You can tell how serious a publisher is about a game by the type of food they serve at its preview event. There are several tiers. At the lowest is the kind of spread that was put together frantically with a trip to Safeway or Whole Foods. We’re talking Cheetos, red plastic cups, some kind of abominable assortment of hummus dip and carrot sticks in a plastic container. Above that is basic catering: Complimentary soda cans and cold sandwiches you don’t want to eat.
It’s a granular and complex scale that goes all the way up to private dinners with C-level executives. I didn’t get that kind of treatment from Ubisoft, but judging by the spread, the French publisher will stop at nothing to release Watch Dogs under the best possible circumstances.
In short: It’s a sliders-level game, which is way up there. There were three types: pork belly (duh), some kind of slow cooked beef with slaw, and tofu. As you can imagine, the trey of tofu sliders went back into the kitchen mostly untouched. They were also followed by some kind of selection of caramelized popcorn and alcohol, which is always a sign of serious business.
After spending a few hours with Watch Dogs, I understand why. If these events weren’t all-out then they wouldn’t match the game itself. Watch Dogs looks like such an epic undertaking, what’re a few sliders, beers, and a tablet here and there by comparison?
The Watch Dogs developers who came down from Montreal for the preview walked from station to station looking over our shoulders as we played. Some of them looked proud; many looked nervous. Most of the developers I talked to there have worked on Watch Dogs for at least two years. Others have been working on it for five years.
I don’t know if I’ll ever get to dedicate five years of my life to any one project. Maybe when I have a kid I’ll be able to relate to the developer I talked to who’s been working on Watch Dogs’ animations for longer than the time it took me to get my college degree.
Like a skyscraper or a bridge, Watch Dogs is impressive on its face. The amount of unique art assets and lines of dialogue. The not-entirely-ridiculous companion app. The variety of things you’re able to do and the fact that they all work. Watch Dogs has these missions called Digital Trips, which unbind the game from its loosely realistic rules and allow it to explore any kind of game it wants. It becomes Carmageddon for a minute. It becomes a giant monster game for another. The technology behind Watch Dogs allows it to be anything it wants, and it practically tries to be it all: the everything game.
If you look at it, shrug, and dismiss it, you’re an asshole. You are choosing to ignore a feat of human engineering, untold amounts of labor, the vision and audacity of the person who laid down the first brick.
When you’re sitting in the room with the people that made it, the effort that went into it is palpable, and applying subjective, qualitative judgments feels petty.
It’d be like writing a review of the Golden Gate Bridge upon its unveiling. Have you been there? It’s a tourist trap. It’s usually foggy and cold. It’s not even close to golden, a blatant act of false advertising. Up close it looks kind of cruddy. People go there to kill themselves a lot. I have an opinion about it, of course, but it’s so insignificant when compared to its very existence.
Which is not to say that criticism is inappropriate here—games, like any other art form/media, would be lost without it. But it’s worth appreciating for a moment that many of the games on the scale of Watch Dogs, even if you don’t like them, are awe-inspiring, and that the ridiculous pageantry surrounding their launch is probably just an attempt to respect and live up to the work that went into them already. The sliders, the special events, the parade of trailers: they come off a little like smashing a bottle of champagne against the bow of a massive ship on the day of its christening.
I don’t know if I’m going to like Watch Dogs. After playing it for four hours, I’m not counting the minutes until it comes out, to be honest. But that day will be something similar to a miracle, even if you think it sucks.