4. A Refreshing Story That Doesn't Need to Rely on GTA-like Satire.
I'm a huge fan of the GTA series, but I agree with my fellow gamers who feel that it's time for Rockstar to stop with Weazel News and the like. ("It's iFruit," like iPhone, get it?!" Sigh.) So I'm pleased as punch that Watch Dogs does not go down this route. I'm not saying the writing doesn't poke fun at politics, hacking, etc. but it's done in a less loud and obnoxious way.
And the story is all the better for it.
I do wish that Aiden Pearce as a character wasn't just another brooding trench coat loner, but the cast of characters and the way the story unfolds works like a great episode of 24. (The early seasons.) After the somewhat predictable motivation of Aiden losing his young niece, Lena, by an unknown organization that tried to snuff him out, the rest of the script settles into a more grounded (okay, "grounded" for a videogame) moments. Aiden will need to keep a close watch on several people in Chicago and the outlying rural area of Pawnee in order to crack the mystery of what exactly is being covered up in a world where privacy seems all but a distant memory.
As a narrator, Aiden's monotone-spteak could be better, but I didn't mind. I sorta felt his detachment fit a person who looks a people as ones and zeroes. Still, I do wish I felt a little more invested in his personal life.
The main story has over forty missions played out in a five-act structure. This is about half of what you'd get in a GTA game. (IV is usually upwards of 90 missions.) At over 20 hours, Watch Dogs keeps its main campaign lean and pretty engaging, up until a few last-act shenanigans that I won't spoil.
5. Pretentious Assassin's Creed Vibe Is Still There, but More Enjoyable.
My biggest fear with Watch Dogs was that Ubisoft's Montreal Studios, the same developers who launched the Creed series, would wallow in a too-serious tone. I loved the look and the parkour stuff of AC, but man, the missions were so repetitive. Wisely, Watch Dogs shows that the designers have learned a lot from the scripted format of GTA IV. Tasks lead to bigger ones and then veer off in unpredictable routes. It's not that that all sandbox games aren't essentially making the player do the same few things (kill that guy, get the package, protect that girl) it's really more about how the player doesn't notice that they're doing the same five things over and over.
Further, even though I've already mentioned how lacking in personality Aiden is, the writing never becomes overwrought with pretentions. I honestly never cared about the Abstergo conspiracies in Creed and frankly, rolled my eyes at how seriously those games took themselves. Which is why the pirate tone in the series' last venture (AC IV: Black Flag) was so welcome. Who knows, maybe after the success of Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon, the developer finally loosened up. Amen to that.
6. Hacker Clara Cooler, More Tattooed Version Acid Burn.
Angelina Jolie was never hotter for teens as she was as Kate Libby aka Acid Burn in the cult classic Hackers in 1995. Clara is like the version 2.0 upgrade that partners with Aiden. She's a well-written character, and unlike Aiden, does a good job at unfolding bits of information about her in a compelling manner. Her entrance is coded goodness. If it's not the short hair, the tats get me every time.
7. At the Very Least, Aiden Is Never Mistaken for "the One" a la Neo in The Matrix.
This never happens, because ya know, he and by extension "we," are not gods.
The Verdict: No, Watch Dogs is not the GTA killer some might have dreamed, but I wholeheartedly applaud Ubisoft's ambition to try something new. I look forward to more drama in the word of code. Oh, and hack the planet!
Previously by Peter Paras: