You can play as anyone you want, but the game remains the same
October 29, 2020 4:02 AM   Subscribe

Austin Walker comes out of review retirement to argue Watch Dogs: Legion Promises Revolution, But Mostly Delivers Distraction (Vice). “How does one break a neighborhood free from “oppression”? Deface a few billboards. Sabotage a weapons factory. Knock out a really bad person. Complete three tasks like these in a district and you’ll unlock a special liberation mission, which are empty-calorie fun that somehow result in city-wide fireworks and celebration claiming that the neighborhood is now “defiant,” despite the fact that nothing has changed.” Polygon’s more positive review.
posted by adrianhon (25 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
 
Ugh. The whole Ubisoft lineup is same old shit packaged in flashy wrappers.
posted by hat_eater at 4:20 AM on October 29


Love Austin Walker's stuff. The recent Waypoint streams were awesome.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 4:46 AM on October 29 [1 favorite]


I saw someone (maybe Penny Arcade?) refer to this style of open-world mission-based game as a "map-fucker" and that's stuck with me.

I agree that Ubisoft's main series (Farcry, Assassin's Creed, Watch Dogs) are all cut from the similar mode, but... I'm fine with that. I know what I am getting into.

Not every movie needs to be "Citizen Kane" and not every game needs to make me think - sometimes I want to turn my brain off and just wander through a well-realized open world committing mayhem for no other reason than to check off a box on the map.
posted by Paladin1138 at 5:19 AM on October 29 [1 favorite]


I don't mind the formulaic open worlds but something about a giant, structurally-misogynistic corporation making a "fight the system, maaaaan" game doesn't work for me. Especially since the same company makes perhaps the quintessential "shoot the rioters to save law and order" games.

(also any game made in this engine runs like shit on PC for some unknown reason. Also the driving in these games is wretched despite being made by Reflections which boggles the mind)
posted by selfnoise at 5:24 AM on October 29 [7 favorites]


Especially since the same company makes perhaps the quintessential "shoot the rioters to save law and order" games.

Oh, the Division doesn't need them to be rioting. The takehome lesson is that you should just shoot anyone with a red marker above their head, and sneaking up and killing them - as the civilians they are - before they do anything is an entirely justified and indeed rewarded act. For an added bonus, you go around opening any boxes you want for kit while the game justifies shooting the red marker people as (amongst other things) looters.

So yes. Kill the red marker people. Kill. You are the orange circle/green marker people and thus unexpectedly burning red marker people to death is justified. I'd say there's a thesis to be written here about Nazi-level fascism in Division (and other games) via the player as a genocidal avatar against the outgroup, but it's so obvious that I'd prefer to let someone else do the donkey work.
posted by jaduncan at 6:07 AM on October 29 [6 favorites]


I guess the “video games train kids to be violent criminals!” way of thinking is back. Don’t you people know the 90’s sucked?
posted by sideshow at 7:54 AM on October 29 [2 favorites]


It's funny, because Walker's description of how neighborhood liberation works in Watch Dogs Legion is eerily similar to how it worked in the so-called Yellow Zones of Homefront: The Revolution, a game best described as "what if Far Cry was set in an alternate universe where the North Koreans somehow invaded and occupied the United States." And it turns out he's also reviewed that game and found it even more wanting.

I actually liked Homefront: The Revolution, far more than the first Homefront game (which tries to do the same thing but using Call of Duty as a template, and does a much worse job of it to boot). It does, however, require that you basically ignore the story and characters almost entirely, as they're terrible and not particularly sympathetic. It's a game that I feel you play almost entirely for the thrill of taking over a map one district at a time, which weirdly is not a thing I find in too many open-world games; yeah, they all have thousands of dumb side missions for you to do across the map, but you don't get that miniature progression of performing small tasks in an area, raising a district's rebellion level or whatever the game's calling it, and unlocking a final mission to finally win back a district and see that everything's changed (which usually just means enemies don't spawn there anymore but close enough).

I guess that's a long-winded way of saying that I'm still intrigued by Watch Dogs Legion despite the problems, both with Ubisoft as a company (and dear god there are many of them) and with the particular kind of open-world gameplay Watch Dogs usually traffics in.
posted by chrominance at 8:10 AM on October 29 [1 favorite]


I guess the “video games train kids to be violent criminals!” way of thinking is back.

I think there's a pretty huge gap between "video games cause or train non-violent people to do violence" and saying that art has an effect on people's ideas and sympathies. You don't have to make hysterical causal claims or calls for censorship to ask whether there's a moral difference between making a video game that's about shooting civilian looters and making a video game that's about organizing people to resist a fascist police state. Or to just have a personal preference about which of those games you'd rather play.
posted by straight at 9:32 AM on October 29 [8 favorites]


It's interesting how many of the reviews say the downside of being able to play as any NPC is that the story doesn't have a central protagonist because I don't think I've ever played an open-world game where I cared much about the protagonist and his (almost always his) story.

Some of the reviews mention that individual NPCs might remember and care about stuff they saw you do. It seems like you could use a system like that to solve some of the problems open world games have between a "realistic" story and wanting to support player freedom to run wild and cause mayhem. It seems like you could let each of your characters have a persistent reputation with each of the NPCs. If you have one character that runs wild killing a bunch of people, that particular character would have to lay low. Or you'd have to send a different character in to stealthily deal with the witnesses.

Between this and Shadow of Mordor's nemesis system, it feels like you have the tools to make NPCs a lot less generic, worlds with more interesting variation between "nobody notices me" and "everybody hates me" (or "all the red shirted people recognize me and shoot me on sight"). I haven't played the latest generation of Hitman games but maybe they have some of this too?
posted by straight at 9:58 AM on October 29


I'm excited about Watch Dogs: Legion! I played it this morning, just after unlock. I get that it's derivative and the Ubisoft fake-open-world formula is wearing very thin. But it's still satsfying and fun. Also I loved Watch Dogs 2, the production design of the Bay Area tech industry was really fantastic. Looking forward to goofy London.

Tip for anyone else playing: turn on permadeath. The penalty isn't too harsh and apparently it's the way the game was really meant to be played. Annoyingly you have to start over from the beginning to turn it on, so I'm about to erase this morning's gameplay.
posted by Nelson at 10:54 AM on October 29


I'm lukewarm on much of Ubisoft's product. Some of their games I have loved (Assassin's Creed: Odyssey), some are extremely off-putting (Division). Some are just bland (Farcry X).

But it's weird how they get singled out for such reliable, heavy criticism of repetitive game design. Sure, some of Ubisoft's open world concepts are seen in their games repeatedly, sometimes to a fault. But at the same time a company like Nintendo can rehash the same characters and basic concepts for 30+ years and each release of Mario Game Product Version X.02 is received with near unanimous acclaim.
posted by SoberHighland at 11:39 AM on October 29


Can we not be giving free promotion to the serial sexual harassers and enormous shitbags at Ubisoft?
posted by davros42 at 11:42 AM on October 29 [3 favorites]


I have found the writing at Vice video games (nee Waypoint) to be consistently good, if infrequent. Motherboard, another Vice subsite, has some good out-of-the-mainstream pieces as well. This was a pretty interesting article, although I think it was longer than it needed to be in order to make its point.

Big games need more verbs, period. The novelty in this game, compared with other open-world third person shooters, seems to be the addition of "recruit" and "switch characters" to its list of verbs. I think this is the heart of the author's complaint: To capture the feeling of teaming up against a common enemy, the act of teaming up should unlock new verbs, but it doesn't in this game. It's the same old verbs (drive, hide, shoot, punch, explode), just with a different system of gaining access to them.

I'm pessimistic that a AAA big-budget studio game is ever going to break that paradigm. And I'm honestly baffled that games like this have such a large audience. At a fundamental level, the level of verbs (i.e., how you interact with the game), there's not so much that's really different about this game compared with assassin's creed, GTA, etc. It's mostly just decorations. Ontologically, it's *all* just decorations in these big budget shooters, but it shouldn't have to be.


As a slight aside, I'm extremely skeptical of the argument that goes "Not every game needs to make me think". I would ask the person making that argument: Do you want a game that doesn't make you think, or do you want permission not to think about the game? It's not the same thing. When the main interaction with the game world is violence, that deserves some thought whether the game makes you or not.
posted by dbx at 12:06 PM on October 29 [5 favorites]


I know I had to be extra careful driving in the real world after playing GTA for too long.
posted by inpHilltr8r at 1:41 PM on October 29


I guess the “video games train kids to be violent criminals!” way of thinking is back. Don’t you people know the 90’s sucked?

It's not that at all. It's that works of art intertwine with and are revealing of the authors of that art and the broader societal context they exist in. Games are art, and deserve to be taken as that. As such, I'm not such a big fan of art where killing civilians is glorified in a faux-real world scenario. I would argue that it ties into exactly the same types of attitudes that glorify police brutality in TV, film and real life, but TV and film are at least starting to approach that as being relatively undesirable.

Say what you want about Bad Boys, but it's unlikely that Will Smith is going to be randomly executing people in the street just for being armed. There's an interesting difference to the steady refusal of games to approach that moral ambiguity in any meaningful way. I expect better of art.

PS: For a counterexample, I deeply loved the narrative in Spec Ops - living proof that you can have a shooter with a meaningful narrative arc.
posted by jaduncan at 2:17 PM on October 29


For what it's worth, I played through Watchdogs 2 without using guns or killing anyone (with the exception of one level where that choice was taken from me). Immensely enjoyable to go around hacking systems and infiltrating places without resorting to violence. The game did nothing to recognise or reward that behaviour, but I appreciated that it didn't (actively) try to push me towards using guns either.

It's clearly not how the game was designed philosophically as regardless of the level of violence, there is very little consequence to "collateral damage". This new one looks to be the same. I doubt DedSec will be considered any more or less a terrorist group based on your own actions and how much violence you enact on the London public. The game doesn't embrace collective action per the article, but it doesn't seem to condemn the methods employed by the player either.

Regardless, I will play it eventually if only to experience the surreal sensation of navigating a virtual approximation of London.
posted by slimepuppy at 3:13 PM on October 29 [2 favorites]


I guess the “video games train kids to be violent criminals!” way of thinking is back.

I run into a lot more people who think that video games have no political context or meaning - that it's crazy to think they could have any affect on how their players see the world.

It's weird, because a lot of the same people will angrily insist that video games are art. It's just art you're not supposed to think about and that doesn't matter, I guess. I dunno.

(insert shruggie here)
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 5:38 PM on October 29 [1 favorite]


As a slight aside, I'm extremely skeptical of the argument that goes "Not every game needs to make me think". I would ask the person making that argument: Do you want a game that doesn't make you think, or do you want permission not to think about the game? It's not the same thing. When the main interaction with the game world is violence, that deserves some thought whether the game makes you or not.

That was me.

And I'm not sure what the answer is - I play a lot of games (and even more in 2020), and I'd argue there are several layers to that.

Some games are so abstract and game-y that there's no "thinking" or morality involved - think your puzzle games, your Pac Mans.

Some high-concept games seem to take the "medium is the message" position, and the best ones of those will make you think deeply about a game long after it's complete - Journey being the best example here.

"Watch Dogs" and their ilk fall between those two poles - I think they are too cynically churned out to have a message beyond "Fascism bad" because there's no nuance to the evil of the antagonists. So, in cinema terms, they are far more like the way "Avengers" treats violence then, say, "No Country for Old Men". That lack of nuance to the morality of the game is, in itself, a sort of "permission" to not think about it.

I guess that is to say, when I am not playing the games, I think about the games. but when I am playing the games, I am just munching the popcorn and enjoying the ride.
posted by Paladin1138 at 4:00 AM on October 30


Video games are the epitome of sublimating revolutionary desire.
posted by gucci mane at 7:15 PM on October 30


Books are a distraction from the true work of the proletariat.
posted by inpHilltr8r at 6:09 AM on November 1 [2 favorites]


Got a free PC copy from my partner having worked on the game. Couldn't stick with it longer than an hour.

Looks and performs miserably. Driving mechanics are brutal. Every vehicle feels like driving a jet ski or something. All of the character animations are stiff and robotic. All of the textures look super blurry to me until the camera is a foot away. The effect is a city of flat blocky boxes resembling a PS3 game.

Beyond that, it just feels like the same vapid Ubi game we've all played a dozen times already.
posted by Evstar at 4:28 AM on November 5


Well I'm having fun, so nyah. There's definitely technical problems, particularly on PC. Including a game-save-corrupting bug. I'm doing OK on PS4 Pro though.

The definite distinguishing factor of the game is the way there's no scripted protagonist, you literally play as the recruits you find. So I'm focussing on trying to recruit the most interesting folks. Like Mary Joshi, roboticist. Also 75 year old punk grandma. Honestly she looked pretty exhausted when I rescued her from some Albion thugs but having gotten her some new clothes and a motorcycle she fits right in. Her facial tattoos are wild.
posted by Nelson at 7:39 AM on November 5 [1 favorite]


Rolled credits, which is something I never got close to with WD2, so no regrets. Plenty of armchair-design complaints, though!

The procgen NPC stuff is a neat gimmick, that future games could definitely do better things with. Off the top of my head, I'd like at least a visual relationship map--the Shadows of Mordors (a pair of similar problematic-elements-aplenty games that had a gimmick of procedurally generating orc enemies that could be mind-control "recruited" as allies of the half-ghost murderhero protagonist) of course had their orc hierarchy tree; in this kind of framing, I'd envision a simplified conspiratorial cell structure. Much more moonshot dreams, competing against enemy cell structures and hierarchies (depending on faction types, natch). Turning assets here, cutting off cells and branches from logistical support there, as the enemy did the same to you. Interesting choices involving burning your assets either by necessity, or risky gambles. Gambles of "protecting" your agents against social hacking surfaces by cutting off their own relationship webs (using cult control playbook, really!) making them safer against exposure or turning, but also running the risk of them leaving and exposing their cell. Using multiple agents in arranged roughly-simultaneous ops to do things, but big operations running the risk of burning entire branches or clusters of resistance cells.

I'd have liked permadeath to be more interesting; as it was, the only cost to it was going, "aww, I liked them!" Then you'd do the exact same mission again, without any consequences to losing that particular agent aside from just doing a thing again.

I'd be interested in a postmortem of the project, because I think there's several glimpses of different directions it had started to take, and then veered away from. (I snarked elsewhere that I get the impression that Ubisoft executives must get paid bonuses based on projects starting to do something more interesting, and then retreating to the safety of The Formula.) There's one (hilariously ineptly-written-and-presented, with zero consequence or effect) moral-choice bit that comes out of left field (and it includes a post-credits side mission ?reveal? to draw one last Gob COME ON from the armchair editor) which is what primarily put that thought in my head.
posted by Drastic at 10:28 AM on November 6


The bugs in this game are bad enough that I'm about to give up playing. Also would recommend folks wait for a few weeks or months for the bugs to be patched before buying it. The game was released in a really broken state but they say they're fixing it.

The most severe bug is the PC save corruption bug. The numbskulls apparently screwed something up so that if the game-saving process is interrupted, not only is that game save corrupted but there aren't any safe, working previous saves to fall back on. Players report losing hours of progress or having to start over entirely. On top of that there's some bug that causes the game to crash on the PC when you quit it, and that crash happens while it's saving so it's enough to cause the corruption. Real bad.

The bug that's got me throwing my hands up in frustration is only on PS4 Slim (not PS4 Pro): massive audio stuttering. It tends to happen when the game gets busy.

I see lots of Xbox One players complaining about regular crashes, only being able to play 20 minutes at a stretch.

I still like the game. None of these bugs seem deep, I suspect Ubisoft will eventually fix them all. Just a shame they didn't get their product working before selling it to people.
posted by Nelson at 12:39 PM on November 15


It sounds like the Xbox Series X players are having the worst of it; basically can't save the game because of some interaction with the online system. Also lots of crashes, sound glitches, etc. Ubisoft says they might have a patch... in a couple of weeks.
posted by Nelson at 6:25 PM on November 21


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