If you are wanting a review of Watch Dogs then this will suffice, but it is more of a breakdown of the game from a game designer point of view, so bear in mind that I may talk about specifics in the game that may be considered SPOILERS. I have been following the game design lectures here and making a design analysis of a game is the homework. This was my first attempt and although enjoyed making somewhat like a review, I think I can do better on the analysis department having read the brief again. so lets begin.
Watch Dogs is a game where you play the complex Aiden Pierce, a gifted computer hacker, driver and marksman. Essentially it is an open world action game with diverse gameplay elements from combat, puzzle solving, driving, stealth and evasion, but the theme and narrative of the game add a deeper level of meaning to the gameplay.
- Strong Theme an narrative reinforced by the mechanics
- Original gameplay features
- Thought provoking theme that is highly relevant to modern life
- A sense of power over adversity in slow plan and execute phases or in higher paced reactionary situations
- A variety of tools for a wide array of scenarios, none of which seem redundent
- Attention to detail bring the setting to life making all AI characters seem more human
- Cheating enemy AI
- Too difficult to correct mistakes in stealth sections
- Next to no use for the money you collect
- Easy to find dominant strategies that can take the challenge out of gameplay
In summary – The morality of the narrative flits between good and bad in this title, but as far as the gameplay is concerned, the good far out weighs the bad. Enough to recommend this game to anyone who likes their open world, action, adventure or stealth games to assume a little intelligence of the player.
Game Design Breakdown – For me the game elicited conflicting emotions in me, especially regarding my opinion of the main character Aiden Pierce. A lot of games involving physical conflict exhibit a black and white mentality to good and evil. Most often the enemy is purely represented as evil and the hero is the shining example of good who overcomes evil (There are many other ways of depicting good and evil, in the Grand Theft Auto series, almost no one is depicted as being a good person). Aiden Pierce inhabits a grey area between the two. He is neither hero nor anti-hero or villain. On the one hand he is known as a vigilante in the games Chicago city setting, stopping and hunting down criminals and the main story line follows his exploits trying to protect his family from a criminal conspiracy. However, Aiden is also a criminal in his own right, he steals from civilians, has illegal access to city infrastructure technology and is willing to kill a large number of people (not all of them particularly deserving of death) to protect his family. As a player I shared in his anger and hatred of the enemy as well as his guilt for some of the extreme actions he takes. A good example of the emotional conflict elicited by the game was the human trafficking plot. Aiden infiltrates an auction of sex slaves, the half naked girls are paraded on stage and some are shown sobbing or terrified, you can even hack the phones of the patrons to see their foul thought processes. You then meet the vile man responsible for the auction. It felt heroic in the game to save the women and bring the police to arrest the people involved. Afterwards you are informed that some slipped away and finding them becomes a side quest. Most of the men from the auction are clearly bad people and you feel good about incriminating them, one however, remarkably was able to make me feel some sympathy for him (not enough to let him go free of course), the side quest requires you find the auction patrons and hack their phones to find evidence on them and you get a brief snippet of their thoughts following the police investigation, this one man is found in a graveyard, he appears to be texting his wife, he apologises for his actions, saying he was trying to fill the hole left when she died, then instead of a reply, the phone sends back a delivery failed message. I felt sadness and sympathy for the man despite my hatred for those who would commit the same crime.
There are many example of this kind of thought provoking morality in the game. Often it is used to emphasise the games theme of issues surrounding privacy and surveillance, and exploration of vengeance and justice weighed against their cost. The game, especially during Aidens more introspective moments and his dealing with innocents like his family ask questions of the viewer. Is it OK to pursue justice for terrible crimes if it means hurting a lot more people in the process? Can your good deeds as a vigilante make up for your past crimes? Can anything you do “fix” the injustice of a murdered child. The insights into what is monitored in the city and the public propaganda broadcasts by the hacker group DedSec made me think about the issues surrounding privacy in the digital age and how it applies to the real world.
The gameplay does a good job of giving a sense that you can overcome great physical strength using intelligence, sure there are times when skills like shooting and driving are needed, and they are often exciting, however for me I found the most engagement in using my intelligence to overcome obstacles, Aiden can be killed by gunfire as easily as any enemy, but is always greatly outnumbered. The combat, and particularly the stealth combat sections are more like puzzles to be solved. There is a great sense of achievement when you can defeat enemies and manipulate them using the hacking tools at your disposal, often without ever putting yourself in harms way.
The hacking mechanics are very interesting, they can be used in low tempo scenarios, where you as a player can carefully plan out and execute your tactics, or they can be used in more vigorous scenes, this particularly works in car chases when you can use traffic blockers, spikes and traffic lights to take down or evade your enemy. When say for example you manage to cause a perusing car to crash into road blockers, the game slows down and pans to show the crash, the effect is satisfying and makes you feel smart for having executed it.
The puzzles and gameplay scenarios are quite varied, they kept me interested as the game does a great job of mixing up the challenges, you have a range of abilities at your disposal and all of them will be needed throughout the game. The challenge comes from identifying the nature of each problem, assessing the best strategy and the pay off is executing it successfully.
The game is strong overall. It is well produced, original and I found it enjoyable throughout. I am hard pressed to point out any flaws in particular. The driving and shooting sections might have felt somewhat similar to a lot of open world games on the market, but the game adds enough extra tools to make it feel much more unique. For me one of the biggest drawbacks was the AI which felt unfair at times. The stealth sections were very strong but became almost impossible to salvage if a mistake is made. Much of the time, once you mess up, a stealth section will become almost irrecoverably a shooting section. And in these circumstances, the AI feels like it is cheating, if a guard spots you, even if you kill him quietly before he can say anything, all the other guards seem to psychically know where you are. Effective hiding places are hard to come by in a fire fight, I found when I was caught, that it was best to restart the section or fight. The AI often feels like it is cheating, from helicopters that can recognise you through the roof of any vehicle, to criminals that seem to be suspicious of you and you alone in a city populated by millions. The other major flaw that I noticed was the fact that at times you are almost given too many tools to deal with the challenges in the game, there are a lot of dominant strategies to be found that defuse otherwise difficult tasks. Another negative is the fact that money serves very little purpose, I found myself habitually hacking peoples accounts for their money (even whilst chasing down muggers which felt somewhat hypocritical) but the only things to spend money on were guns and ammo, but I was able to afford the best weapons very early on and I never bought a single bullet the whole time I played, what I scavenged from enemies was plenty. Before long I had a huge fortune and nothing to do with it. The also meant that I lacked the motivation to complete the many fixer contract side missions, as they reward you with only money and some of the contracts I found kind of annoying as they often had needlessly strict restrictions and tasks that seemed to serve no reasonable purpose like moving a number of cars a mile or two down the road in a small amount of time, as though any criminal would pay thousands of dollars for such a task.