I was really looking forward to Watch_Dogs when it was first announced. I thought the concept of using data and information to deliver vigilante justice to arms dealers, human traffickers and other scum of the earth was super cool. It looked like it was going to be the first great game that would lead us into the next generation of videogames. I admit that I got caught up in the hype for it because I really wanted it to be as good as it looked. But when it came out, the critical consensus was a lot less enthusiastic. Not only was the E3 announcement not actually representative of the final game’s graphical fidelity, but the gameplay didn’t really live up to the massive amounts of hype. I still bought it, because I wanted to have an informed opinion on it. But upon playing it, I found that the game is an unfocused mess with a completely bizarre sense of morality.
Watch_Dogs is a strange and confusing game. On the one hand, it tries really hard to sell the power fantasy of being an elite hacker Batman who uses his power for the betterment of the city. But on the other hand, it absolutely fails to make any point about the nature of information and surveillance. But the real problem with the game lies in Aiden himself.
There’s really no kind way of saying this. Aiden is a prick. He’s mean, selfish, humorless, and just generally an unlikeable and unpleasant person. He lies to his friends, gets his family into trouble, and manipulates whoever he wants in order to get his way. And the absolute worst part about him is that he never gets punished for anything he does.
A key mechanic of Watch_Dogs is the ability to hack into the phones of pedestrians and access their bank accounts, personal information, music libraries, calls and text conversations. This is supposed to make it feel like the people in the city are actual human beings with lives and backstories. You’re supposed to feel bad when you steal from someone who works at a soup kitchen, or someone who recently got evicted. But the text can only take you so far. The game never actually punishes you for stealing from good people. No decrease in reputation, nobody telling you off, not even a little popup telling you “don’t do that you jerk”. It brings up the moral issue, but never actually takes a stance on it. Ultimately, there is no downside to stealing from good people because the game doesn’t give you a reason to care.
But Watch_Dogs’ biggest flaw lies with the way Aiden is presented. His entire motivation hinges on the fact that his niece was killed because of the people he was involved with in his exploits as a hacker. He promised his sister that he would stop, but instead goes on a wild goose chase to try and get revenge by continuing his hacking. This leads to his sister getting kidnapped as well, by Damien, an old hacker buddy of his. So instead of doing what he PROMISED to do, he kept going and got more of his family in trouble. And the worst part is that Damien treats his hostage better than Aiden treats his!
Aiden is a jerk and I don’t like playing as him. But what’s the most frustrating about Watch_Dogs is that it doesn’t realize how bad of a person Aiden is. The game keeps trying to convince you that Aiden is cool. Aiden is cool in the same way that Frank Miller comics and Linkin Park are cool. He’s bitter, cynical, angry, brooding, and wears a stupid coat. But the game keeps telling that he’s a hero. His niece is dead and his sister’s been kidnapped! But the more it gets brought up, the less it feels like a justification and more like an excuse. Every time Aiden complains that he’s doing all of this for his niece, it sounds more and more desperate.
Aiden Pearce is not a hero. He isn’t even an antihero. He’s a twat with a gun and I hope he chokes on his own magic cellphone.