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Five Ways ‘Watch Dogs 2’ Gets it Right

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Because list features are apparently easy….

I remember when Watch Dogs 2 was announced; I distinctly remember rolling my eyes at the hipster culture it seemed desperate to represent. Absolute rubbish I thought, a desperate clawing for relevancy after the abysmal original, which was the definition of disappointing. Soon enough the game came about, quietly, as if Ubisoft was poised not to make the same marketing hype the first game stumbled on. Imagine my surprise when I started it up and found myself still playing it obsessively several hours later; was my drink spiked, was I delusional, had Ubisoft sent a bag of money in the mail? No, no those are rhetorical questions, please don’t answer them, definitely, don’t check under my pillow. What follows is a list of things that Watch Dogs 2 gets right that the first game did not, because everyone loves short and simple (don’t scroll down) list features, especially the ones that feel like they’ve been written by a super advanced AI with all the emotion of a dead frog (with the exception of our site’s brilliantly written list articles of course). List feature exe startup:

1: Likeable Characters

Can you remember the protagonist of the first game? It’s perfectly understandable if you can’t. After all, Aiden Pearce had all the personality of a baked potato. A truly detestable character whose motives were as trite as getting revenge, who spoke to other characters like they were dirt, and whose charm was nonexistent. What a complete turnaround the sequel has made, with a richly diverse cast of endearing characters. Ok fine, they might not be for everyone. In fact, I’m sure lots of people (especially of a certain age) will be determined to hate them before even playing the game. As original as the ‘how do you do fellow kids’ meme is when every person on the internet is tweeting it, feeling like they’re the cleverest person alive; the characters are actually all well written this time. Yes, they’re young and they act like it, but it’s fresh to see a game tackling characters in their early 20’s without just being stereotypes and managing to give depth to their personalities.

The main protagonist is Marcus; yes, he’s a person of colour in the lead role, and no, let’s not get into an SJW discussion. I bring this up because the game acknowledges some current issues that still centre on race with his character. Marcus is immediately more likable than Aiden; he’s funny, charismatic, and just has oodles of energy about him. The game surrounds him with a supporting cast that plays off him with great humour and witty back and forth banter. Overall there’s a great sense of camaraderie, there are scenes where they fanboy over movie trailers and argue about Alien vs Predator. One of the group is on the spectrum, and although I’m not an expert on Aspies, the representation is respectful, and there’s even a transgender character.

A member of the hacker group (Deadsec) named Wrench is perhaps the standout. You’ll recognise him by the punk, spike-covered jacket and the mask that displays emoticons. He’s also the character that people eyed with suspicion during the game’s marketing (myself included, while I secretly liked his design) and looked like the most cringe-worthy conception in the gaming universe. Can’t looks be deceiving, eh? Turns out he’s actually a really interesting and relatable character for people who have social anxiety of some kind, plus he’s just really entertaining, and cool and cute and, and…..disclosure time! So I might have had a minor, huge infatuation with his character (don’t judge me), to the point where I took my mysterious new-found wealth and bought one of those figures/statues/dolls I tease other people for buying – you know, those cheap pieces of tat that fill your closets and make you look at yourself in the mirror and wonder ‘who have I become’.

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Be still my beating heart.

A mention has to go towards the fantastic animations for Marcus in the way he moves and fights; the parkour just makes you feel giddy inside. They help inform and add more personality to these people. This has been a long point, however, I feel like this is the biggest improvement the sequel has made. Finally, Ubisoft have created ‘iconic’ characters.

2: A new tongue-in-cheek tone

Following on from the upbeat and energetic writing is the big shift in tone from the original. Watch Dogs is silly; you can hack cars to swerve off road, you can snoop at people’s phones to see they have a foot fetish, you can knock people out with what looks like a dog toy, and best of all you can set the police on random pedestrians. The problem was the first game hid away from the ridiculousness of the game’s premise like it was ashamed of the fact it was a video game, because it actually was a video game. The plot and tone had this big po-faced veneer to it, in the same way, David Cage pretended that the internet coming to life was an intelligent piece of social commentary while two characters had a Matrix-style fight in the background. Watch Dogs 2 turns this on its head completely, now offering a huge sunny disposition surrounding everything in the game. The villains are these completely outlandish yet entertaining entities that fully embrace how ludicrous the whole plot is.

The game pokes fun at itself and isn’t ashamed to have fun at the expense of believability. In reality, the characters are all absolutely vile in regards to their actions, but it doesn’t matter because the game doesn’t paint itself seriously, unlike the original. At the same time, it makes sure to ground its rules, and does at several points in the plot present some serious situations and emotive turns. This way you still care about what happens. The best comparison is Saints Row 2 – before that series took the dive into the incomprehensible bilge it became later on (sorry). In fact, you can draw quite a few comparisons to Saints Row 2 in regard to the characters, jokes, and tone. It’s not a bad thing to be associated with. In addition – again like Saints Row – the clothing and customisation options in Watch Dogs 2 add a huge amount of personality to the world, and I found myself constantly changing my outfit.

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I swear this article isn’t just an excuse to gush about Wrench.

3: A vibrant and colourful setting

San Francisco is a nice place to be. Well, I’m sure that’s probably not true in real life, but as a game setting, it’s a perfect choice. Following on from the shift in tone (sounds as if I planned all these points to segue into each other, but I didn’t), the setting is so much brighter, vibrant, diverse and interesting than the dull and grey city of Chicago from the last game. It’s so satisfying to see more and more games taking up a colourful art design, right down to the LBGTQ flags that adorn several streets and roads in one affable section of the city. The lighting engine is the real star, offering breathtaking sights and life-like looking sunsets.

4. Satirical commentary

In the year of 2016, satire is hard to come by. We all currently seem to be living in a satirical version of the real world already (that’s excluding the brutal satire I’ve directed towards list features). In gaming, though, satire is a risky proposition; can you rely on your audience to ‘get it’? It’s not merely underestimating your audience when you see people missing the point of obvious jokes everyday. Watch Dogs 2 tries to negate that by placing its satire directly on the nose (somehow people will still miss the point). It’s a mixed bag in several instances; some commentary it delivers in a humorous and relevant way, such as the pretentiousness of Google, and elsewhere it feels like a time capsule that dates the game squarely in this year. In fact, several ‘gags’ were outdated before release, such as digs at a Trump-like election candidate and a reference to Obama.

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I really do swear it’s not.

The satire is in no way timeless, but yet you can’t help smiling and nodding along to many of the game’s jabs at pop culture and the current social and economic climate. It also risks ‘upsetting’ certain groups of political beliefs, and I’m sure others will gracefully point out the irony of how these people often complain about others being offended. ‘Keep politics out of video games’ translated to ‘keep politics that I don’t agree with out of my precious games’. That political rant out of the way, though it’s not the games strongest creative decision, it does make for some entertaining levels while you sneak around a humorous take on Google headquarters (called Nudle in game).

5. Varied mission design

Ubisoft has a problem, one that’s been true of most of its recent open world games, and it’s a big one: all the missions are repetitive and dull. It’s been true of the last two Assassins Creed games and even Far Cry. In both you rarely found yourself doing anything unique or bespoke during the mission design. The game will ask you to travel to some random space on the map, kill/chase/collect something and then travel back, all the while throwing the thinnest of narrative context for doing it. While Watch Dogs 2 doesn’t completely get it perfect, it does always provide character motives for tasks, and manages to create bespoke interiors with proper level design to stealth through. More surprising was how side missions have been tackled. They aren’t just mind numbing repeats of the same activity disguised as different content. Each side mission has story content, and simply hearing more dialogue and jokes from the gang is incentive enough to play through them.

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Fine, it is!

6. Uh…

Oh wait, we’ve come to the end, I’m sure you’re as relieved as I am. Let’s not break the rules of the sacred list feature scripture; 6 items in a list is just crazy talk. Watch Dogs 2 is good and let’s be happy that Ubisoft took this second chance to listen to feedback and make a much more interesting and entertaining experience, and extra thanks to the inclusion of a certain character. Or maybe that’s just me?

One day it struck Oliver what his true calling in life was; to become a millionaire celebrity while doing nothing. Unfortunately YouTube has enough of those, so until then Oliver will have to deal with writing about games. He has experience writing for several games sites, talking nonsense and working on a novel when sanity can gain traction. Currently dancing through life until the impending death of the sun consumes us all. Likes sandwiches.

2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Mike Worby

    November 25, 2016 at 10:22 pm

    Honestly I haven’t played either of these games, and this is still a great article. Well done Oliver!

    • Oliver Rebbeck

      November 26, 2016 at 7:50 am

      Thanks Mike, I did worry I was being too causal and lighthearted at points but it’s the writing style I do best.

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Game Reviews

‘Coffee Talk’ Review: The Best Brew in Town

Coffee Talk is as quaint as your local coffee shop. It’s relatively short, wonderfully sweet, and absolutely committed to the art form of telling a story through a video game screen.

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It’s 9:00pm. The rain just started coming down softly a few minutes ago, and the street outside is reflecting the lights above it. Neon signs shine brightly in the distance, although it’s hard to make out the words. You unlock the doors to the coffee shop and wipe down the counters in order to get them clean for the customers. The rain makes a soft sound as it hits the glass and passerby speed up their walking pace to avoid it. The bells chime as a tall, green orc walks in and sits down at your table in silence. You wonder what their story is…

I wanted to set the tone for this review because of how important atmosphere and audio/visual design is in the world of Coffee Talk. While it’s easy to boil the game down as a visual novel-type experience, it’s honestly so much more than that. A unique cast of characters, incredible user interface, and a mysterious protagonist combine to form the most enjoyable experience I’ve had this year on Switch.

Coffee Talk
Some of the subject matter can be pretty serious in nature…

Coffee Talk is beautiful because of how simple it is. The entire game takes place within a single coffee shop. As the barista, you’re tasked with making drinks for the patrons of the shop as well as making conversations with them. The twist is that earth is populated with creatures like orcs, werewolves, and succubi. The relationship between the various races is handled very well throughout the story, and some interesting parallels are made to the real world.

Making drinks is as simple as putting together a combination of three ingredients and hitting the ‘Serve’ button. If a unique drink is made, it will be added to a recipe list that can be referenced on the barista’s cell phone. This is where the awesome user interface comes in, as the phone has a series of apps that can be accessed at any moment in the game. One app houses your recipe list, another acts as a facebook for the characters in the game, one allows you to switch between songs, and the other houses a series of short stories that one of the characters in the game writes as it progresses. It’s one of the coolest parts of the whole experience and helps it stand out from other games in the genre.

Coffee Talk is as quaint as your local coffee shop. It’s relatively short, wonderfully sweet, and absolutely committed to the art form of telling a story through a video game screen.

Coffee Talk cycles between talking with customers and making drinks for them. In the beginning, they will ask for basic beverages that can be brewed on the fly. Later on however, they may ask for a specific type of drink that has a unique title. These drinks often have certain descriptive features that hint at other possibilities in terms of unique dialogue. If the wrong drink is made, you’ll have five chances to trash it and make a new one. If the wrong drink is made, don’t expect the customer to be pleased about it.

The gameplay really is not the focus here though; it’s the characters and their stories that take center stage. An elf with relationship issues, a writer that can’t seem to pin down her next story, and an alien whose sole goal is to mate with an earthling are just a few of the examples of the characters you’ll meet during the story. There are tons of memorable moments throughout Coffee Talk, with every character bringing something unique to the table. The barista develops an interesting relationship with many of these characters as well.

Coffee Talk
Appearances can often be deceiving in this game.

Even though serving the wrong drinks can change some of the dialogue, don’t expect any sort of options or branching paths in terms of the story. It’s not that kind of experience; the story should simply be enjoyed for what it is. I found myself glued to the screen at the end of each of the in-game days, waiting to see what would happen in the morning. The first playthrough also doesn’t answer all of the game’s questions, as the second one is filled with all kinds of surprises that I won’t spoil here.


Coffee Talk is as quaint as your local coffee shop. It’s relatively short, wonderfully sweet, and absolutely committed to the art form of telling a story through a video game screen. It’s an easy recommendation for anyone who loves video games, not just visual novel fans. There are characters in the game that I’ll certainly be thinking about for a long time, especially when the setting brings out the best in them. Don’t pass this one up.

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Games

The Magic of Nintendo: How Mario and Zelda Connect us to Our Inner Child

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Magic of Nintendo

Nintendo is special. Many excellent developers depend upon story or progression systems to entice engagement, but not Nintendo. Nintendo games captivate because of their immediate charm. There is no need for a payoff. The games, themselves, are enough: they elicit feelings, hard to find in adulthood. Through intrepid discovery, playful presentation, and unfiltered whimsy, the best of Nintendo connects gamers to their childlike selves.

The heart of any great Nintendo game is discovery and no encounter encapsulates this better than Breath of the Wild’s Eventide Island. First, finding the island requires genuine gumption. Found far from Hyrule’s shore, the island is only clearly visible from other islands, and even then, it’s only a speck in the distance. Reaching the island requires players to brave the open ocean and head towards something … that could be nothing. Then, upon arriving on the beach, a spirit takes all the player’s gear, including clothes and food. Link, literally, is left in his underwear. From there, players must make clever use of Link’s base skills in order to steal enemy weapons and make traps. The scenario creates a marvelous sense of self-sufficiency brought on by one’s own desire to discover. The player comes to the island purely of their own choosing, tackles the sea, and then overcomes obstacles without the aid of their strongest tools. The game turns players into plucky children who are discovering they can take care of themselves.

The intrepidity of Breath of the Wild and other Nintendo greats mirrors the feelings Shigeru Miyamoto, the father of many Nintendo franchises, experienced as a child. “I can still recall the kind of sensation I had when I was in a small river, and I was searching with my hands beneath a rock, and something hit my finger, and I noticed it was a fish,” Miyamoto told the New Yorker. “That’s something that I just can’t express in words. It’s such an unusual situation.” In sequences like Eventide Island, players don’t just understand what Miyamoto describes, they feel it: Apprehension gives way to exhilaration as the unknown becomes a place of play.

 Nintendo’s intrepid gameplay is often amplified by playful presentation with Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island being the quintessential example. The game’s visuals, defined by pastel colors and simple hand-drawings, appear crayoned by a child while the celestial chimes that punctuate the jubilant soundtrack evoke shooting stars. The overall effect cannot be understated. It takes the surreal and turns it real, allowing players to interact, tangibly, with imagination.

Super Mario Odyssey Wooden Kingdom

Even if one removes the presentation and gameplay from Nintendo’s masterpieces, an unabashed creativity remains that bucks norm and convention. The arbiter is fun; reason and logic have no say. For instance, Super Mario Odyssey’s Wooded Kingdom, takes place in a post-apocalyptic setting akin to Nier Automata. Players explore the metal remnants of a civilization that has become a lush home to robotic beings. However, unlike Nier, the dark undertones of the past have no bearing on the game or those who inhabit its universe. The post-apocalyptic setting is just a fun backdrop. It’s as though a bunch of children got together, began playing with toys, and one of the kids brought along his sibling’s adult action figures. There is no attention paid to the context, only unfiltered imagination.

When they’re at their best the creators at Nintendo invite gamers to come and play, like a parent arranging a play date. Pulled along by joyful gameplay that expands in unforeseen ways, players desire to play for the sake of play. It’s a halcyon state of being: No messy thoughts or contradiction, just joy.

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Games

‘Kingdom Hearts III: Re:Mind’: An Utterly Shameless Cash Grab

Coming in at a $40 price point (!!!) Kingdom Hearts III: Re:Mind offers an 80% recycled campaign, a boss rush mode, and some other trash.

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Kingdom Hearts III: Re:Mind

In the 15 year long history of DLC, we have seen some really shameless displays. The notorious horse armor incident of 2006 and a notable day one DLC for the ending game of a trilogy notwithstanding, few companies have had the utter audacity to offer so little content for such a high price point. Enter Kingdom Hearts III: Re:Mind.

Coming in at a $40 price point (!!!) Kingdom Hearts III: Re:Mind offers an 80% recycled campaign, a boss rush mode, and some social media nonsense for people who really hate themselves. That’s really it, that’s what you get. Honestly, Square-Enix should be utterly embarrassed by this DLC.

It’s been one year: 365 days, 8760 hours, 525600 minutes, or 31556952 seconds, since the release of Kingdom Hearts III. Let that sink in as you begin the meat of Kingdom Hearts III: Re:Mind. Think of it as the extended version of a movie you really like… you know, the kind where they add 4 minutes to the 120 minute runtime.

Kingdom Hearts III: Re:Mind

Yes, Kingdom Hearts III: Re:Mind, really is that cynical. I’m not kidding when I tell you that the game literally starts with an exact cut scene from the base game, and a cut scene that happens to be available from the theater mode of the main game that you’ve already bought if you’re playing this DLC. Yes, the introduction to this new content is… content you’ve already seen.

In fact, that’s kind of the sticking point here: most of what you get for your hard-earned cash is footage you’ve already seen, and battles you’ve already fought, and story you’ve already experienced, just with slight alterations for context. Remember back in the 2000s, when we were super obsessed with prequels? This is like that, except even more egregious.

Generally I’m not so unforgiving as to call a company out for a forthright cash grab, but that’s absolutely what Kingdom Hearts III: Re:Mind is. There’s just no other way to put it. You might find someone in the marketing department for Square-Enix who would disagree, but being a company that has faced just these sort of allegations for their last two major releases, Square-Enix either doesn’t read the news, or doesn’t care what people think of their products.

Kingdom Hearts III: Re:Mind

Square-Enix was roundly accused of shipping unfinished products in the case of both Final Fantasy XV and Kingdom Hearts III — their two most high profile releases of the last decade. I personally gave mostly positive reviews of both games for this very website but if you want ammo to suggest that this company is deliberately trading on the nostalgia and passion of its fan base in order to make financial headway, there are few examples you could draw from that are as obvious as this DLC.

Look, maybe you’re a really big Kingdom Hearts fan. Maybe you just really wanted to know what the context was for that cliffhanger ending in Kingdom Hearts III. Maybe you just don’t do much research before you buy something. Or maybe… you just really trust this company for some reason.

Hey, I’m not judging… hell, I bought this DLC for $40 same as anyone else. I oughta be honest that I’m not reviewing Kingdom Hearts III: Re:Mind as some holier than thou critic, talking down to you from my position of privilege. No, I’m an angry consumer in this particular case. I’m a person who spent enough to replace a flat tire on my car, or buy my family dinner, on a game that is clearly playing off of my love for a franchise, and using it to bilk me out of money in a method that is so clear, and so concise, that those involved in the entire endeavor should be totally embarrassed for their part in the creation, marketing, pricing, and distribution of this expansion.

Kingdom Hearts III: Re:Mind

Yes, fans had their complaints about Kingdom Hearts III. “Where are the hardcore boss battles? Where are the Final Fantasy characters? Where are the secret areas? Where are the hidden plot developments?” Still, to address these particular complaints by hammering a few minutes or seconds here and there into already existing content is truly like spitting in the faces of the people who have built the house you’re living in.

I haven’t sat in the board rooms at Square-Enix and I haven’t been in email chains about the planning of projects at their company but what I can say is that there is something rotten in Denmark if this is what passes for a satisfying piece of content for the wildly devoted fans of a hugely popular franchise in 2020. Kingdom Hearts III: Re:Mind is literally, truthfully, and succinctly, the worst piece of DLC I’ve ever purchased.

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