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Destiny and Watch Dogs are terrible video games

Jon Bois and Spencer Hall love video games, and hate video games that are bad.

Destiny is a terrible video game

by Jon Bois

I was about 10 hours through Destiny when I let out a big, long, "holy shit," tossed my controller on the floor, shut off my Xbox, and never played the game again. It wasn't out of frustration over dying at the hands of some boss. It happened on the middle of the Whatever Planet, while I was trotting from one loitering committee of dumb, easily killable aliens to the next in order to rack up points and level up. I'm in my 30s now, when I am more acutely aware of the value and finitude of time than I used to be, and a waste of time this thorough -- make-believe grunt work -- is a legitimately depressing experience.

Destiny both represents and precipitates a slow death of the heart. Ostensibly presented, as is every video game, as a refuge from our work and obligations, it instead re-packages that work and those obligations, rejoicing in them, blissfully conflating "doing stuff" with "fun." It doesn't want to say anything, nor does it want you to express yourself or see your handiwork or fingerprints in anything. It is a profoundly shitty video game better suited for the idle subroutines of a dreaming, hibernating console than any human being.

Since you, the player, are in this dream, you must make sense to the soulless automaton having this dream, and so you are assigned Roomba-like objectives: get a better gun! Get a better better gun! Get a scarf that stops bullets (?)!

We don't hear much from stamp collectors anymore, and as it turns out, this is where they went. They are all playing Destiny, heaping the dead livestock of time upon the pyre in tribute to The Collection Of Things.

This has worked fine in plenty of games through the years, from Deus Ex to some of the Rainbow Six games to Far Cry, the crucial difference being that those games let me feel some element of ownership of what happened. They did this via challenging me to strategize, think, prepare and learn something whenever I died. When I beat a boss in Destiny on the fifth try, it wasn't because I had gotten better or figured anything out. It was because I went back to a level I had already played, pushed a button at a gaggle of dumb aliens until they died, accumulated more of Destiny's various currencies, and came back to the boss with some slightly more effective weapons. In other words, I clocked the hours and got my paycheck. To play Destiny is to be patched from department to department until you end up with the person who can fix your Verizon bill.

The story, of course, is barely present. (When we finish a level, our little Flight of the Navigator-lookin'-ass sidekick remarks, on multiple occasions, "We have to tell the others! They won't believe this!" What "others" could you possibly be talking about? The NPC merchants who just mutter and grunt at you? There are no "others," Dinklage. The people who made this game forgot to add them.)

I'm usually fine with this in a video game, because I take it as a cue to tell my own story, however big or small, meaningful or trivial. Hey, just let me tell a story about flanking these guys, finding a hill, picking them off with a rifle, employing a strategy that mattered. That counts as a story.

Destiny clearly can't or won't tell one itself, so damn it, just -- here. Here. Let me do it. Nope. It does try to fake like it's giving you choices: would you like to play this level you can't beat yet, or go replay this world you've already been to, full of the exact same shit, and this is honestly your only real option? Would you like to equip the gun rated 65, or the gun rated 57? More compelling dilemmas are found in the tabletop games at the dang Cracker Barrel.

There are people who will tell you that 10 hours aren't enough, that "the game gets good at level 20." These are the people who felt the first dozen-plus hours were worth their time, so I do not believe them.

And strangely, there are so many of those people not to believe. Destiny is an immensely popular game. It's a boring game that asks you to wander through the cockles of its boring little heart, and incentivizes you to keep doing it with the promise of ... more of the same shit. It doesn't want you to think or plan or improve, it just wants its literal buttons literally pushed. It's a game of bean-counting and thing-collecting and checklist-filling.

Y'all dummies did this at work all day, and now you come home and play this what-you-did-all-day-you-goofus simulator. There should be games coming out all the time like Deus Ex: Human Revolution, or Civilization, or Silent Service, or Red Dead Redemption, or Portal -- works of gaming that challenge you, make you feel something, make you obsess over strategy, let you tell your own story.

Those games are rare, and spiritually sterile games like Destiny are common, because y'alls' bad tastes and badly-spent money are feeding that monster. Y'all suckers are fouling this up for the rest of us, showing up in the millions to buy a $60 cup-and-ball toy. Please stop it.

★ ★ ★

More from Jon Bois: The strange baseball career of Koo Dae-Sung

★ ★ ★

Watch Dogs is a terrible video game

by Spencer Hall

Watch Dogs is not just a bad game. It's a misbegotten game, a game whose very skeleton is stupid from the DNA up, a game born wrong from faulty genes and given a terrible upbringing into an adulthood of ignoramus achievement and quick obscurity. It should be destroyed, because it committed the one crime a game should never, ever commit: it bored me.

This doesn't mean it wasn't successful. A lot of shitty things are successful. Watch Dogs sold a mountain of copies on hype alone, prompting trade sites to suggest things like "Watch Dogs could dethrone GTA V as the best open-world game," and "Watch Dogs definitely will not collapse in a pile of unfulfilled expectations, leaving you, the game buyer, urinating directly into your Xbox One as a literal reflection of its piss-poor quality and concept."  It was going to be the CYBER GTA franchise. The concept alone was enough to hook suckers on eight million units sold in the first two weeks.

But that second week: oh, sales dropped 81 percent (as they usually do, even with big titles) and then to a trickle, and then the game just sort of disappeared quietly beneath the waters of public consciousness. This is mostly because people like me ran screaming to anyone who would listen about how much this game sucked, and got worse the more you played it. "Diminishing returns" doesn't really cover the Watch Dogs experience. After two hours, you began to have doubts. After five, you experience open antipathy for the game and its protagonist, Aiden Pearce, a hacker-vigilante straight from the most masturbatory fantasies of any dimwitted twelve year-old smart enough to know that computers do stuff, but too dumb or lazy to learn code or computer science.

You know that a dim 12-year-old was the target audience because a) I am a dim-witted 12-year-old, and bought this game on Day 1, and b) because the vigilante's big move is wearing a long coat no matter what the weather is. When danger and corruption need to taste vengeance, remember: it can only come at the hands of someone sweating profusely, and fumbling around in one of 22 unnecessary pockets for his mighty cellphone. He also pulls a scarf over his face when he means business. Aiden Pearce is a walking Linkin Park song and that is not a compliment.

The main character speaks in a low Christian Bale Batman voice about STOP THREATENING HIS FAMILY a lot. This, combined with the overcoat, hack back story, and terrible dialogue, force you to give up on Aiden Pearce character approximately 38 seconds into the game.

If you don't, then the bloody swath he cuts across Chicago in the name of justice or avenging his dead niece or whatever does, because if you're going to have to kill hundreds of people in a video game, you need to have the right vehicle for completely amoral behavior by proxy. After hearing five lines of Trevor's dialogue in GTA V, I would have accepted any degree of murder done in his form. After spending a few hours with Aiden Pearce, you see him kill an obvious bad dude and think "dude, you are such a dick sometimes." He's not charming enough to be a psychopath, and not convincing enough for vengeance, and thus becomes a random asshole blowing up people with his cellphone.

There's more. The game takes place in Chicago, a city whose buildings, unique architecture, and broad lakeside geographies are lovingly rendered. Unfortunately, there are no people in it, or at least not the people you encounter in games like Red Dead Redemption, GTA V, or even Sleeping Dogs, the extremely lovable GTA in Hong Kong ripoff where any random encounter with a bystander threatened to break out into an all out kung-fu riot. Chicago isn't the most interesting city to encounter at street level anyway being flat and generally well-gridded; putting it in a video game makes the effect so much worse, and all without the redemption of some charming fat dude in a Blackhawks jersey turning on you fast and threatening to beat you to death with a pipe. Chicago in Watch Dogs without its people, or at least their personality, became nothing more than a three-dimensional Architectural Digest spread.

And yet there's so much more. The driving is bad -- like, Crazy Taxi bad, and without the aforementioned classic's gleeful mayhem. Every car turns into a variably powered golf cart. Random hacker challenges came out of nowhere, and took your attention away from the eight other boring, tedious side quests constantly barking up at you. The script is a rejected CSI: Cyber episode. The fighting dynamics of the game are mediocre, and get into the realm of unintentionally hilarious once you start trying to hack into the environment to fry careless henchmen as they pass by circuit boxes. Doing this wrong ultimately became my favorite part of the game: setting off explosions, watching henchmen say "whoa" and then laughing because bad timing and dull henchmen are literally the only humorous or lifelike thing in this game.

The one advantage Watch Dogs was supposed to have was "hacking," which sounded cool until you realized the worst error of the game came in its central concept as a game. Watch Dogs asked you to interact not with people, but with cameras, phones, wiring, circuit boxes, power grids and gates, all done through the portal of your phone. So let's just point out how bad that is by chaining out the full "player to subject" workflow involved here.

You ---> Xbox ---> Aiden Pearce a muttering horrible Linkin Park song come to life ---> Aiden Pearce's phone ---> fake computer in a video game you've hacked into ---> Thing you want hacked ---> Person you're probably trying to kill while yelling "MY FAMILY, NOT MY FAMILY!"

There is zero immediacy to any of this. In any game where Person A so badly wants to beat Person B's ass for doing them wrong, the great satisfaction comes in eventually getting to beat Person B's ass, or tricking them, or figuring out the mystery behind how your ass came to be kicked and what plotting can get your foot in best kicking proximity to their very deserving ass.

Watch Dogs, though, puts interactions four, five and sometimes even six degrees away from the original player. It's meta-lonerism, the loneliest, most isolated and least personal interaction I've ever experienced playing a video game. If that was the subtle point of the emotional terrorists behind this game, then fine: millions of copies later, that's a firm mission accomplished written on the corporate whiteboard. But I don't think it was. I think this game was dumb from the start, and just bloomed into a giant, messy bag of dumbness the creators threw out into the street from the eighth window without looking.

In summary: Watch Dogs is about a boring, unemployed, sociopathic dipshit with a phone and bad taste in clothes. It is trash and I paid sixty bucks for it.