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June 9, 2014

The Problem with Watch Dogs (Part 2)

You know, sometimes I wonder if I should just give up video games.

I wonder, but I never get that far -- never past that threshold.  That’s because there are still a lot of good games out there.  Metal Gear Rising.  BioShock Infinite.  GTA5.  The Wonderful 101.  Transistor.  Tokyo Jungle. Mario 3D World.  Dark Souls and its kin.  And most recently, Mario Kart 8.  So it’s not a matter of apocalyptic mumbling, or some assumption that the video game industry is doomed.  There are good games out right now, good games that have come out semi-recently, and good games that are destined to see release before year’s end.  There is absolutely no reason to give in to doomsaying and gloom.

That all said, there is a distinction.  There is something that I have no problem giving up -- and that’s bad video games.  Sounds simple enough, sure.  Nobody wants to waste their time with a bad game, least of all me; suffering through a stinker just reminds me how much more writing I could get done instead, and how much more fun I could have had typing out my yarns.  But recently, it seems like my instincts have gotten sharper.  For one reason or another, I’ve gotten better at suspecting trouble in games before they even hit the shelves.  So I guess from now on, it’s going to be a matter of trusting them instead of wasting my time trying to give those stinkers “a fair shake”. 

Is there a chance that I could be turning my back on a “great game, great experience”?  Yes.  But there’s also the chance that I could be 100% right.  That even if reviews give a game no less than a 7 (itself the “danger zone” of review scores), that’s no guarantee of its quality or even close to a good time.

And there’s no other game that proves that -- that tells me to cast judgment long beforehand -- better than Watch Dogs.


But let me start by asking a question: what is the point of a dark story?

If you’re familiar with my work and opinions, you already have an answer, and you probably already know what I’m going to say.  But for the record, I’ll go ahead and repeat myself: the purpose of a dark story -- dark, or gritty, or serious, or whatever -- isn’t just so the creators can superficially add mature elements.  Guns, violence, and realism (the definition of which, paradoxically, has long since gotten strained in a post-Nolan, post -The Dark Knight world) do not automatically make a story good.  Certainly not dark. 

Ah, would that every entertainment industry under the sun take that knowledge to heart.  Maybe then it would spare us from Disney movies -- Disney movies -- that don’t have any problems telling us that the classics that built their company and delighted untold millions of fans is wrong…while making a movie whose only saving grace is supposedly the presence of Angelina Jolie.  Certainly not the story -- or its less-than-savory “subtext”.





But let’s set aside the influence of movies for now, because that’s a discussion for another day (that I really want to get to, but whatever.)  Let’s regain our focus -- and let me use my brother as an example.  As my polar opposite -- the Ken to my Ryu, as expected of a sibling -- he actually likes dark and gritty stories.  He mentioned to me in a conversation one day that he likes post-apocalyptic worlds and (to a lesser extent, IIRC) cyberpunk dystopias.  He’s actually excited about the upcoming Mad Max game, because it’s something that appeals to him.  Fair enough. 

But I suspect that he, and a lot of people, has the definition confused.  I would bet that he doesn’t like Mad Max because of the nature of its content (i.e. a broken down world full of violence).  He likes it because, at the core, a good dark story is about exploring themes and ideas.  It’s about exploring the “what if” that any story should strive towards.  It’s all about cause and effect.  If X, then Y.  People want to see that -- not sex, or violence, or (worst of all) obvious statements masquerading as profound knowledge.  Or CONFUSED statements masquerading as profound knowledge. 


So let it be known that I don’t hate dark or gritty stories just because they’re dark or gritty (Battle Royale is one of my favorite books, after all).  I hate them when they don’t set out to do what they should be doing -- and if I rally against them, it’s because that when, something that should be decidedly rare, has become nightmarishly common.  DmC, Beyond: Two Souls, The Last of Us, Splinter Cell: Blacklist and more all had the potential to be something fantastic.  But they weren’t.  They didn’t make a case for themselves.  They didn’t -- they couldn’t answer the simplest question of all: “Why?”

And Watch Dogs is just the latest of them to fall.

I will be honest.  I haven’t gotten through the full game or its story.  And the way things are looking, I don’t intend to.  I’ve seen enough.  I don’t see any potential, or glimmers of brilliance, or anything worthwhile.  You may think that’s unfair of me, and in a lot of ways that’s true; I can’t fully judge a game if I can’t fully digest it.  But here’s the thing: I’ve only gotten through a few story missions in Watch Dogs and a few side missions, and I absolutely hate it.  Yet I’ve ALSO only gotten through a few story missions in GTA5 and a few side missions, and I absolutely love it.  To bring back the Hell’s Kitchen analogy from the last post, I don’t need to eat the whole dish to know that the chef screwed up.  One bite, and one taste, can do plenty -- and tell me that I need to put the fork down.


If there was any company that needed to tell a competent story about technological invasions of privacy and a vise-like control of information flow, it was Ubisoft.  One of the first things you see when you boot up the game is a message saying that you’re logging into the Ubisoft servers, even if when you’re playing offline.  Shortly after that, the game pesters you about making and using an account for Uplay, AKA the DRM “service” that tends to cause more problems than solve them.  And keep in mind that the company also forced a review embargo until the morning of release…and incidentally, was on the receiving end of a hacking attack not too long ago.  When it rains, it pours.

The sad thing is that I’m not against using a video game to explore societal issues and controversies.  In fact, I welcome it; doing so could do more than just give the medium some “legitimacy”.  It could do something much simpler, but much better: open the minds of gamers, and give them something to digest long after they turn off the game and go on their merry way.  That’s the expectation I had from Watch Dogs, because that’s the expectation I have from all games from this point on -- i.e., any game that at once tries to give us a straightforward narrative while also trying to work in current events and issues is allowed to do so…as long as they do it well.  That’s just another part of The Deal.

Watch Dogs doesn’t even come close to delivering on The Deal.  It didn’t even try.


It only took the counsel of one guy brought in from off-camera to shoot down the game’s entire premise. 

One guy.  In two sentences.

This game cost more than $68 million dollars to make.

Fuck this.  I’m gonna go play Mario Kart 8.


Cripes.  That game is like a massage and spa treatment for the soul.

You know, it’s funny.  Transistor reminded me of Mega Man Battle Network, however tangentially -- and now Watch Dogs is doing everything it can to try and “pay homage” to it.  Battle Network (and Star Force, to a lesser extent) ALSO built its entire story around a fully-connected world, and that was ALSO to its world’s detriment.  Everything was connected, and as a result everything was at risk.

And when I say everything, I mean everything.  One of the first things you do at the start of one of the series’ games is clear out viruses from the microwave...which is hooked up to the internet for some reason.  Indeed, cyber-crime is the thrust of each arc of each game, as you’d expect.  But looking back, I can’t help but give the franchise some credit (beyond the fact that it led to the creation of a stone-cold badass like SearchMan.EXE.)


Cyber-crime may run rampant, but that’s counteracted by the obvious and immediate presence of authorities -- organizations large, small, and even personal.  You could argue that the entire culture of the BN universe revolves around (or at least puts plenty of stock in) sending in virtual partners to the internet to do battle with viruses and criminals.  There’s a sense of intelligence to the proceedings; using the internet has been highly simplified and personalized by way of those virtual buddies (NetNavis, MegaMan.EXE being one of many), so that “even a child could do it”. 

More to the point, virus-busting is at once a noble task and a chance for fun and glory -- something that children willingly undertake, and as such have no problems going further into the technological field because of the hook -- the promise -- laid by virus-busting.  And because of that, the people of that world are more than willing to take a stand against crime, even if they don’t have supreme technical knowledge or resources.  If there’s a problem, the people could feasibly solve it themselves.  Even if they can’t, there are countless others who are willing to take on the problem -- even if it’s in a distinctly-stylized manner. 


Am I reaching a bit with BN?  Possibly.  Probably, even.  But there’s enough context and subtext in the series as a whole to let me come to those conclusions.  And it didn’t require any grand gestures, or even the better part of a game to explain it; I could pretty much go “okay, got it” in the span of a synopsis.  And that’s fine.  BN may have the advantage of working with a much simpler world, but it at least laid the groundwork to understand it.  It has its rules, and sets expectations.  It makes good on The Deal.

WD doesn’t.  Its world is more complex in design, but in terms of execution it’s barely a cut above GTA with more security cameras.  Which is to say, barely a cut above GTA3.  If that. 

An offhand broadcast following one mission reveals that most people in Chicago don’t know how ctOS -- the platform by which “everything is connected” -- doesn’t work.  Fair enough; that’s likely true of a lot of tech-using people today…even if the devs revealed that in the least subtle method possible.  But the consequence is that it removes their agency from the story.  They can’t have any effect on the world, or the plot, or even put on airs of being meaningful behind the scenes.  They help make the world feel smaller.  And while it’s true that you can get glimpses of their problems and day-to-day lives by reading usually-randomized blurbs (it’s possible to meet someone who’s an HIV positive blood donor, which given some testimonies by other players is more likely an accident) and listen in on phone conversations, there’s a question that needs to be asked.  One that I doubt Ubisoft did.

Why should the player care about those little factoids?


Aiden certainly doesn’t.  He has no attachment to them besides seeing them as abstract concepts or potential criminals.  And indeed, the only way you can meaningfully interact with nearly anyone in this game is A) hack them, B) shoot them, or C) run them over.  That’s it.  And trust me, I’ve tried.  In one instance, I ran into a homeless guy sitting on a street corner, and he begged for money as desperately as he could with sign in hand. 

The assumption is that it would be an opportunity for Aiden -- the vigilante -- to toss some money his way, right?  Plus it’d be the perfect way to add a means to improve your reputation.  But no.  You can’t.  If you get too close to the guy, he actually snaps at you and effectively tells you to fuck off…and then goes back to begging for money.  And that’s not even an isolated incident; you can run into a guy trying to sell others on his religion, and passing out brochures.  But get close enough to him, and his good graces vanish in an instant as he tells you to get lost.


Now let’s be fair here.  Does GTA5 have the same issue?  Undoubtedly, yes (even if, at the very least, you can retrieve a stolen purse).  But that’s counterbalanced by a quirky supporting cast, with several characters you meet within hours of starting a new file -- themselves atop a trio of incredibly-flawed and obviously-villainous madmen.  At my current point in the playthrough (plus a little bit more from seeing my brother go at it), I’ve seen Aiden, some vaguely-charming criminal who of course disappears shortly after his introduction so as not to be cooler than Aiden, some old guy who kills another guy you don’t care about, some other criminal trying to use Aiden, and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

I shit you not -- I met Lisbeth Salander, and upon her reveal I burst out laughing over how over-the-top she looked in what should have been a serious tone (and game overall).  But I stopped laughing soon after, seeing as how in her debut scene she revealed herself to be pretty much the Catwoman to Aiden’s (Nolan-style) Batman…and then some scenes later turns into a confused, panicked protectorate in an escort mission.  GG, Ubisoft.  You let Capcom write a better story than you.  Capcom.  Hang up a plaque to commemorate your failure.


But let’s get back on topic.  Why should the player care about the factoids of random NPCs?  To answer that question, we have to broaden it and get to the real root of the issue.  So let’s go ahead and ask this instead: why should the player care about random NPCs?  This isn’t a question exclusive to WD.  It’s a question you could ask any given game, regardless of genre.  I mean, why should you care about what NPCs in any given JRPG have to say?  Or any given Zelda game?  It’s not like they matter, right?  They’re just spouting off random blurbs about crap you don’t care about, right?

Well, no.  It’s not random.  It’s true that not every NPC and not every line will end up mattering to you, and even the best of them probably won’t shake you to your core.  But those NPCs are there for a reason.  They add flavor and spice to the game.  They help broaden the scope in a way that not even a main character can.  They’re proof of cause and effect -- capable of reacting to what goes on in the story, and the world.  And they show what can happen, has happened, or will happen, even when The Almighty Player isn’t looking.  I mean, just think about what kind of game Majora’s Mask would be if it took WD’s approach.

Instead of being able to witness the actions and reactions, thoughts and emotions of NPCs you meet (again and again and again) over the course of Termina’s final three days, you’d just see things like “Kafei: hiding from his fiancé” or “Lulu: doesn’t know who the father is”.  The NPCs can add that impact, and that feeling that something more is going on in the world.  Something bigger, and something beyond just giving the player some fleeting sense of satisfaction.  They ARE the world itself -- and that goes beyond just what blurbs hover around them.


In WD’s defense -- and that might be the last time I say that -- it would be damn near impossible to deliver on what Zelda has routinely offered for decades.  (Though if some game could in the not-too-distant future, then it could be a genuine signal of a “next-gen experience”.)  But it has ways to compensate.  If it can’t bank on NPCs, and it can’t bank on a supporting cast, then it should be able to bank on the one thing that any good game -- any good story -- should.  So let’s all sing along, shall we? 

You can’t have a good story without a good main character!

And now the second verse!

If your main character is bad, then your story is bad!

Wasn’t that so much fun?  Oh, I hope it was.  I really do.  Because the fun’s about to come to an abrupt end.  Blame Aiden Pearce for that.  Because even as far as bad characters go -- even if he’s a bland, lamely-designed, Christian Bale-miming, thuggish designated hero -- I’m tempted to say he’s in a league of his own.  Why’s that?  Simple.

He’s stupid.  Incredibly stupid.  And his actions -- his presence alone -- break the plot beyond repair.


I started getting into this last time, but I’ll go ahead and repeat it here: what, if anything, is the limit on Aiden’s hacking power?  I get that he can make things explode with the touch of a button (even though I’d assume that there are mechanisms in place independent of computers to prevent that), but what else can he do?  If “everything is connected” as claimed, then why does he need to bother leaving the hideout du jour?  Does he absolutely have to have a line of sight to his target if everything is connected and he can hack anything?  I mean, I don’t need to see who I’m calling when I use my cell phone.  Why should he, some supreme hacker who can blow up stuff and scramble more stuff?

I know the cheap answer to that is “because otherwise there would be no game”, but I’m not wholly convinced.  In order for this game to work, everything has to be connected, but that doesn’t explain why Aiden can hack cars, forklifts, cherry pickers, coin-operated horses, or wall-mounted singing fishThere’s no reason why he should be able to, unless A) those are also connected to ctOS for some unbelievably-vital reason, or B) the implication is that Aiden can hack anything technological, even if it doesn’t have a computer in it.  In either case, Aiden is effectively God, Magneto, and the average Sims player all rolled into one.




But I’ll play their game.  Let’s say that at the basest level, Aiden needs a line of sight.  Let’s say he needs to get close enough to jump from camera to camera.  You know how he could do that?  Put a camera on a remote-controlled airplane or something, pilot it close enough to jump to a camera, and he can access virtually anything from the comfort of his hideout.  That’s it. 

There’s a mission where you have to infiltrate a secure building and hack some device, but setting aside the fact that getting out is as easy as walking through the front doors (and the mission puts you in a harder place to begin with because reasons), there’s an atrium that gives full access to the sky.  So really, Aiden could have just flown in an RC plane or helicopter (or a drone, if you prefer), gotten the right angle, hacked what he needed to, and flown out without risking a single gunshot.  There.  Done.  No need for bloodshed.


But Aiden proves almost from the first minute that he doesn’t have the brains to make it through his mission.  The first thing you see him do -- and thus establish his character -- is rough up some guy we’ve never met, but apparently matters by virtue of Aiden’s quest.  It reaches a point where the guy (as you’d expect) goes “That’s all I know!  Please don’t kill me!” and whatnot.  You know, the usual.  I’d say it feels familiar, but if I tried to name an example I’d be here for the next year.

So basically, there’s some blood-riddled grunt crying at your feet.  What about it?  What happens next?  Well, naturally, Aiden’s response is to just grab a gun and shoot the guy…even though he could have a connection to a wealth of information vis a vis his employers, or could end up being used in any number of ways while alive, but whatever.  Just kill him, Aiden.  It’ll prove that you’re a baaaaaaaaaaaad man.


What’s at once interesting and infuriating about this sequence is that while a lot of it happens in a cutscene, it also serves as a tutorial on how to fire a gun.  Your mission, in no uncertain terms, is to shoot this guy dead.  And my reaction almost immediately was, “Wait, what?  No.  Why should I?”  I’m serious.  I didn’t know the guy.  I didn’t want to kill him.  I didn’t see why he had to die. 

And if it was a matter of making sure Aiden could get what he wanted, then again, there are better ways to have gone about it (use the guy’s information to blackmail him or force him into being your ally/mole).  So you know what I did?  I aimed my gun away from him -- toward the wall behind him, and six feet diagonally above -- and pulled the trigger.  I thought it’d be cool to see what happened, if anything.

Apparently, the game didn’t like that.  Because it pulled my sights back on the guy and shot him for me.  At least it would have if there had been bullets in the gun, but Aiden’s “associate” stripped it beforehand because…uh…reasons?


If that was Infamous, it would have given me the choice to kill him or spare him -- which you’d think WD would want to do if it wanted to capitalize on its rep system.  But the problems go beyond just stripping the player of choice in the most obnoxious way possible.  The scene keeps going from there; Aiden turns his back on the guy and starts heading off, but he immediately charges at Aiden while his back is turned.  It goes about as well as you expect. 

So in that one scene -- in less than five minutes -- you’ve got a pretty telling picture of this game and its EXTREMELY confused messages and characterization.  Aiden is a bad man who’ll go to extremes to get what he wants!  Oh, but it’s all right; he didn’t kill that guy begging for his life with a gun, because it was empty (even though he would have if he had the chance)!  He just beat him to a bloody pulp off-screen!  But that’s fine, because the guy had it coming!  He proved that HE’S a bad man that DESERVES to be beat up because he did the mean and nasty thing by charging at Aiden while his back was turned, because…suicidal overconfidence, I guess?  But that’s fine, because Aiden beat him up again without even breaking a sweat!  And now he can go about his business like a cool guy!

Fuck this game.  I’m gonna go play more Mario Kart.


Okay, I’m back.  Oh my God, the “get trophy” jingle in that game is so hot it's borderline sexual.

I’m no hacker, but I was under the impression that it took a little bit of expertise and intelligence to do effectively.  (Though I’m not convinced that Aiden’s the one who created the magic hacking tech; when asked by my brother about Aiden’s backstory, I couldn’t give much more than a shrug.)  But this guy almost seems to go out of his way to do the dumb thing.  There’s an early mission where Aiden has to do a favor for another character -- one of several instances, lest you think the main character have any agency or drive -- and he plays chauffeur for some stooge.   Sounds simple enough, right?  Plus, in anticipation of more rough-housing from enemy drivers, I rolled up in a heavy vehicle.

My input was rejected.  Not just by the game, which by virtue of a cutscene a bit later had already pre-rendered the car Aiden would roll up in.  No, Aiden says that they’re taking the stooge’s car.

I came very, very close to shouting “What?” at the top of my lungs.


So this stooge is being pursued by the cops.  They know what vehicle he’s using.  The car he used to make the first part of his escape is riddled with bullet holes.  And Aiden thinks it’s a good idea to just roll around in the stooge’s car?  Even the stooge calls him out on this; he wants to ride in a different car (presumably the one the player brought), but Aiden shoots him down.  Why?  Hell if I know.  The reason Aiden gives is because “it’s not part of the deal” and that the stooge should just “trust him”, but it’s an incredibly stupid idea.  It only works because the player is forced to make it work (by way of a miserable “stealth driving” segment), and because it’s taking place in a world of fiction.  Aiden shouldn’t be able to get his way just because he acts like an asshole and talks like he has a brillo pad stuck in his throat.

Now, maybe I’m just being naïve here, but I was under the impression that in a video game -- especially one in the seventh and eighth generations -- the gameplay and the story were supposed to go hand in hand.  Work together.  Have some synergy.  But with WD, it constantly feels like the story undermines the gameplay, and the gameplay undermines the story.  It can’t decide what it wants to be, so it decides to be everything -- and ends up being nothing as a result.   Actually, I take that back; it ends up being insulting at best, and outright torture at worst.

Why?  Because I haven’t told you about Aiden’s motivation yet: because he wants revenge for his murdered niece, and he wants to rescue his (eventually) kidnapped sister and nephew.


I’m not even joking.  The justification for Aiden’s crimes and rampant murder -- in-story and out of it -- is because he wants to play papa bear.  That’s it.  That’s the plot.  And it’s established that these are the only people in his world that matter in the most grating way possible.  We don’t get to know the niece besides one “tragic” flashback that barely lasts a minute, if that.  (The Last of Us may have had its problems, but at least it put up a fifteen-minute long effort to show why you should care about a doomed little girl.) 

And after the first mission -- the one where you cause a blackout in a stadium and induce mass panic, itself following Aiden’s murder attempt -- you head to the nephew’s birthday party and engage in some awkward conversations with his kin, as a means to prove just how much he loooooooooooooooves his family and how innocent and precious they are.  And presumably, the player will eventually make Aiden go out and do this without consequence or regard for human life:


Okay, first of all?  Ubisoft, get the fuck out.  Second, this game has officially turned into a dozen hours-long RoboCop 2014, cementing it as one of the lowest layers of hell.  Third, is this some kind of joke?  There is absolutely no justification for throwing in a cliché as well-worn as that one, let alone two.  Certainly not when the only reason the player has to care about Aiden’s family is “because they exist, however haphazardly”.  It’s not only a lame move, but poorly-executed.  It undermines the entire plot, even though it IS the entire plot.  Aiden is a villain here, so the game should be honest with me and own up to that.  Just make him a bad guy, and don’t sugarcoat it.  Don’t try and play it both ways.  But it’s going to anyway.  It already did.

The sister and nephew and niece are only in the game for two reasons: to give Aiden motivation, and to try and make him sympathetic to the player.    And it DOES.  NOT.  WORK.
      

But you know what really twists the knife here?  Two things.  First of all, the plot -- the misfortunes of his family -- is all Aiden’s fault.  The only thing we know conclusively about him from the get-go is that he’s a cyber-criminal, and as such he’s made some enemies.  And we can only assume that he knows this, extensively -- otherwise, he wouldn’t have to hide behind a cloak of pixels whenever he’s on a camera.  (Which would probably make him more conspicuous, but whatever.)  If he really wanted to protect his family, Aiden Pearce had to disappear.   Completely.  No driving his niece around.  No going to family birthday parties.  Nothing.  He needed to sever all ties and go into hiding. 

But that just feeds into the second thing -- Aiden is too stupid to take this whole cyber-criminal gig seriously.  Setting aside the fact that he looks even more conspicuous in his usual “I’m hiding” getup, people on the street know he’s “the vigilante.”  They point him out.  They cheer at him, take pictures, speak in hushed tones, and more.  So if people know who he is just by walking down the streets -- camera-infested streets -- then what’s stopping him from getting spotted by police or rival criminals, especially since the vehicles he uses don’t get the pixel treatment?  What are the limits of ctOS guardians, the Chicago PD, and enemy criminals, if any?  Even beyond that, is it any wonder that one of the earlier missions starts with Aiden’s motel hideout getting assaulted?      

For God’s sake, Aiden.  A goat would make a better cyber-criminal than you.


But the sad thing is that that’s to be expected.  In order for Aiden to have intelligence, his creators had to infuse him -- and the story at large -- with it.  They did not.  The sheer lack of self-awareness is appalling; it’s as if the devs got as far as “Everything is connected!” and “HACKING!” before they got distracted by a cloud floating by. 

The story and gameplay both are far from the optimal state; here they stood with a golden opportunity, a chance to fully investigate and explore the themes so ripe with meaning and insight and potential.  And they didn’t do anything with it.  Not a thing.  Okay, is it fair to make that assumption after just barely touching the game?  No.  But several reviews have expressed the same dissatisfaction, and noted the hypocrisy practically pumping through WD’s veins: for all the crime and hacking and invasions of privacy Aiden indulges in, he has absolutely nothing to say for it.


It’s unbelievably galling, listening to this character.  He’ll look down on people who have no idea how ctOS works while he acts like he’s invisible walking and driving in broad daylight in front of an armada of security cameras.  He’ll ramble on about how ctOS is scanning and storing information when he’s doing the exact same thing (and liberally, and in a cutscene) because he can maybe play big brother and use his powers to kill more people than he saves. 

A conversation with his sister (his younger sister, so he’s literally a big brother, DOHOHOHOHOHOHO) is apparently all the reasoning he needs in his mind to go forth and be the asshole the city deserves.  He’s under the impression that Chicago is full of rotten people deserving justice, and then goes on a consequence-free killing spree to get closer to a device he should have been able to reach from his armchair of choice.  He has nothing to say besides “witty” observations and explaining the mission in the most generic anti-heroic way possible.   


Bonus points for that cutscene doubling up on reckless swears.  Because that's how you know it's mature, guys!  Also, I sure hope that whatever that guy mentioned was "oiled up" wasn't a woman... 

Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad if he actually recognized that he made a mistake.  And hey, maybe he will somewhere later in the game.  Maybe.  But I doubt it.  If the devs were fine with giving Aiden a family to make for carte blanche genocide -- if they were so desperate to keep you from playing as a villain, even though GTA has already shown that we’re okay with it -- then I doubt we’ll be getting anything even close to balanced.  Witty.  Or, you know, good.

But they didn’t feel like it.  Instead of saying something meaningful, or intelligent, or even entertaining, they decided to just let it ride.  Maybe months from now, some members of the team will come forward and say that the story was a subtle satire or something, like they did when allegations of racism and a “white power” motif got directed towards Far Cry 3.

There is always the possibility that Aiden was supposed to be a subtle satire, or a warning of what sort of criminal could appear in the world to come.  But I doubt it.  He’s the hero of the story, pitted against guys that are supposedly worse.  He’s a guy who’s only allowed to be three things: cool, angry, and powerful.  (And if we must stretch it to a fourth -- even if the third’s on shaky ground -- then add “generic”.)  And he’s only allowed to exist in a world -- in a game -- where the most profound message to appear is when the player slaps “U MAD, BRO?” on a freeway sign.

And so it comes to this.


I’ve beaten an over-hyped boss with a single QTE in Halo 4.  I’ve knocked around a defenseless pregnant woman in DmC.  I’ve cheesed my way through one strangle-fest after another in The Last of Us.  I’ve fought the camera more than hordes of hapless demons in God of War: Ascension.  I’ve scored one instant-kill after another in Splinter Cell: Blacklist.  I’ve punted an idiot government official like a football in Infamous: Second Son.  I’ve stepped a foot out of bounds and dropped dead instantly in Call of Duty: Black Ops 2

But in all my years of gaming -- likely since I could tie my shoes -- I don’t think I’ve ever felt this insulted.  I’ve said before that I consider Final Fantasy 13-2 to be the worst game I’ve ever played, which in its own right was an absolute insult.  But now?  I’m not so sure.  I suppose I still have to give the crown to 13-2, because at least WD actually has gameplay instead of just mashing X over and over to win.  If nothing else, though, WD is the worst western game I’ve ever played, the worst game I’ve played this year (so far), and the worst triple-A game ever to cross my path -- something straight from my worst nightmares.


With this game, I’m wholly convinced of what’s obvious to a lot of people.  If the triple-A game genre hasn’t hit its nadir yet -- if it hasn’t become a broken model in serious need of repair -- then it has now. 

But I’m not done with the game just yet.  Because there’s still one more thing I have to ask.  “Why?”

And believe it or not, I think I have my answer.


See you guys around.  Until next time, just…just go play some Mario Kart 8.  If not for me, then for Nintendo.

#GoodGuyNintendo

2 comments:

  1. "Is there a chance that I could be turning my back on a “great game, great experience”? Yes. But there’s also the chance that I could be 100% right. That even if reviews give a game no less than a 7 (itself the “danger zone” of review scores), that’s no guarantee of its quality or even close to a good time."



    Just ignore the reviews entirely, TBQH. Or, at least, scores. There's a reason why I don't give scores in my reviews.


    I believe I've pointed out on a few occasions how I like many things that review poorly? XD Often, what causes the bad scores is a non-issue to me. It could be the same for you.

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  2. I hear you on the scores bit. Assigning a number to a product's value is kind of a death trap, isn't it? I mean, how do you weigh one fault in comparison to others? How do you compare one game to another? I'm sure there are people that have found a way, but I haven't. And I doubt I ever will.


    Then again, people should be READING the reviews instead of just rushing to the bottom of the page to see a score, so there's that.


    I wish I could say I was like you, but sadly, I don't think that's the case. If there's a fault pointed out in a review, I'm wary of it -- and often I find myself thinking that the "minor fault" in a review is a major one when I get my hands on the game. Then again, I tend to magnify the faults. The Destructoid review made mention that the story was boring and pointless to get into, or something to that effect. It only took me about half an hour with the game to go "WELP!" and give up on its narrative.


    You know what, though? You may have a point. Maybe I just need to stay the hell away from reviews for a while. I suspect there's a pretty good chance that they'll poison my mind...if they haven't already.

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