I was on vacation last week, and while it was initially perfect, it concluded with a rather horrifically expensive emergency home repair. Got in some gaming though, of course.
I finished Ubisoft’s Watch Dogs early in the week. I was thrilled with the game-play yet irritated beyond repair at the story. This love-hate dichotomy is indicative of my relationship with Ubisoft of late, and reveals a truth about the industry as a whole.
If the employees of the video game industry want to be viewed on equal footing with film and television, they have to step up their game (ugh sorry for the crummy pun). The story for Watch Dogs is a joke, full of holes – typical of a big AAA title.
**I’m going to start throwing out spoilers now, so continue as you please.**
The protagonist, Aiden Pearce, is an a-hole. As gamers, we’ve played the role of loads of a-holes, like Kratos (God of War), or any Grand Theft Auto game. Never once did I mistake Kratos or Tommy Vercetti for good guys, yet Watch Dogs tries to play Pearce off as a good guy on occasion. It rarely works.
An exemplary citizen..
Nicky Pearce, Aiden’s sister, is infuriating. Ubisoft makes Nicky seem like a useless, clueless and weak human being. Throughout the game, Aiden promises her he’ll stop pursuing the persons who ordered a hit on him (that hit resulted in the death of his niece, Nicky’s daughter).
“Promise me you’ll stop,” she demands from Aiden, who quickly promises, although we know he’s lying with each empty promise. This lie happens several times throughout the game. Aiden is a selfish prick, hell-bent on vengeance.
I understand that Nicky is kidnapped for a good portion of the game; she catches onto the fact that Aiden is the “Vigilante” after he rescues her. This is problematic. For the duration of the game, Aiden has been the subject of every TV or radio news broadcast. He wears a stupid, stupid outfit, which no one else in the game wears. It’s insane to ask me to believe that she didn’t know, or that someone didn’t tell her. That sh*t irritates me in games.
Once she finds out and confronts him, she loses it for about a half a second. Then she’s cool.
Ubisoft goes to some lengths to make it clear that Aiden is a vengeful person, but that piece of his story breaks when we get to Clara Lille.
If I were to say to you, “Hey, friend, let’s put a female character in this game. She’ll be a badass hacker and we’ll call her Clara,” how do you imagine she’d look? If I explained to you that, at a certain point, Aiden and Clara would meet in person, how would you imagine that meeting would go?
Stieg Larsson’s The Girl With Tattoos That Hacks Good
Clara, predictably, is gorgeous. Punk gorgeous. So, obviously, when Aiden and Clara meet, there’s this unnecessary and nauseating sexual tension between them immediately. I tell you, I roll my eyes every single time I think of that scene.
And then there’s this gem of a scene, where Clara is subjected to the condescending misogyny of T-Bone (another hacker).
From the opening of Watch Dogs, we’re introduced to a character named Maurice. Maurice is the dude who was hired to kill Aiden, but Maurice accidentally kills the niece. Throughout the game, Aiden uncovers audio logs of Maurice telling his story. Maurice was blackmailed by a gang to do the hit. He didn’t want to do the hit. When he killed the niece, he all but lost his mind from the guilt.
That last piece is of no matter to Aiden. He doesn’t care that Maurice is sorry. Aiden doesn’t care that Maurice was blackmailed into doing the hit. Aiden has no sympathy for Maurice.
But how did Maurice know where to find Aiden? That would be because of Clara. Clara gave Aiden’s location to Maurice (whether directly or indirectly) for the hit. When Aiden finds out Clara gave him up, he’s like, no biggie. It’s cool. You’re a woman. You didn’t mean it.
Then Clara dies. Whatever. Of course she dies. It would be unpredictable if she lived, and god forbid Ubisoft ignores a trope for once. I can’t decide if this is what great storytelling is like in France and Canada, or if French and Canadian game developers think this is what we as consumers like in a story. Either way, it’s whack.
One more character, and then I feel like I’ve dissected enough. Let’s talk about “Iraq” – the leader of the “Viceroys” gang in Watch Dogs.
Firstly, that’s not how you pronounce “Iraq”.
Every time I heard them say “eye-rack”, I wanted to scream. Regardless, let’s also talk about how Iraq, the character, is a carbon fricking copy of Vaas Montenegro from Far Cry 3, the type of antagonist that kills his (always a he) followers at the blink of an eye, just because.
I can’t take stories like this seriously. No matter how fun the actual mechanics and game-play are, it’s never going to be enough to hold up a horrible story – an all-too familiar pattern in the gaming industry.
Did you play Watch Dogs? I totally loved all the hacking. Did you dig it?
Emily Reese is an on-air host for Classical Minnesota Public Radio. She is also the host and producer for Top Score, Classical MPR’s podcast about video game soundtracks, and created MPR’s Listening to Learn series. She earned an undergrad certificate in music education and jazz studies from the University of Colorado — Boulder, and a Master’s degree in music theory from the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. Emily lives in Twin Cities with her cats Atticus, June Bug and Lee, and loves gaming, with or without friends.