Grand Theft Auto has ruled over the open-world dominion for the better part of a decade, offering its people a land bubbling with wealth, freedom and soaring murder rates. But now this leader faces an impending threat. Dubbed the Kingslayer by some, or Watch_Dogs by others, he’s planning to lob off GTA’s widely reputed head, and then claim his place in the throne of games. To mark this once-in-a-lifetime ruler-ship dispute, we brought in two of DC’s finest to debate the upcoming battle
Martin: For me the battle between Watch_Dogs and GTA V is a battle between quality and quantity. Do you want a gigantic landscape populated with filler, or a smaller, denser world more economical with its space.Phillip: Rockstar are great at creating game spaces though. Even when you’re not doing anything, it still looks and feels alive. The ambient atmosphere makes even the largest, most filler-laden maps feel like something special. Remember Red Dead Redemption? The place was a bloody desert. But the sights, the sounds, and the gameplay resulted in an amazing experience that was more than the sum of its parts. Which is more than I can say for most companies trying to dip their toes in the world of sandbox making.
Besides, how can you not be excited by the prospect of planes and underwater spaces?
Martin: I am excited but I know 20 hours in I’m going to be disappointed. For over a decade they’ve been serving the same game on a slightly different platter. Whether you’re cruising the streets of Liberty City or trudging through the desert in San Andreas the experience has always been the same; murder your way through a satirical modern-day America on a journey to live out the American Dream. GTA V looks no different, except this time we have three protagonists instead of one. When you start to think about it, do you really believe the game will offer anything new?
Phillip: You do raise a good point about similarity. Grand Theft Auto is more about evolutions rather than revolutions, but I see nothing wrong with that when the core formula is so good in the first place, and each iteration substantially improves over the last one. GTA V will be a violent, blackly humourous crime drama that shows a perversion of the American dream as always, but the sheer size, the range of activities, the multiple characters, the element of choice in mission direction and a massive online sandbox will help elevate it above its already lofty predecessors.
Martin: Bang, you’ve hit the nail on the head. As much as I enjoy a polished experience, or as you put it – an evolution – what my body longs for is innovation. These are the games that stick with us through time because their engines and mechanics are alien to us. The GTA franchise, while always solid, has become somewhat stale. Even if it stands head and shoulders above its competition.
Phillip: What game is more repetitive – GTA or Assassins Creed? I don’t recall any sandbox title Ubisoft has made before, but the closest I can comfortably name is AC. What we’ve seen in their prior work is bland areas that look good and might even be fun to traverse, but are empty dull spaces for repetitive missions. At least Rockstar have the experience in crafting interesting open worlds.
Martin: True true. Ubisoft’s previous world building efforts lack the character oozed by Rockstar’s, but they’re really reaching for the stars with Watch_Dogs. First off we have the setting; there’s few topics more relevant and controversial in modern society than government surveillance – the whole Prism issue, surveillance operating under the security blanket of terrorism legislation, and the US launching 231 offensive cyber operations in 2011 to place foreign networks under US control – probably won’t be directly tackled by Watch_Dogs, but the overarching theme of surveillance will. Meanwhile GTA V will make fun of the iPhone.
Phillip: That’s true enough, Watch_Dogs will cover a hot topic, while Grand Theft Auto prefers to take shots at the mundanity of consumerism and shallow popular culture. Still, I’m willing to bet Rockstar will cover their topic in a far more subtle and entertaining way rather than what I’m sure will be a rather anvilicious and potentially pretentious diatribe on the folly of surveillance and the importance of personal freedoms. And god help them if they decide to tie that crap in with a technologically advanced precursor race in a storyline arc that no one gives a rat’s ass about, with magical warrior abilities and tribal mysticism.
Martin:If Ubisoft tag in a plot thread that involves alien races of any genetic make-up, magical warrior abilities, or tribal mysticism, I’ll swear off the company’s future releases and then eat my own face. Moving on to the heart of these titles though, how does hacking into and taking control over an entire city not get you excited?
Phillip: It does, it definitely does. Although it’s difficult to suspend disbelief over being able to hack everything. It’s like one of those irritating Hollywood films where all sorts of unbelievable stuff happens and it’s just rationalised as “LOL hacking!” . It all depends on whether it’s implemented in a clever and logical manner. Managing to hijack the nation’s military command because “lol hacking!” is not.
Martin: Meanwhile you get to play tennis and golf in GTA V, then blow your opponents to bits with a rocket launcher. Whoopty doo!
Phillip: Point taken. Although I wouldn’t be surprised if the right to wield bazookas will soon be supported by the NRA. Besides, we’ve established GTA is a satire. Watch_Dogs looks to be playing it straight. Without the hacking, it’s a sandbox game with nothing to distinguish it. None of GTA’s pedigree, comedy or production values. None of Saints Row’s balls out insanity. The hacking looks amazing, but if it’s not done right, then it’ll be pointless.
Martin: Not quite. The shooting mechanics look top notch, but my favourite point of difference is something that’s barely been talked about – your actions will have lasting consequences on the world. Kill recklessly and citizens and the media will track and report you, making your illegal exploits throughout the city harder to execute. This idea that the world reacts to how you play the game adds a tremendous amount of replay value to multiple play-throughs. I can almost guarantee whether you choose to mass murder innocent civilians in GTA V, or play between the lines and avoid unnecessary casualties, your experience will be much the same.
Phillip: That is something that sounds intriguing, but how lasting are the consequences? Surely there’d be ways of reducing notoriety. I can’t imagine it’d be much fun to play an open world game where playing in an aggressive and destructive fashion makes it permanently more difficult. That’d be punishing you for your play-style. If you can reduce notoriety then it’s hardly more than an evolved version of existing systems in sandboxes. If it’s some kind of permanent fixture, that’s certainly very clever and a novel way of introducing consequences into a traditionally consequence free genre, though it sounds like it might be a bit of a pain.
Martin: That’s something that can be only be decided by time. Regardless, from where I’m standing, Watch_Dogs has greater potential to be something truly revolutionary. I’m still looking forward to GTA V, but I feel I already know what to expect.
Phillip: Well for me Grand Theft Auto is already a proven quantity that has substantially improved with each iteration, and Rockstar is pretty much synonymous with quality.