Thursday, June 12, 2014

Watch_Dogs: "Press (A) to write blog post"

I'm ashamed to say that the first cinema date I ever had with my wife was to go and see Hackers, a mostly rubbish film starring Jonny Lee Miller and Angelina Jolie. It, like Watch_Dogs, made hacking out to be a cool underground thing mainly being carried out by pretty people with odd piercings and asymmetrical hairstyles in purple neon-lit nightclubs. The reality is that it's mostly carried out by fat blokes with neckbeards wearing promotional Linux penguin t-shirts stained with Vesta Chow Mein and Rustlers Rib Sandwiches.

However, as you can imagine, this wouldn't make for a particularly exciting game. Objectives would range from remembering to click on 'safely remove hardware' before pulling out USB drives, avoiding the urge to open any curtains lest pale skin be burned - Oh, and a series of fetch missions involving getting new packs of Loo roll from the local Costcutter and liberally spraying Febreze to remove the scent of sweat, B.O. and desperation.

Watch_Dogs (the underscore is very important and it's definitely not a space because that wouldn't be as cool) casts you as Aiden Pearce, a vigilante who is so secretive and so damn cool and underground that passers-by recognise him in the street from the very start of the game. ("Hey, is that the vigilante?").  Clearly his subterfuge is on a par with certain British secret agents telling anybody who'll listen their entire name, repeating the surname twice for clarity.

You're a super 1337 hacker (thats hacker sp33k for 'leet', dontchaknow) whose talents with a computer seem to involve mostly pressing the 'A' button to do things like blow up steam pipes, raise or lower bridges and hack into cameras. On occasion you even have to play a mini-game of pipe mania - which for computing and hacking authenticity is way up there with the version of Unix in Jurassic Park that plays like a flight simulator.

It's customary to have a gritty past and some reason for vengeance, and Aiden has one so run of the mill it's spent the afternoon running in a mill.  His niece was killed by some nasty bad men after Aiden upset them, so Aidens going to spend the rest of the game carrying on upsetting the bad man so they'll kidnap his sister and try to kidnap his nephew as well.

Aiden is a dick.

Do you know the real shame? Somebody has taken particular effort to make a realistic looking Chicago with some wonderful weather effects - when rain falls, the surfaces become shinier and waterlogged and you can just stand and watch the city unfold before you - and it looks incredible.

But the second you get involved with it, it falls apart. One of the my favourite highlights is pedestrians leaping out of the way when you're driving slowly down the road and they're still on the pavement. It's as though there's been a mass convention of people on the verge of a nervous breakdown and they're all in Chicago for the weekend. Everybody is permanently petrified. Mind you I guess I'd feel the same if I lived in a city where people could blow up the very road beneath me with just the press of a button.

The campaign is entertaining enough with a few genuinely exciting missions when it moves away from the norm of 'go here, get this. Oh, what a surprise - now defend this for a set period of time and escape'.  There are some brilliant missions where you're hacking into a variety of cameras whilst guiding somebody about and it's genuinely engaging.

..but it sadly descends into that horrible 'collectible' tradition thats ruining computer games. Like boss fights they're a horrible artificial way of stretching out a plot line. Hacking into ctOS towers just feels like climbing to the top of radio towers in Far Cry 3 which feels just like clambering to the top of viewpoints in Assassins Creed which just feels like.. etc, etc, ad nauseum.

So, decidedly average. It's no surprise that it didn't live up to the hype - it never could have - but I was hoping for something a little beyond mediocre.  This isn't the game I've seen hyped up for so long now - it falls far short.

So, turns out next-gen gaming was GTA V with shitty AI and a less coherent plot. Whodathunkit?

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