Baghdad by the Bay: A Virtual Experience

video games Sep 6, 2020

When talking about great open-world experiences in gaming, the juggernauts that are Grand Theft Auto (arguably the genre's progenitor), Skyrim, The Witcher III, and Red Dead Redemption II come to mind.

Watch Dogs 2's closest comparison is the first one, but its scope is smaller. A fact that I am thankful for.

Let's dial back a bit, and talk about the premise of these games. In the world of Watch Dogs, the smart city dream has become a thing of reality in the form of a central operating system (ctOS). Of course, you play as hacker who wants to fight against the system and those who seek to abuse it (mostly corporations).

"Any society that would give up a little liberty to gain a little security will deserve neither and lose both." - Benjamin Franklin

My first impression of the game was good. A likable protagonist who I related to (because he's black and is into tech), a thumping score by Hudson Mohawke, missions I could complete without firing one single gun, a strong female deuteragonist, tech concepts sprinkled throughout the game that I understood, and many real-world references that were used as the basis for various missions you'll undertake. Off the top of my head:

  1. Martin Shkreli and Wu-Tang Clan
  2. Knight Rider

The hacking is fun, and I even hacked another player online!! But that is not what kept me playing. San Francisco did, or at least Ubisoft's virtual representation did. The company is normally known for its accurate portrayals of historical places in the aforementioned Assassin's Creed series, and they did not slouch here.

While Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, San Andreas, IV, and V were heavily influenced by real-life counterparts; I often felt a disconnect with them either to not growing up during that era or in the way that Rockstar North designed them.

The city in Watch Dogs 2 feels alive. That's the most succinct way of describing it. NPCs (non-player characters for the non-gamers amongst you) behave in realistic ways that don't require input from you the player. Here's a vertical slice of what I experienced:

  • People behaving like tourists and posing for photos in front of attractions (or even photobombing my own selfies)
  • A woman smashing a guy's car, presumably because he cheated. He ran out and was shocked. What made me laugh out loud, was that the woman finished her work and then robbed a car to make her getaway! Don't believe me? Watch this:
  • Dudebros getting lit outside the stadium
  • A couple getting into argument about a mortgage
  • A drive-by in one of the poorest parts of the city
  • People calling 911 if someone is injured or...if I stole a car
  • Horatio, a black hacker, who code switches when talking to white people

I do not have the best passport in the world, so I'll take the virtual tourism when I can. And SF in this game is right up there.

Enjoy some photos from my tour via Pixieset.

Have a lovely Sunday!

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