You Should Probably Skip ‘Watch Dogs’ Before Playing ‘Watch Dogs 2’

Watch Dogs 2
Our hero. The blood on his hands usually isn’t literal.

Watch Dogs 2 (or WATCH_DOGS 2, as it’s stylized) is coming out on November 15, so if you’re among those preparing for the launch with its selfie reveal app, you might be wondering if it’s necessary to play the first game to get the full experience. My answer to that? No, not really. I’d even personally recommend against it, because there are lots of problems with the original both in terms of story and gameplay, but especially in story.

Spoilers ahead (some major).

The main carryover from the first game is DedSec, a group of rebel hackers who really love their skull motifs. While DedSec is the main focus of the sequel — and also more keen on branding than ever — they barely factor into the original game at all. They’re out there, they’re watching, and they’re even nominally represented by one of your hacker accomplices, but they’re ultimately inconsequential.

Despite what its title implies (y’know, who watches the watch dogs … particularly in the fully networked surveillance state that is the game’s backdrop), Watch Dogs is mostly about one man’s quest for revenge. That man is Aiden Pearce — perhaps one of the most unlikable video game protagonists ever written. Everything about his demeanor suggests Ubisoft was aiming for the cool lone wolf type, but overshot and depicted the other type of lone wolf: the type neighbors inevitably describe as a “nice, quiet man” before adding they never dreamed him capable of such terrible things.

But the terrible things in Watch Dogs don’t begin and end with Aiden. One of the game’s most prominent gameplay elements — apart from hacking almost everything in the world — is the ability to scan any person in sight. By hacking into Chicago’s Central Operating System (CTOS), Aiden’s phone can bring up anyone’s age, occupation, income, and a random fact about them. The tidbits vary wildly and can reference everything from nationality to sexual peccadilloes. They can also out an NPC as HIV positive, asexual, or trans — all traits that frequently lead to real-world harassment.

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To Sacrifice Story for Art: Piecing Together the Fragments of ‘Her Story’

Her Story

Can video games ever truly be art? That’s a loaded question—one that can lead to quite a lot of heated debate. Some say that treating a game as art means you end up without much of a game at all. If there’s no clear goals, no enemies to kill, what’s the point? If it’s a game, they say it can’t be art. And if it’s art, well, then it can’t be a game. Or can it?

If you use the glowing reviews of Her Story (an FMV murder mystery game by Sam Barlow) as a barometer, it appears the general gaming public’s attitude has shifted. Her Story features sparse gameplay—something games like Gone Home were derided for two years ago—with a focus on story, as its title suggests. The only trouble is Her Story isn’t a good game, much less a good story. Even if people were more willing to accept nontraditional game presentations, applauding whatever happens to be different doesn’t help. But all these reviews hailing Her Story as the best FMV game ever made me realize something: history is repeating.

Back when FMV games first hit the scene in the early ’90s, the reviews were also overwhelmingly positive. They featured real actors! It was like an interactive movie! People were so taken in by the novelty of it all, they overlooked any glaring issues with the game’s story or gameplay. One of my most vivid childhood gaming memories—I think it was 1995—was standing in a Babbage’s with my father. He was holding a copy of Phantasmagoria, which proudly proclaimed just how many discs it spanned right on the box.

“Seven CDs,” he said. “Must be something!”

Phantasmagoria was something, all right.

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Party Camp: Who Was the First Character You Identified With?


There’s a singular moment for every gamer when the playthrough transcends simple mechanics to reach us emotionally. When we identify with our first character in a video game, it’s an experience that often leaves us reeling. Much like reading a book or watching television, we’re uniquely hardwired to seek deeper understanding of the symbols and narratives that surround us, and gaming is far from exempt. To identify with a character and, subsequently, to relate with their narrative is like meeting a part of ourselves we didn’t have the words to describe before that moment. It’s the kind of experience that defines a “gamer,” despite that connotation currently being jockeyed.

Let’s jump back in time a few years to relive the defining moments a few of our writers reminisced about. Don’t forget to share your first experience in the comments!

Jillian ()

For me, this moment came in Tomb Raider II. I’d played my fair share of games on the PS2 up to that point, though none of them inspired me to dream big the way Lara Croft’s narrative did. She faced down tigers and sharks alike with unflinching determination, exploring the farthest corners of my imagination with nothing but a pistol and torch at the ready. It was my first real taste of a female character who not only lead the narrative, but did so with all the agency a woman should have. At the time, I was just shy of my teen years, and for a confused queer girl trying to ignore very clear signs, meeting Lara meant the world to me. She helped shape my wanderlust and the confidence I needed in order to embark upon the journey itself.

Though the franchise has come a long way since the pixelated days of tricking your butler into a meat locker (it never gets old), there are still persistent, problematic themes that need addressing.

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A Comedy of Errors: Reviewing WildStar

I really wanted to like WildStar. I also really wanted WildStar to be a good MMO, but you can’t always get what you want. The promise of a fun, cartoony sci-fi game drew me in, and while Carbine Studios delivered on two out of three of those promises, I was still let down in the end. That’s the trouble with following a major game from its early stages of development—the finished product will never exactly align with your expectations. Even so, I never imagined WildStar would turn out as badly as it did.

But before I start picking at the game’s current scabrous state, let’s jump back to 2013 when my hopes were still high. I enjoy role-playing in MMORPGs in spite of years of finding myself amongst characters with dark pasts and eyes that changed color with mood, so I was excited when Carbine’s staff actually seemed to give a shit about WildStar’s nascent role-playing community.

Adventure awaits! And so does disappointment.

The game’s lore, bits and pieces of which were dropped like breadcrumbs by the devs, made me confident that WildStar would be fun. I told myself that even if the game itself was mediocre, I could make my own fun with other role-players. Here’s the point where I pause for audience laughter.

As I write this, the state of WildStar’s role-playing community is about what you’d expect for a half-dead game, with a few diehards desperately holding together what little remains. A good portion of the staff members I knew are gone now, and the rest are just as desperately trying to keep the game itself afloat.

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Hardcore Mode: The Changing Landscape Of MMORPGs

Every time a new MMORPG is announced, the same comments tend to appear in varying degrees of coherency. World of Warcraft, like it or not, redefined the genre as we know it, thus it inevitably pops up whenever a new game emerges on the scene. You get the people hoping this new game will be the fabled WoW killer, followed closely by those sighing over the prospect of yet another WoW clone. And then, of course, there’s the people declaring that WoW sucks, this newly announced game will suck, and MMOs have sucked ever since [insert year or game title here].

I left that last part blank because the golden age of MMOs is largely subjective. You can point at growing and shrinking subscriber numbers all you like, but that doesn’t really matter when people are drawing from their fondest memories of a game. As for me? Ultima Online was the first big MMO I played. Having firsthand experience of how it originally was, I’m always wary of anyone who says they want games to go back to being that hardcore.

In addition to being a player versus player free-for-all, almost everything on you in vanilla UO could be looted when you died. That sweet sword you worked so hard to get? Gone along with anything else the looter could carry. Any skills you learned also atrophied with disuse, so finding people macro training was almost as common as seeing people running naked down the street to get their back-up gear from storage. Another strange fact of life was finding random body parts strewn everywhere. Simply because all corpses could be dismembered, no corpse went desecrated for long, their parts dropped on the ground for anyone to pick up and rearrange.

Continue reading “Hardcore Mode: The Changing Landscape Of MMORPGs”

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