Watch Dogs, a guide to bad characters
This piece is filled with a lot of spoilers for Watch Dogs.
Aiden Pearce maybe the worst new game protagonist of the last few years. But it’s not dear Aiden’s fault, almost everyone in Watch Dogs is poorly written, with character motivations and archs that make Mario saving Princess Peach from Bowser look like the Count of Monte Cristo. Filled with cliches and troupes that should have been stamped out years ago, the game while fun to play is not fun to watch and listen to, thanks to poor writing, confusing character motivations and crippling ludo-narrative dissonance.
‘Hi, I’m Aiden, I’m as generic a protagonist as is scientifically possiable’
Aiden’s niece is killed after a job of Aiden’s goes wrong and the mob hunt him down and kill the girl in a car accident. This would be tragic if it happened in real life but here it’s done in the opening credits and you never learn anything about the child. For all we know the girl was a little shit, but instead we’re made to think this child is the single best human being ever, who would cure cancer and invent nuclear fusion. The writers went for the laziest troupe imaginable, kill a child. That’s surely motivation enough? But don’t worry they’ll get worst later on. Aiden, instead of taking stock of his life and leaving the hacker business, instead chooses to wage a one man war on crime and the people who did this, cause you know, if one family member suffers because of your actions it’s a tragedy but hey in for a penny, in for a pound, lets get the others killed as well!
The story goes from the death of the girl to Aiden beating the living shit out of a guy called Maurice, who he believes is responsible for his niece’s death (did I mention I can’t remember her name? Bit worrying that) He beats up dear Maurice then with his mate Jordi (maybe the games one redeeming character) imprisons the poor sod for the entirety of the game until at the end you get a token moral choice of what to do with him. Of course over the game you find audio logs of Maurice (when did he find time to leave them?) where it transpires that poor Maurice was a pawn in a larger game and was basically blackmailed. Hmmm moral dilemma? How about giving us the choice to release the fucker any time we want? The longer you leave it in game, the more likely he is to harbor a vendetta and come back for you. But no, after the games finished quick choice of weather or not to kill him or not. In terms of any real consquences for the player, all they get is a brief monologue of Aiden talking about justice, did I mention Aiden kinda wants to be Batman but with guns?
False imprisonment aside lets get back to the story of Aiden and the women in his life. Aiden’s sister Nicky (the ones whose daughter is dead) gets kidnapped by Aiden’s ex partner Damien, who oddly enough wants the same thing as Aiden, revenge for the attempted hit on his life! So why don’t these two team up? Because Pearce is too much of a solo bad-ass to need friends who can help! So to get his attention the Damien kidnaps Nicky, taking her out of the narrative completely by shoving her in the troupe fridge right next to her dead daughter (grim picture I’m sure) For the majority of the game, saving her is the main priority but he doesn’t get round to it until very close at the end. Of course with Aiden’s hacking skills it would only take a short coffee break to find her, thanks to the startling regularity of phone conversations you have with her, but no lets keep her safe and sound where the writers don’t have to think of anything interesting to do with her. When she is freed, she is sent away from Chicago with a scene that’s meant to tug at the heart strings (at least I think it’s meant to, the sad and generic music would hint at that)
This is where all the women of Watch Dogs live. Sure is cozy.
I’ve heard a few theories that the character of Nicky was intended to be Aiden’s wife but that was later changed for unknown reasons. This theory does have some legs to it, for instance why is the father of the girl and Jackson (they insist on calling him Jacks) never talked about? This issue could have been fixed with one line of dialogue, one! Hell i’ll give it to you
Aiden: ‘I think you and Jacks should get out of town for a bit, maybe stay with Ben in Portland for a bit?’
Nicky: No way, not staying with that slimeball, he’s not paying child support.
Aiden to Jacks: ‘Hey little man, you know your dad would be so proud of you right now. I know you miss him, so do I.’
See there? Thats how you patch up a plot hole in one line. There were loads of opportunities to do this but all sadly missed. Any way back to the narrative.
Once Nicky is out of the fridge it’s time for another women to take her place, next up is Clara. The sexy hacker who Aiden has been flirting with. (I think he was flirting, he never has any inflection to his speech to suggest anything but mild disgust) out of the blue and a completely pointless betrayal later Clara leaves the team. But Aiden and his penis want her back so he runs to find her but NO she’s shot dead in gratuitous slow motion and so another women is shoved in the fridge to give dear Aiden something to do other than steal from bank accounts of passers by. They had tried to develop Clara somewhat with a story about her childhood which soul reason for being there was “O that fully grown women had a childhood? surely she is a well rounded character.” But she isn’t, she is shown to be a tomboyish girl with a soft spot for rugged vigilante Pearce, how about if she had a life outside the hacking? A partner who isn’t the main character, and for that matter why is ever video game character single? but that’s another subject for another time.
An accurate representation of what all hackers look like
Now all the named female characters have been dealt with, now what? Best ruin whats left of the male characters. Lucky Quinn the old gangster is given a weirdly voyeuristic demise. Watching as an old man has a heart attack (because you hack his pace maker) and then waiting five minutes until the fucker dies. Of course Quinn has been one of the games main antagonists, the guy who ordered the hit on Aiden that killed the niece and we all like seeing villains get their comeuppance, but this one just felt creepy, like the writers and developers were getting off on watching an old (evil) man die. You don’t feel good while the man dies, but with Quinn you maybe should have, since he was such an dick.
Don’t mind Iraq, he’s only here as filler
The second gangland villain Iraq was a massive missed opportunity. Here was an american war veteran, returned from service and left high and dry by the government and so turns to crime to make a living. From the first time we see Iraq in action we see he is a violent sociopath. There is a now rather common scene where a henchmen makes a joke and Iraq and the other surrounding them laugh, everyone laughs before Iraq then beats the man who told the joke to death with a briefcase. ‘O no that poor henchman, who we probably would have killed later’ this sort of set up was done perfectly in True Romance between Dennis Hopper and Christopher Walken, they were joking, cracking wise at each others expense then Walken kills Hopper. But with Iraq killing this nobody their are a few issues.
- He’s not Christopher Walken
- The guy he kills is a nobody, so aside from the shock of seeing a guy getting beaten to death with a suitcase, it’s completely meaningless in terms of story and is only there to make the player think ‘This guy bad for killing, I must Kill him’
- The minute any villain ever starts laughing, we know shit is going down. We’ve seen this set up thousands of times, in movies, such as Die Hard, Every James Bond film, hell even Return of the Jedi has it.
- Did I mention he’s not Christopher Walken?
Iraq could have been a tragic anti-hero, trying to improve the lives of those around him, such as his own cousin Bedbug, but instead, the writer watch a few too many 50 Cent videos and thought that would make for a more compelling villain.
There are few minor characters I’ve yet to address, Bedbug I think maybe one of the better written characters, if he was in game of thrones he’d be little finger or Varis, a physically harmless man with ambitions but who can’t take on the fighters. Jordi, the fixer belongs in another series, he belongs in GTA, he would be a great addition to that franchise and would follow on from the tradition of characters such as Trevor. Jordi enjoys his work, he revels in it, he cracks jokes, takes the piss of Aiden and just is the only character with a smile on his face. Jordi’s betrayal however makes no sense, at the very last scene of the game, as you stand with a gun to Damien’s face, out comes Jordi with a gun to Aiden’s. Why? The money, it’s not like Aiden couldn’t give him a couple of million from any bank to keep him loyal. So instead the last scene of what would have just been an execution becomes a stand off, resolved by one button prompt. Once Damien lies dead, and Jordi thrown off the lighthouse, we get to hear a brief phone talk between them, neither mentioning the others attempt to kill them. If I was a Tumblr fan I would ship those two.
One of Lucky Quinn’s utterances is ‘most women die without consequence” He has a point, but in a way almost nothing you do has consequence. The rivalry with Default simply brings the narrative to a halt for a couple of missions, going out to Pawnee to find T-Dog feels pointless as he gives you nothing but more techno babble. Damien exists purely to annoy, and Pearce could have killed him at anyone of their meet ups and the story would have been better for it. Jordi is thrown off a lighthouse and simply walks it off for crying out loud. I bag on the narrative of the game a lot, a hell of a lot, But I’ve only written this much about a game I like. I wouldn’t write almost two thousand words on a game I didn’t. I like a lot of triple A titles as much as I like Indies, but for all it’s fancy graphics and massive open worlds, narrative is still one of those parts that has been left behind and hasn’t advanced.