I’m going to be a little forgiving here as, even with all the positive press the game has received, Watch-Dogs’ leading man has come in for a lot of stick…make that plank, of the wooden acting variety.
As a character, Aiden has been described as completely void of personality, an empty trench coat without an ounce of spark, sympathy or depth, which could probably adequately describe most leading characters from the past twenty years of gaming, but things are different these days – we expect more.
And we’re right to do so as gamers the gaming industry itself have grown up in recent years, delivering emotive storytelling and complex characters to a storytelling format that has always been a challenge for industry creatives. After all, how on earth do you handle the myriad choices facing a character in an open world, interactive environment? You can’t just craft a story and drop it into a game, it has to be so much more.
So, I sympathise with Aiden. Granted there are plenty of games that have done a lot better with the materials at hand, GTA V being a prime example with characters as deep and wide as the alluvial basin that Los Santos nestles in, but so much personality isn’t necessarily a good thing. I never finished GTA V, I hit the gaming equivalent of a glass ceiling and no matter how compelling the story was I couldn’t find it in myself to go back for more – it was, well, too much.
Like a chocolate dessert, you love it, you enjoy it, you might even have a second one, but a third? Come on, really? And, for me at least, so it was with GTA V. Too much of a good thing (not complaining at all, just making a point).
Don’t get me wrong, Ubisoft made a massive misstep with the voice actor casting and, like most everyone else out there, I cannot tolerate that whiny, nasally voice, but from an operational point of view I kind of get the ‘light on personality’ mantra. Given the breathtaking scope of Watch_Dogs’ living city I can’t help but feel that there was a conscious decision to back off with Aiden’s character a little and give their true masterpiece, Chicago and ctOS, a little room to breathe.
Aiden’s story is more than a little hackneyed, though, and that is a sticking point, the one that most journalists dutifully picked up on. With such a fresh new premise Watch_Dogs could have been so much more than a hacked-up version of The Equalizer, but again I find myself returning to the true scope of this game’s success, the gameplay.
Yes, the story seems like something of an afterthought and I have always been a strong advocate of storytelling in games as, when it works at least, it can make a good game great, but Watch_Dogs has so much more to offer. As I steer Aiden around the city, marveling more at the turn of his coat in the rather clever wind simulation system than anything he might have to say I am grateful that he is taciturn enough to leave me to get on with enjoying Chicago through the eyes of a hacker.
And that’s the other thing I love about this game – a hacker that kicks ass? Come on, what’s not to love about that, even if he is a total prick?