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Friday, July 25, 2014

Watch Dogs

By on 4:08 AM

If  Watch Dogs is to be believed, then a shocking number of Chicago residents are delinquents. As you roam the city looking to both right what is wrong and make wrong what is right, you hack into its citizens' smartphones and listen in on their conversations, and even tap into their computers and catch a glimpse of them as they enjoy their deviations in the supposed privacy of their own homes. Some of these Chicagoans are chronic masturbators; others are criminals and cannibals, ordinary to look at should you pass them on the street, but far from ordinary when they think they are alone.
Aiden Pearce is also far from ordinary, but he understands that privacy is a myth. The city has installed a computer system called ctOS that knows everything, sees everything, and controls everything. Aiden is a hacker. By manipulating ctOS's systems, Aiden can steal from your bank account, gain access to surveillance cameras, and even discover your profession and learn where you went on vacation, or whether you're faithful to your spouse. Aiden's nefarious talents are valuable, and he once had no qualms about who he killed or robbed, as long as he delivered the information and earned his reward.
You'd suppose, then, that information is your most powerful tool in Watch Dogs, but this open-world game's joys come not from voyeurism and information brokerage but from chaos and destruction. Combat encounters are structured like puzzles: Aiden hunkers down and you survey the area, choosing whether to dominate your enemies with firearms and grenades, press against cover and distract your enemies so that you can pass by without raising their suspicions, or settle on a compromise, silencing enemies with well-aimed headshots and taking them down from behind with a swift takedown maneuver. But whichever style best suits the occasion or your mood, you're likely to cause a few explosions and toy with your enemies' heads.
How do you create such chaos? By overloading circuit boards, setting off guards' grenades remotely, or forcing pipes to burst beneath your foes' feet. Such control, right at your fingertips; thanks ctOS! When I felt particularly evil, I threw a distraction lure toward a circuit board and detonated the board as a nearby guard approached. He cried out in agony, and I was grateful that I had one less obstacle between me and my destination. But this kind of evil could feel even more heinous if I happened to glance at my victim's personal information before annihilating him. Oh--he was recently married. Or perhaps he was on antipsychotic medication. Occasionally, I would hesitate to put a bullet in a guard's head if I knew his wife was expecting a child, but I rarely had reservations about murdering a prison escapee. I was deciding whose life had greater value, and I'm grateful that Watch Dogs, in its own subtle way, led me to ponder why I would prize one man over another. With one snap moral judgment, I might decide to let one man live and another die. Unless, of course, I was under fire from every direction, in which case all bets were off.


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