of course, the realism is that this game was being made in an age when these apps were just starting out and Über wasn’t around yet. This is the problem with basing things in future-tech… by the time you get it out, it’s old-tech and your ideas are already outdated. It doesn’t help when you push it back another 12 months, either.

Underneath all this gameplay there’s a thin thread of story clinging all of it together – but unfortunately it’s a little too thin. It barely asks you to even care. It should bring tears, given the subject matter, but I imagine that most of it just brings eye-roles. Aidan shows so much promise in being the dark, brooding, guilt-ridden, strong, avenging angel… but it’s not really executed at all. He’s pretty tedious, and I frankly would prefer to give him a coupon for a free trial of therapy rather than my time to play through his story. A story that’s clearly been created solely for shoe-horning (clumsily) into the game, to give it some focus and purpose. This is not a game that’s been created to tell the story, which is what I was hoping for. I like games where I’m asked to care. To invest. To save the world, or a person, or… whatever (is there anything else?). But given Aidan doesn’t seem to really care… it’s hard for me to. He’s just an angry person taking his guilt out on everyone around him… that’s something I’d rather walk away from, both in games and life. It’s just not healthy.

 

Old Dog, Old Tricks:

This could have been an amazing game. A game-changer, like it was promised it would be. It was a novel idea at the time it was announced… but now, it just seems old. That they’re playing catch-up. It promised to be futuristic when it was announced, but unfortunately that idea was positively historic by the time it hit the shelves. Hacking things with cell phones? There’s probably a five-year-old that’s done all that with his Mommy’s old iPhone 5 already.

Feels like this is all there is to it...

Feels like this is all there is to it…

Watch Dogs is simply an open-city driving/action/crime game. It’s also fairly simplistic, formulaic, and… unfortunately… boring. Disappointing. It’s got a bit of hacking, but it’s rubbish hacking – he’s supposed to be the best, but in your hands he’s reduced to watching CCTV, fiddling the traffic lights and stealing from ATMs… not exactly what I was hoping for, playing as a world-class hacker. Even I could probably do all that, if I cared to try hard enough to do it. Hacking a military plane coming for the city and divert it from killing thousands of innocent people… that’s the hacking story I want to take part in. Not watching CCTV on my iPhone, then stealing someone else’s money while they’re too busy yelling at other people about the crash I caused by fiddling the traffic lights.

From the beginning, it seemed to focus on the action. There was minor stealth hacking at the beginning, but then straight into an all-out car chase. From there it’s just searching for people and things to hack, and the odd crime to intervene in. There’s some gun-work, and you can have a shoot-out with the cops if you care to. Somewhere in between, there’s a trace of a storyline where it becomes immediately clear Aidan is someone with his anger and guilt turned inwards and only carnage was and destruction was going to placate it. Family was ignored, and he was deliberately a lone wolf. Not so much broody, strong, and endearing, as deeply sulky, guilt-ridden, and in desperate need of some psychotherapy and a meditation retreat.

This game could have been brilliant if it had been released in the manner they showed at E3 and at that time… But it’s not “groundbreaking” as was promised, and in fact it’s no longer even innovative. Instead, my feeling is that it’s more like Sleeping Dogs, The Hacking Edition. Count the things it has in common… then of course just link that all back to GTA, because that’s where they all began.

I’ve got Sleeping Dogs. I’ve played Sleeping Dogs. I don’t really want to play what is virtually the same game again, just it’s because it’s got a slightly different name.

It was a bad idea to push it back to make sure it was ready for all the platforms ever – it released on every console available, and they spent too long making it viable for them all. By the time we saw it, it was old. Now, it’s even more so, and therefore feels almost archaic, because we know quite well a half-decent twelve-year-old hacker could hack more things than some traffic lights, bollards and the ATM machines. Whilst Aidan is busy playing with CCTV of Chicago, said twelve-year-old is probably busy hacking into the Pentagon and aiming satellites so he can finally watch that TV series that’s only being shown in another county beamed straight to his own dish…

 

You Can Believe What You Read In The Media…

I came into this game full of hope it was more than what I had seen in the gaming media… but it turns out that really is what it’s like. It’s mundane, disorientated, confused, directionless, and the main character is as dull as dishwater. It’s a well-built game, executed well if you focus on the graphics and gameplay quality (there are no glitches, the engine flows well, everything works and it looks nice). But without really putting the character and story front and centre in the game, strong and well-rounded, there really is no need whatsoever to get on with doing anything else in the game – unless you actually like driving around and stopping minor crimes. Or causing chaos and indulging in dangerous police chases (but then you’ve already got GTA for that). Then you’re all good to go.

Instead of something groundbreaking, what Ubisoft ended up offering was an “OK” game with nice graphics and easy handling (I’m ignoring the driving… it’s for the best to completely ignore the driving…) – and that’s probably fine if you haven’t played GTA or any riff on that “open-city driving/crime” genre. If you have, then you’ve basically just seen it all before, and it feels done.

The fact that everything  in it felt like it’s been lifted almost wholesale out of Sleeping Dogs crashed any deal in it for me. Sleeping Dogs had a good story, interesting plot twists, and sometimes quite shocking scened – and that really helped me want to see how it plays out. The main character was interesting, dynamic and was invested in what he was doing. In this one, the character barely has any character and seems only intent on taking out his guilt and anger on people. Occasionally, he might stop a crime… if he can be bothered to tear himself away from being very angry and hacking the traffic lights.

Perhaps I have misunderstood the game, but so far nothing stands out about it. Apart from the fact it’s a GTA/Sleeping Dogs clone with some hacking in it. They spread the game too thin, in gameplay, game style(s), and in the platform releases. Trying to please everyone will always please nobody. Somebody please tell game-makers this obvious fact, because they just don’t seem to get it…

I think maybe I’ll just go and play Sleeping Dogs instead…