Waiting on Watch Dogs 2

Following up to the conspiracy swamped, non-consequential tale of social invasion thanks to an “always-connected” system, where the world’s only hope for serenity is a non-redeemable, man-baby armed with a Beretta and an iPhone. Ubisoft’s Watch Dogs was an amazing tease for what could’ve been a truly amazing game. Pity. However, now with recent confirmation that Watch Dogs 2 is officially in development, the best news to actually come from this announcement was the abandonment of the original game’s protagonist—Aiden Pearce. Frankly, I’m perfectly fine with this. Considering the wasted potential for what someone could have achieved had they been given a Samsung’s next prototype which was essentially a key to the city, I say let him go.

It all looked so promising. Aiden’s use of a technologically advanced smartphone allowed him manipulate everything from traffic lights and radio signals to electronic billboards and CCTV, even initiating a city-wide blackout. The game’s central theme of being able to peek into the socially-online connections and personal data of the populace seemed to be the justification of gameplay. Initial advertisements and demonstrations of the game highly emphasized this. During the actual game however, little use actually came from the device and the largely oblique storyline that the game contained was shallow to say the least: comprised around a plot of an ex-criminal hacker who seeks revenge for the death of a loved one, using an iconic weapon as his means of doing so. This framework describes just about every one of Ubisoft’s titles, particularly those within the Assassin’s Creed series.

Outside of the game’s main missions which were largely devoid of choice in itself, the game makes no justified reasoning for using Aiden’s phone since the possession of a gun provides as much action as it does a requirement after first using the phone to get things rolling. These story-based missions proved to be nothing more than a Call of Duty shooting-gallery equivalent for hacking. Locate said person or object, hack said person through a generic nonsensical puzzle, then retrieve the information and gun your way to freedom.

What’s the deciding factor as to whether or not the player completes the mission? Ammo. It’s always ammo. This begs the question as to whether or not the majority of the game’s story could’ve been completed had the player just been given the choice to approach a mission in a "guns blazing" fashion to begin with. A reason to actually use the phone and do so with the element of choice as to how the mission resolves and how others perceive the main character from there onwards, therefore affecting the rest of the game would prove to be much more meaningful for the use of his phone.

Should the studio seek to improve upon the aspects of Watch Dogs which were simply just a tease, I ask this: can I blackmail a target, raise his emotions towards me and have his world crumble around him while his allies question his reign of power, all through the use of hacking? I hope so. Monolith Production’s Shadow of Mordor raised the bar for the existence and relevance of not only story elements, but also to the game’s A.I. and the aspect of player engagement in being rewarded to continue the game. This element of cause and effect should also extend to the life of the city itself.

Hacking into people’s phone calls, bank accounts, social feeds and personal secrets is fine. Not being able to do anything with the data is not. And this is the very thing that ignores the base concept of the game as well as the fears and threats that people face in reality when personal data is involved—the manipulation of people’s lives. Where Watch Dogs 2 would do well in stepping over the shortcomings of the original game lies in the influence of both present and upcoming games within the same genre and formula. Why can’t I recruit people to aid in my goals? Why do I have no control nor say in the matter as to what my allies do and how they feel about me? Why are there no side-missions dictated by me as the player that will contribute towards the main plot of the game? I realize Aiden has no friends, and his only real accomplice within this iPhone bubble of a city is a cliché tattoo model, that idealizes the after-hours fantasy of an overworked barista from Starbucks. But in all seriousness, she was useless. Just about every section of Clara’s involvement was executed through the means of an in-game cut scene.  


It’s such a sad tale of irony that Watch Dogs being what it is—a game set in the near future—is greatly limited in just about everything it presents to the player, all the while dating back to old gimmicks and tropes that were present in earlier titles. Yet Mafia 3, an upcoming game within the same genre set in the 1960s, meets and exceeds all of the issues I had with Watch Dogs. Despite Mafia 3 being released quite a substantial time after Watch Dogs, it’s clear which one of these studios were thinking ahead in terms of creating a fully-fledged world, one that’s complete and does well to make use of its locale with potentially interesting characters. Keywords here: replay value.

Whether or not the upcoming sequel continues to take place in Chicago is a mystery at this point in time, but a more tightly-packed and immersive surrounding would be much more interesting in delivering a fully-fledged and convincing world. This is an issue that extends to much of Ubisoft’s other titles. In what I’ve appropriately named the "Spider-Man Effect,” the open world games that the studio tends to create fall very much in-line with Activision’s early Spider-Man games dating back to the PlayStation 2 era. That is, complete the story, find the highest point in the city, and abandon the game succumbing to the sad pathetic conclusion that there’s nothing else that’s even remotely exciting left.

While the pursuit of DLC and expansion packs somewhat overcome this, it is by no means an excuse for a decadent world consisting of mindless NPCs which do little to nothing apart from calling in law-enforcement whenever I steal a car. I fail to see how this is any different nor innovative to previous entries within Rockstar’s Grand Theft Auto series. The only thing that sets Watch Dogs apart from the former is a scripted set of generic animations which can be easily put to mute the moment Aiden flashes his gun. This identity crisis of not wanting to be Grand Theft Auto while at the very same time contradicting itself by the free-use of firearms is another aspect which could be greatly improved upon within its sequel.

If I’m playing as a killer just admit he’s a killer. If not, then forbid the use of weaponry on innocent civilians. It’s also within the aspects of identity as to why Aiden Pearce is not in anyway relatable nor an interesting protagonist. To be perfectly honest, he’s painful and dull. The guy’s a wreck. Aiden Pearce has about as much character and personality as a brown, paper envelope floating down a sidewalk in Leicester Square on a cloudy, rainy day. As it stands right now for Watch Dogs 2, the recently leaked pictures of the game’s rumoured protagonist isn’t exactly doing much for portraying a character who’s at all more interesting than Aiden.

This shady, mysterious figure looks more like a UK games journalist on his way to a Ubisoft Press event, all the while struggling to find the nearest exit on the London Underground. There’s nothing visually that sets the character apart from Aiden Pearce minus his visit to Specsavers. But as they say, looks aren’t everything. As long as the studio provides a rich and well thought-out backstory that’s as progressive as it is entertaining while providing something that’s relatable to the player, then to be perfectly honest I see no problem with the character’s design. However, should the game expand on the aspects of character customization that was introduced in the original, a change in an actual attire as opposed to the miniscule choices of baggy jeans and a trench coat with flat, pale colours would much more appreciated.

It would appear that the much needed overhaul I feel Watch Dogs 2 deserves resides in the element of choice, cause, and effect. All of which are initially teased throughout the original, rooting from the lack of control that the player is initially given. Watch Dogs delivered in giving the player a set of fun and entertaining toys to play with, but looking back on their use and what they brought to the table, the majority of them could’ve easily been replaced with a flash grenade. Throughout all of the suggestions and the hopes that I have for a sequel, the most important things that I feel which would have the most impact are the consequences in how the player approaches and resolves a mission, as well the way civilians and side-story characters interact with the protagonist. Ubisoft has an amazing selection of games to learn from since the debut of Watch Dogs. Let us hope they actually do so.

…And for god’s sake, be somewhat realistic. Why is the phone never on charge? Lies.