How the Fox is Gamings Next Big Superhero
Authors Note: This article is best read after completing the campaign of Watch_Dogs as it does contain some story SPOLIERS.
Give Frank Castle a cellphone with tremendous hacking capabilities and a slightly more sociable demeanor and you may be remiss to mistake him for Aiden Pearce, the vigilante from Watch_Dogs. At his core, Aiden is a slightly more realistic take on Batman (albeit with a magical hacking phone) or a less extreme Punisher, depending upon your play-style. It seems Ubisoft missed out on a great opportunity to market this game as a brand-new superhero IP especially given how much it is clearly influenced by the genre. Between the tragic backstory, the unique costume and gadgets, the interesting local and the large number of allies and extensive rogues gallery it is easy to see why Aiden belongs in the superhero gaming pantheon.
The most iconic superheroes share a common thread of loss that causes them to dawn a costume and go about fighting crime. Bruce Wayne lost his parents, Peter Parker his uncle and Frank Castle his wife and children. In Watch_Dogs Aiden Pearce tragically loses his six-year-old niece, Lena. A fair number of people have criticized not making the loss be that of Aiden’s daughter as they believe it would make it resonate more emotionally with the audience. If these people were to dig a bit deeper they may see why having her be his niece was the right decision for this particular story. If Aiden were to have lost his own offspring it would have just been written off immediately as a cliché by many people. By choosing a family member that is not typically used to set up tragedy they have already set Aiden apart from the status-quo. If the player invests in the protagonist and pays attention to story details they will find the pieces that set up Lana as being as much of a daughter to Aiden as his own flesh and blood could ever be. Aiden and his sister Nicky grew up in a household with an abusive father which leads to them moving to America with their mother. During this tremulous period they would have become very close. Later in life when Nicky is divorced and her children are left without any kind of father figure it would only seem natural that their attentive and caring uncle would fill this void. By piecing together the backstories of these characters it's easy to see that Aiden is much closer to being a father than just being the uncle that visits at Thanksgiving and Christmas. A major narrative reason for having Aiden as an uncle is so that he is able to let his loved ones go in order to carry out his fight against Chicago's seedy underbelly. It would be hard for anyone playing to stand behind a character that abandons his own wife and son even if it was to help keep them safe and to continue fighting for the greater good of the city at large. It is much more reasonable, as well as still being heartbreaking, to have Aiden send away the only family he has left. It is for these reasons that it is both refreshing and necessary for Aiden’s loss to be that of his niece.
Once the backstory has been set up to explain why our hero fights it is important to start getting together the necessary tools to fight crime, the first of which is the costume. The lack of clothing options has been a major complaint from fans and while understandably so, it just would not have fit within the context of what the game is trying to accomplish by having Aiden run around in several different styles of outerwear. Batman has his cape and cowl and in turn Aiden has his mask, hat and trench coat. The developers give the player a choice as far as color and styling goes on these three items but at the end of the day they are three of Aiden’s most recognizable traits and therefore need to stay. In other superhero games like The Amazing Spider-Man or the Batman: Arkham series there are alternate suites for the heroes but when it comes to the former he always has a skin-tight suit with large eyes and in the case of the latter it is all but guaranteed he will have ears and a cape. Aiden, or the "Fox", is no different in this regard. He needs an iconic look that makes him visually identifiable and distinguished to the audience, or at least in this first outing. Once the costume is in place any self-respecting hero needs to add a symbol, something that the criminal element can instantly identify. The Punisher and Batman both have simple yet iconic symbols that adorn their chests. While Aiden’s may be placed slightly higher, on his hat rather than his torso, it is nonetheless a recognizable insignia. The Fox symbol is everywhere from the icon on the home screen before you boot up the game to the loading screen that’s present while you wait to start playing. The developers could have gone a little further to sell this point by having it spray painted on areas around the city, especially if the games citizens are rallying behind the vigilante. Perhaps in the next installment there will be a greater emphasis on portraying the vigilante as the Fox much like the Hood has become known as the Arrow in the television series Arrow.
Another important aspect to being a hero like the Bat is to have an arsenal of tools at your disposal. Aiden’s phone, the "profiler", as well as a handful of crafted items, play the role of his utility belt quite admirably. Rather than have several devices to jam communications, get a lay of the land or cause an immediate blackout Aiden is able to use mainly one. Where Batman is quick with a batarang Aiden is just as fast to dispatch a criminal with his trusted baton. It's memorable for its look as well as the sound it makes when extended, a sound that no criminal at the receiving end of its punishment will ever soon forget. To round out his vast array of tools there are a number of firearms and explosives available that would have Castle himself green with envy. The vast array of items available to Aiden, allow him to be as stealthy or as lethal as he chooses during his pursuit to clean up Chicago.
When you have the wardrobe and the tools to carry out your vigilante wet dream all that's left is a place to call home where you can regroup with your compatriots and plan your next step in taking down the corrupt and villainous members of the city. It's hard to think of a better place equipped to do so than the "Bunker". A place Master Wayne himself would be proud to call home, it is a secure facility that is located in an abandoned warehouse on a deserted island with no direct access. In order to gain entrance Aiden must first enter a storage container that lifts off the ground and connects with another container that is protruding from the side of an abandoned warehouse. While on the ride up Aiden is greeted with a beautiful view of downtown Chicago from a hidden window in the far wall of the container. The interior of the warehouse itself is reminiscent of Bruce's monitoring station in The Dark Knight film, complete with a giant bank of monitors and several servers stored in the back. Between this and the hidden shipping container entrance it isn't hard to see where Ubisoft got some of their influence. Outside of the main bunker, Aiden also has several smaller shipping containers spread throughout Chicago and its outlying areas. This level of preparation and constantly having a location available to go to in any situation is something that would very much be in the Punishers wheelhouse.
A big city is key when it comes to superheroing. Metropolis, Gotham and especially New York are known for their heroes and in turn every hero needs a playground they can run around in and the re-imagined city of Chicago is the stomping ground of the Fox. Watch_Dogs takes iconic buildings and landmarks from the Windy City and incorporates them into their own unique version of Chicago. By changing aspects of the games location the developers are able to make a game world that is fun to explore while still being functional and easy to traverse. If there was deadlocked traffic and long stretches of repetitious city it would quickly become a chore to get anywhere or do anything. The game makers have developed a Chicago that is smaller than the real thing but has a density and diversity that make it feel lived-in and believable. The key districts portrayed in the game are that of the gang infested Southside, the luxurious downtown high-rises, the residential west-end and the rural town of Pawnee which are all used to keep the landscape from feeling repetitious or dull. Iconic landmarks made for Watch_Dogs such as the Marlaut Hotel, the lighthouse out to the east, T-bones junkyard and the Racine yacht manufacturing building help to bring the city to life while also acting as locations for key story events. By adding on top of this a multitude of city "hotspots" that give locations both character and history the developers have made Watch_Dogs’ Chicago a city that feels alive and fresh while most importantly making it into a city that's worth saving for both Aiden and the player.
Even the greatest hero would be quickly forgotten if not for their diverse gallery of allies and rogues. Aiden has an eclectic group of "friends" that include the likes of Jordi Chin, Raymond "T-Bone" Kenney and Clara "BadBoy17" Lille. We're first introduced to Clara under her hacking identity of BadBoy17 and find her to be playing the role of an information specialist. Clara works to get Aiden Intel on his next target and also helps him with his gadgets much like the role that Oracle plays for Batman. When it comes to support in the field or needed armaments there is no one better suited for the task than Jordi Chin. He has several connections in the underground he can use to get Aiden the supplies he needs but is also up for getting his hands dirty whenever the opportunity presents itself. This is never clearer than when Jordi stages a gang shootout in order to cover Aiden’s tracks at the beginning of the game. The final member of this enclave is T-Bone, who can be most closely compared to the Punishers sidekick Microchip. Both are skilled with computers and technology and continuously put their talents to good use in order to aid their respective partners on their missions.
Watch_Dogs gives Aiden several enemies to go up against during the campaign that range from a mouse-masked hacker all the way up to an old-time mob boss. The more classic small-time troublemaker is Defalt who is out to show up the renowned hacker Aiden. He plays like a tech-savvy version of the Riddler. Defalt takes every chance he can get to show Aiden that he is smarter and just plain better at hacking by presenting our hero with a series of tests and challenges all while mocking him along the way. Iraq is a much more grounded villain with a deeper focus on character and motivation. As a former soldier he is equipped with both the physical and mental capabilities to thwart Aiden’s pursuit for justice. He is a planner and a schemer who is looking to take down the top dog in Chicago in order to become more powerful. He is often underestimated due to his social stature but garners respect when it comes to his incredibly large following of gang members. There are more than a few similarities between Iraq and Batman’s very own intelligent but brawny Bane. The biggest piece of the puzzle is Watch_Dogs answer to Lex Luthor, Dermot "Lucky" Quinn. Not content with being the biggest Mafioso in town, Lucky uses his power and manipulation in order to control those in public offices as well as others in high places to get what he wants. By moving all of the pieces around the board and working in the shadows Lucky has taken control of the entire city of Chicago. While the game gives the Fox these many threats to face it also paves the way for bigger villains in the future just as Christopher Nolan’s film Batman Begins did. The Blume Corporation is still at large and spreading the CtOS system across not only the country but now the world. If this wasn't a big enough threat to Aiden he has also made enemies with the hacker group known as DedSec by the end of the game. The face of DedSec is of course none other than a masked man who couldn't scream "super-villain" any louder if he tried.
When you take into account all of these attributes it’s not hard to see that the Fox will have a bright future ahead of him as a masked hero. At the end of the game when Aiden gets his revenge he states "I thought I could fix a little girl’s death but instead it lead to all of this. Exposed lies, corrupt kings, a broken city and me, a changed man. I don't look back anymore. I don't regret. I look forward. Everything is connected and I'll use that. To expose. To protect. And if necessary, to punish." Add on top of that the giant Fox insignia being displayed and you have what can only be perceived as a superhero manifesto. Even though he may be the new kid on the block, the Fox sure has made one hell of a first impression.
Insignias and symbolism
Allies and rogues