I was really looking forward to Watch_Dogs, in part because it plays on a bunch of tropes that feature in a project I've had in the drawer for a while. There were equal parts curiosity and apprehension at the thought of the game approaching (and possibly preempting) those tropes. Turns out Watch_Dogs really doesn't have much to say about the questions and themes it raises (if it raises them at all). That gave me plenty to work with for the Short Script, which ended up stealing the title of the longest one on the blog from BioShock Infinite. That's either a meaningful commentary or I really suck at editing.
In all fairness, Watch_Dogs is a really long game, but that isn't necessarily a good thing. Boasting more than thirty hours of runtime reads as a nice marketing bullet point, but this is accomplished mainly through repetitive mission objectives and a wide gamut of side activities and open world gimmicks. These constantly detract from the main storyline in two distinct ways. I've talked before about how story and gameplay can be at odds and the ways they're compelled to get out of each other's way. This tends to come up a lot with open world games and Watch_Dogs sins on both ends of that spectrum.
For starters, a lot of the optional minigames are forced upon the player at least once. Tobias Frewer can only be identified after playing a bit of poker and T-Bone Grady doesn't reveal himself until he's beaten in a drinking contest. These feel like pointless distractions that dilute the game's already threadbare thematic focus and take away from Aiden's motivation. In this case, the story takes a back seat to let gameplay take the wheel.
The opposite happened when I was tasked with taking down Nicole's crank caller. I had managed to trap his car against a building pretty early during the chase, yet this didn't count as an actual takedown, since I was still on a phone call with Nicole. The game would only let me deal with the crank caller after the call had ended and when he'd reached a certain part of the city, so I was forced to let him go and chase him further. In this case, gameplay is shoved aside in service of the story.
Then there's the instance where those two opposing conflicts come together in a glorious lack of cohesion between what story and gameplay want. Aiden spends a good portion of the game trying to prevent a gang banger from potentially exposing his identity as the Vigilante. This involves a lengthy string of missions that culminate in a prison infiltration. As soon as Aiden manages to bully the banger into silence and flee the prison, a radio report reveals that he has been identified as the Vigilante after all.
This doesn't imply that the banger ended up pointing the finger anyway or that Aiden fucked up when getting himself arrested. Aiden's identity being exposed actually happens because that radio report is the end result of the completion of a set of side missions that, for most players, coincides with the end of the prison infiltration. This discrepancy becomes even more egregious when Damien plasters Aiden's face all over Chicago later in the game and everybody acts like it's still a big dramatic reveal.
Watch_Dogs also falls woefully short when it comes to the portrayal of women. Every major female character is only meant to serve as an emotional spine for Aiden. His niece dies to set him on his path of blind vengeance and his sister, Nicole, is later kidnapped to force him into a set of missions (which ultimately continue him on the path of vengeance he was already on to begin with).
Ironically, Nicole demonstrates more strength in one aspect when it becomes obvious that she's moved on from Lena's death while Aiden still dwells on it to an obsessive degree. He then tries to insultingly undermine his sister's closure when he needs to make up an excuse to his nephew's therapist and claims Nicole is the one who needs time alone to grieve.
Clara, the other major female character besides Nicole, manages to show some depth at times, but her actions are mostly geared towards getting Aiden's approval. When the reason for that behaviour is revealed and she is killed for it, she's relegated to yet another emotional motivator for Aiden. Even minor female NPCs serve that same purpose. When Aiden profiles the women who are on display at the human trafficking auction, their occupation reads as "Abducted." According to the game, that is literally their only job.
Ubisoft is already taking a lot of heat for its comments regarding the absence of playable female characters in the upcoming games Far Cry 4 and Assassin's Creed Unity. Watch_Dogs shows that even when they do have the time and resources to put women in their games (air quotes), the results aren't always what they could and should be.
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