Dark Light

When I’m not slinging words around like an irritable speak-and-spell, I’ve also been known to work in IT. Information technology is an interesting field in which to work, to be fair – the landscape is always changing and opportunities to get involved in emerging technology are plentiful and exciting – but it also has the tendency to make me something of a bore.

In an industry that is at its core based on pure mathematics there’s little room for creative license, so if a movie, or a TV show, or even a video game gets something wrong – usually for the sake of convenience in moving the story forward, rather than any malicious intent towards my kin and I – I’ll be the guy pointing it out. Loudly. Vociferously. With an angry-looking vein throbbing in my forehead.

That bit in Skyfall, where Javier Bardem has Daniel Craig tied to a chair in his server room, most people are paying attention to the overt homoerotic exchange and the fact Bond isn’t at all phased by it. Me, on the other hand? I’m shouting at the screen that there’s no way they’d be able to have a conversation at a normal volume! There’s got to be a hundred server racks in that room, with no visible air conditioning or protection from the dust and detritus of the abandoned Pacific island colony, so the cooling fans in those things would be screaming. It would be like trying to have their little frisson ten feet from a jet engine.

Skyfall server room

The bit in Iron Man 3, where Tony Stark is doing… a thing – I forget what – and he says that he needs more IP addresses to make… the thing that he’s doing faster? Most people are taking it as read that he’s a tech genius and knows what he’s doing. What am I doing at this point? Jumping up and down, not just at the fact that apparently more IP address equals more speed (presumably Stark is just talking in some form of shorthand, and he really means he’s adding more capacity rather than just more network addresses) but at the IP addresses that are actually popping up on the screen. They’re not real. They’re not, in fact, even possible!

IP addresses – in the IPv4 convention that Iron Man is ‘following’ – are split into four octets, with 255 possible number combinations in each octet, beginning from zero; this means that a single octet of an IP address can’t go above 254, yet on the screen we see numbers as high as 610. What sort of fools do they take us for? So yes, it’s been established that I’m probably not the best person to watch movies or TV with any technological wizardry or electromagical McGuffins, so you really don’t want to be around when I’m playing Watch_Dogs 2.

Iron Man 3 IP addresses

The original Watch_Dogs, from Ubisoft, is an interesting thing. Essentially Assassin’s Creed with smartphones, what was originally pitched as a ‘hack anything’ experience usually turned into a ‘hack a few things, then get all murdery’ one pretty rapidly. Most people took issue with the fact that Aiden Pearce simply had to wave his cell phone at a device – be it a traffic light, a police system, or anything else that served his purpose – and he could bend it to his every whim. They saw it as a lazy, uninvolved way of hacking, but I’ve got news for you: hacking is, for the most part, incredibly dull. It’s not like in the movies, where an erstwhile youth spends thirty seconds mashing their palm against a keyboard, and then they’ve got all the access to all the things. It’s a tedious process of trial and error that might take days or weeks to pay off, if it ever does.

What Ubisoft did with the original Watch_Dogs was find a pseudo-realistic way to circumnavigate this, so that their ostensibly action-focused game didn’t become an exercise in boredom. They had to introduce some conceits that allowed the game to progress apace, and central to that was to have Aiden install a trojan into the city’s mainframe systems, early on in the game. If you take it as read that, in a world run by corrupt governments (why else would you become a hacker, if not to throw off the yolk of an oppressive regime?) with interconnecting systems monitoring and controlling every aspect of our lives, then a well-placed piece of malware could allow you access into all of that.

As the angry IT voice, I’m actually fine with that, believe it or not. It’s a shortcut, admittedly, but the idea that a hacker managed to get a single piece of malware inside a control system – just look at nuclear power plant-targeting worm Stuxnet – is far more likely than they were able to hack any and every conceivable piece of technology on the fly, in seconds, regardless of what it might be.

That’s not to say Watch_Dogs was a great game, however. Just because its implementation of hacking wasn’t entirely as stupid as everyone believed doesn’t mean that the game itself was much cop, but at least it hadn’t gone entirely overboard on the hacking elements.

Enter Watch_Dogs 2.

Watch_Dogs 2, I have to say, looks like utter bollocks. While I do have to commend Ubisoft for their visually stunning representation of San Francisco – a far better place to set a tech-focused game than Chicago – and their sheer creativity in some of the elements of the game we’ve seen, I know playing it is going to drive me up the wall.

For starters, there are some of the technical elements that have been revealed in the early trailers and clips of the game. Their use of consumer technology, frankensteined for a dastardly purpose, is actually very realistic: there’s one section from a gameplay trailer where the player is flying a drone over someone’s property and is essentially intercepting their wireless network and scraping all the data being passed through it. That’s the real deal. That’s an actual thing that can – and does – happen. They’re also making use of drones for their intended purpose, acting as a remote pair of eyes where someone couldn’t physically access. Essentially, a spy in the sky.

Bravo, Watch_Dogs 2. You actually got something right, but they’re not finished with drones there. Heaven forbid they stop at what might be realistic or feasible.

Watch_Dogs 2 - drone nicks server cabinet

There’s one scene where we see what appears to be a somewhat large, but relatively standard consumer-grade octocopter nicking off with an entire server cabinet. This is actually a very clever tactic: for all the time hackers spend trying to gain access to systems remotely, actually just making off with the thing is a far more reliable and time-effective way of getting your hands on data, if you can physically manage it. Unfortunately, that looks like a full height server cabinet – around 48U, or 48 rack units; essentially 2.3m high – that’s fully laden with equipment (why else would you steal it, if there wasn’t stuff in it worth stealing?) which in reality would probably weigh at least half a tonne. If the rack is populated with any particularly dense or high-end equipment like a storage array – i.e. the stuff that’s really worth nicking, for the data held on it – it could actually be closer to a tonne.

Now, take your little quadcopter from Toys R Us outside, attach it to your waist with a piece of string, and see if it can lift you up. I’d be surprised if it could even nudge you off-balance. And what do you weigh, no more than 100kg probably? Even with specialist equipment, and the conceit that our protagonist is a ‘tech genius’ and will have somehow hacked/upgraded the drone to deliver more power, an octocopter of that size simply isn’t big enough to provide enough lift to pilfer a server cabinet of that size. Hell, it may struggle to lift a single server. This British inventor barmpot needed 54 drones to lift him, and the drone ‘swarm’ only manages 10 minutes of flight because it’s such hard work.

In another attempt to capture of-the-moment topics related to the perverse use of technology, like drone dangers, you can 3D print your own weapons in Watch_Dogs 2.

You’ll also have the option 3D printing your own stun-gun though, and Ubisoft have confirmed that there are non-lethal options in Watch_Dogs 2. This is great news as pacifist play-throughs are certainly becoming scarce, particularly when both Fallout 4 and Deus Ex: Human Revolution – two elder statesmen franchises in which smart pacifism used to be a core option – struggled to offer non-lethal alternatives; but on the back of what we’ve seen of Watch_Dogs 2 so far, the non-lethal options don’t exactly seem to be front-and-centre in the experience. It’s far more likely to be the Metal Gear Solid approach, where you first attempt to do something the stealthy (in this case, hacker) way, and if the excrement does hit the fan before you’re done, then you go weapons free and shoot your way out.

Watch_Dogs 2 3D printed guns

So we’ve got unrealistic use of technology and unnecessary and uncharacteristic violence; what else have Ubisoft got in store for us in Watch_Dogs 2? Irony. Huge amounts of it, both intentional and otherwise.

Let’s look at the intentional stuff first.

For some reason, when the original Watch_Dogs was released, it – rather inexplicably, it must be said – found itself associated with the doge meme. Other than the fact it has the word ‘dogs’ in the title there’s really not all that much to connect the game with the meme. According to the Bitcoin Robot blog, Doge however is particularly virulent, with its tendrils reaching as far as its own BitCoin-esque crypto currency (the DogeCoin) so very few things are safe from it’s evil memetic clutches. (Wow. Such reach. Very influence. Etc.)

This then led to Watch_Dogs protagonist, Aiden thingy, having his head replaced with that of a smiling Shiba Inu at every turn, and Ubisoft understandably weren’t best pleased by this development. They’d put a lot of time and effort into their gritty hacker thriller, and weren’t too happy that the internet was making fun of them. Unfortunately when you throw a tantrum and tell the internet to stop making fun of you, the internet – like all good bullies – simply laughs in your face and doubles down: just look at the Beyonce/She-Hulk fiasco from a few of years ago.

Then somewhere in the intervening period between Watch_Doge – sorry, Watch_Dogs – and Watch_Dogs 2, a very clever person at Ubisoft realised that the best way to stop the internet from stealing their lunch money and pantsing them in the schoolyard was to embrace their flaws, and commit wholeheartedly to the bit. The very next time the internet asked “Why are you hitting yourself?” Ubisoft decided, metaphorically speaking, that the best course of action was to voluntarily beat itself bloody, smile menacingly, and then go on with its day.

And that, kids, is how Watch_Dogs 2 went full meme, and my god is it looking terrible for it.

It’s got internet culture oozing from every pore, with the Anonymous-esque DeadSec – replete with hoodies and skull masks, lest they infringe on Anon’s trademark V For Vendetta masks – complete with graffiti, selfie sticks, Google cardboard VR headsets, parkour (why must games always have parkour?) and partying with those ridiclous horse-head masks. Even their website is painfully hacker-themed; it’s like Nathan Barley all over again, the rise of the fucking idiots. I’m all for embracing your flaws and taking them back from your abusers, Ubisoft, but this is just plain sad. It’s like when big Hollywood studio took a crack at youth or gamer (or even hacker) culture in the late eighties/early nineties, and we ended up with abhorrent messes like The Wizard or Hackers.

Watch_Dogs 2 horse head mask

Watch_Dogs 2 is an absurd hacker caricature, a juvenile power fantasy that has been dreamt up by a marketing team who’ve watched every episode of Mr Robot and read The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, and as a result of this extensive research believe that they’re fully equipped to speak to – and more importantly, for – the youth. Because, Ubisoft seems to maintain, wouldn’t we all love to be hackers, if we only had the motivation?

And on that note let’s get onto the accidental irony, Watch_Dogs 2‘s protagonist’s raison d’être, the very motivation for his becoming a hacktivist: <insert generic story about abuses of state actors, crimes he didn’t commit, and hitting back at the man>. I’m sure it’s a passable story once you get past all that awful meme culture, but I did catch one important bit of information about our hero, specifically that he found the authorities had been planting fake information about him to suit their own nefarious deeds. Seems like as good a reason as any to want to disappear, go off the grid, and live in a Faraday cage with a cat like Gene Hackman in Enemy of the State.

Then a little later in a gameplay video, we saw our be-hooded youth – remember, this is absolutely not Assassin’s Creed with smartphones – planting a fake criminal record on an unsuspecting member of the public. This caused them to be arrested for crimes they most certainly didn’t commit, because the little shit who, not moments earlier was complaining of an alarmingly similar miscarriage of justice, decided it would suit his ends (wasn’t he doing this for justice, or something?) to do the exact same thing to someone else.

Watch_Dogs 2 planting evidence

What’s to say it was the evil government who planted fake information in his records at all? It was more likely that baseball cap-wearing twat from Watch_Dogs, who needed to cause a distraction of his own and didn’t care who he hurt in the process.

Fast forward a couple of years to Watch_Dogs 3, and our new protagonist – complete with Kayne West sunglasses, a big-face-animal-print t-shirt, a hover-board, and absolutely no sense of irony – is seeking to undo the injustice that was cruelly served upon him by the horse mask-wearing twat from Watch_Dogs 2.

The Watch_Dogs antiheroes are like a modern day Robin Hood; you know, if Robin Hood spent his time murdering everyone, screwing over the innocent to suit his own needs, and generally being a massive dick in the pursuit of looking cool.

It’s a real shame, to be honest. Watch_Dogs 2 looks beautifully cinematic and its representation of San Francisco genuinely seems like a living, breathing approximation of a real city, while their creative use of technology could make for a really exciting and innovative experience, if only they stopped chasing the interminable zeitgeist.

Dank memes though, Ubisoft.

Ubisoft aren’t alone: hacking in games is often terrible. We know. We did the research.

  1. Indeed, but good sales figures aren’t exactly a hallmark of quality – just look at Batman vs Superman. It might still turn out to be a great game, in fact I sincerely hope it does and I’m not trying to put people off the game itself, rather highlight the fact that the rampant meme chasing is largely ridiculous.

    Over analysis though, by its very definition, is too much analysis; i.e. time wasted on doing more analysis than was strictly needed. Was the analysis time wasted? Let’s not pull at that particular thread for two reasons:

    1. If we start contesting that videogames – or analysis thereof, and therefore by extension, the entire medium – is wasted time, then this whole house of cards we’re enjoying will tumble to the ground.
    2. If the analysis *was* in fact time wasted, then what does that make taking the time to add further comment?

  2. I think you’re 100{54aa50b9c141fdc6877fe76dd9617d72386c166c2b8f2ba44b2c6137e789c1e0} on point here. I think back to the original Watch_Dogs, when it was first revealed, and all the promise it showed. Finally, it seemed, we were getting a dark, gritty, and expansive title in which there was more grey than defined morality. Maybe not based entirely on reality, but in an alternate universe where their admittedly absurd premise could be excused. Had Ubisoft been able to keep a tighter grip on the course concepts established in the previews, we would have seen a far better, perhaps even revolutionary game.

    But, of course, we were presented with the truth when the game came out; Watch_Dogs was, mostly, dull, repetitive, and unlikable due to the “mess everything up no matter what” nature of the protagonist, Aiden.
    I’m not even in the mindset that Watch_Dogs was a -bad- game, honestly. Just a supremely underwhelming one. I bought the game on day 1, a rarity for me these days, and I can only remember a small handful of moments from the entire experience. I had no reason to go back.
    That should never be the reason with a day one purchase.

    Had they delivered a more varied, robust series of events and objectives, had they given more thought to the possible scale of things, and had it delivered on the technical level we were shown in previews (though it is standard fare for Ubisoft to oversell a product technically), I would have played Watch_Dogs at least twice. Hell, maybe even given the infamous multiplayer a chance.

    But, in my opinion, the worst transgression was Aiden, and what they have created out of the hatred for that weak character will RUIN Watch_Dogs 2. Simply put, Aiden was meant to be dark, brooding, and unknowable. What we got was dark, malicious, and unreasonable. A man who does almost nothing for the greater good, but because he wants to.
    Ubisoft doesn’t get it here. They get no points for making some ironic, techy-punk their answer for Aidens bad rep. One who WEARS his illegal affilitations logo ON HIS FREAKING HAT. Like, what?! Did anyone else see that?
    We get it, Ubisoft. The internet is so edgy. It almost feels like they’re taking a stab back at the web for the fire taken by Watch_Dogs by making the game an ironic charicature.

    Thing is, Aiden could have worked. Dark, brooding, and unknowable could have been a great premise. All we needed was justification to get behind him, with a reasonable and tangible storyline allowing us to feel for the guy and understand why he had to cause traffic light pileups and steal money from (certain) bank accounts.
    I mean, look at the Dark Knight series. Shady protagonists work. The greater good creates a dialouge and, even better, possibly a debate.
    Playing as self-centered Aiden, hacking into anymans bank account and starting chaos just for the sake of it, made the gamer feel like a jerk. That is a mishandled character in what is becoming a mishandled franchise, outright.

    Ubisoft does not understand how to establish a brand anymore, they are too wishy washy, and too unfocused. I will wait to see the terri ble reviews for Watch_Dogs 2, and even if it sells well, I will not be fooled again.

  3. I can only concur. I’ve wanted a game set in San Francisco for a long time and it’s great to finally get one. It’s just a shame it’s Watch_Dogs 2.

    I checked out the E3 demo presentation and it just tries too hard, verging on the embarrassing.

    The gameplay looks pretty fun but in the demo they spent more time showing how you could buy clothes from a store (to express yourself) and how you could download cool apps to your virtual phone! Erm, thanks.

    And taking selfies gets you followers. Groan.

    The city though, amazing.

    1. Driver San Francisco might be something you would want to checkout ? It was released on PS3 Xbox 360 and Steam ( Now $20- $25.00 on Steam ) a couple of years back and was actually a pretty decent game.

      Cheers !

  4. Wow even I’m amazed at how little I read of your article because I realized you were going to feed me with a bunch of spoilers but thanks for the rant, maybe fewer words next time for the millions who will buy it. Obviously you had something to say but I skipped it all because you don’t seem to be able to escape reality for a moment and enjoy a movie.

  5. To be honest, you can apply the same (very valid) criticisms to Assassins Creed games. The moral hypocrisy of the protagonists is almost bizarre. The games make a big deal out of the whole don’t harm innocents thing but have you slaughter city guards (who are ostensibly just doing their jobs) by the hundreds for a variety of petty reasons. There’s actually a thieves mission in brotherhood where it transpires that a wealthy man is funding the city watch to crack down on organised thieving and crime. The game then wastes no time in having you murder the poor sod for what it tries to pass off as some kind of Justice. I actually like to play Brotherhood imagining that instead of an Assassin I am in fact, a despotic maniac slowly securing my tyrannical grasp over Rome and it’s people.

  6. @Tom Baines

    Slow news day?

    I don’t know whether or not to laugh or cry that you exerted this much effort to let everyone know that you’re this much of a try-hard on a topic NOBODY CARES ABOUT. It’s a video game, not a real life simulation….

  7. I didn’t read too much into the drone, because to be fair that drone is massive and one of that size could potentially lift a couple hundred kilos at least. I watched one knocked up with consumer parts in Paris just a couple weeks ago that a full grown man (~80kg) could fly around on for 2 minutes at a time with a great deal of lift performance to spare. 2 minutes would be a pinch, but surely even this is enough time to move such a cabinet far enough away to dump it on a pickup on the street and nick it.

    That hoverboard wasn’t even half the size of the drone shown in the Watch Dogs 2 video. Of course, if that cabinet is fully loaded it could easily weigh 1000kg and nothing short of a medium sized turbine helicopter could move it. But if it isn’t fully laden then a drone of that size should be capable of lifting it.

  8. As an ex-journalist who left it to be a programmer, you’ve got an excellent writing style and are spot on. Thoroughly enjoyed the article.

  9. So do you put this much effort into writing a laughable clickbait article over how you can avoid cops in GTA by simply changing your clothes and how you can survive multiple shotgun blasts to the face? What about the thousand other instances of unrealistic occurrences in fantasy games that are based in a real world setting?

    Sheesh….did someone owe someone a favor (or lose a bet), in order to hire you? Someone who’s suspension of disbelief is so inconsistent? Good grief, get over yourself.

    1. the point is why bother making amazing replicas of real world just to populate it with such rubbish when it would not be that hard to make some amazing things out of it

  10. Your issues with Watch Dogs 2 are exactly my issues as well. Just feels like a missed opportunity from Ubisoft. THere’s a lot of potential with this concept, but having inconsistent motivations and actions from it’s protagonists kind of ruins the story. I know people nowadays only really care about how fun or good the gameplay is, but some of us like a good story too, and this one is headed the way of the original. Bland, inconsistent, cliche and boring.

    1. If you’re so easily distracted that you can’t enjoy a game from a different perspective, while in a continued universe, then that says more about your inability to parse things than anything else.

  11. i think ubiE3 conference was very representative of their overal approach to their games – just like that very try hard cool fbomb dropping wannabe oprahs doughter and that opening (could we even call it) dance routine, and those cretive directors announcing bloodtrials etc they just constantly without the fail totally miss the mark.
    they have great teams that know how and can create amazing virtual worlds but whoever the people in charge are, are too much of the pompous wannabe cool fktards that manage to screw it all

    1. And they said THIS GAME is over-run with knuckleheaded internet meme words.

      Maybe you were trying to be ironic with this hilariously rage and buzz-word filled post?

  12. Dumbass I thought to my self as I read this entire statement, the point of a game isn’t to be “realistic” it’s supposed to be fun. Now you tell me which is better realistic tech or unrealistic dropping a port potty on someone’s head or crashing into someone with a drone and having it break going buy a new thousand dollar drone then repeating

    1. “Unless a game is hyper-realistic, with 4k textures on each individual eyelash and so detailed that you can see letters in the protagonists alphabet soup, the game is crap!”

  13. About the octocopter, if they fitted the engines with something that can produce several thousand pounds of thrust I can believe this. In fact you can buy miniature jet thrusters for roughly $2k and up. If you youtube the guy who “flew” with a winged jet pack those are the engines I’m referring to. They are small and abou the size of the octocopter propeller rig. Not exactly the same but the scaling of power vs size has a real world analog.

  14. I definitely agree with this article, as a Software Engineer myself. I don’t think I would enjoy this game, because, unfortunately, they’re not targeting an audience like us. They’re targeting those who just want to see things happen and not care how or why they happen. It’s more of a Micheal Bay stance – “Explosions are cool, right? Add more.” They veered hard from reality and dove into the fantasy mindset of the young generations (heck, I’m 22, and I can’t feel any connection to this game). But, each to their own. Others will enjoy this for the fact that there’s cool things happening, others won’t because it’s too much of a fantasy. I’m obviously with the latter. I mean… c’mon… 3D printing an object with multiple materials, circuitry, fully connected and functional mechanics, and all within two passes? Could probably solve world hunger with that technology.

  15. You fucking nailed. Although you articulated it a lot better than I could have, these are my thoughts exactly about the game, all of them. The half-baked display of ideals and hypocritical nature of vigilante justice and Machiavellian Hacktivism, the sickening, lame amount of internet meme culture pandering, the absurd techno-magic. Especially the “juvenile power fantasy” of it. Everytime a character gets in someone’s face like a spoiled brat, yelling about “what’s right”, I die a little inside. I can barely stand those self-righteous cunts on Twitter, let alone in some media I’m actively consuming.

    the game is OK (kind of boring), but the story really suffers for all the reasons mentioned in this article.

Comments are closed.

Related Posts