What Is WATCH_DOGS Trying To Say About Saints Row?

In WATCH_DOGS, there are vaguely four criminal factions that keep showing up: First, the mercenary “fixers,” criminals for hire who show up as generic baddies for things like the assassins being sent by a mysterious villain with unknown allegiances or the goon squad who provide combat backup for a random hacker. Second, the Chicago South Club, your classic mafia, run by someone considered a model citizen who has the mayor in his pocket, and a major antagonist of the game. Third, the Pawnee Militia, some right-wing gun nuts who live out in small town Pawnee which has somehow been imported from the Pacific Northwest, who, as far as I can tell, exist mainly to give some criminal bad guys for the protagonist to mow down in that section of the map.

Finally, the subject of our discussion: The Viceroys, an inner city street gang being run by a criminal called Iraq, because he was in the military and brought back professional tactical training with him, which he passes on to his inner circle. That whole backstory has nothing to do with Saints Row, but the name is suspiciously close to the Vice Kings, a gang specializing in prostitution and other sex work from the first Saints Row game. The Vice Kings were the black gang, and while the WATCH_DOGS gangs are not as heavily racially coded as the first Saints Row game, the Viceroys have the same inner city Compton-from-the-90s vibe that the Vice Kings were channeling. And while the sex slave auction that you infiltrate halfway through the plot is a joint venture between the Viceroys and the Chicago South Club, the Viceroys are the ones who are in charge of security, with the Club in a more managerial role (there’s an implication that the leader of the Club is grooming Iraq to take full control of the auction at some point, as reward for doing the Club’s dirty work), which is another connection to the Vice Kings, who run prostitution rings with at least some amount of human trafficking involved (you save some kidnapping victims early on in the first Saints Row, although it’s not clear how much of the Vice Kings’ sex trade is coercive).

And once I started wondering if the Viceroys and the Vice Kings were connected, I noticed that the charming sociopath criminal ally/last minute antagonist Jordi Chin is pretty similar in temparament to Saints Row mascot Johnny Gat. He’s got the obsession with violence, the flippant and (moderately) witty disregard for human life, and even the same first letter and cadence to his name.

I don’t think any other game elements are particularly borrowed from Saints Row. The Militia and South Club don’t have a ton in common with any of the Saints Row series’ gangs, none of the other characters remind me much of any Saints Row characters.

There’s no smoking gun that Viceroys are Jordi Chin are definitely based on the Vice Kings and Johnny Gat, and probably the biggest evidence against is the question in the title: What’s the point of the comparison here? Jordi Chin as a Johnny Gat expy kind of almost makes a point about how fucked up the character is, and maybe say something about the Saints Row games as a setting where that character feels natural and at home, except the protagonist Aiden Pearce is the actual player character and therefore does pretty similar violence to what Johnny Gat gets up to (implicitly – gags about his body count and his general attitude imply that he does similar ultraviolence as your average Saints Row player, but it’s never directly depicted). And Aiden acts like Jordi Chin is much more violent and unstable than he (Aiden) is, even though it’s hard to tell the difference between them. Admittedly, the game does try and encourage not harming civilians, whereas Saints Row doesn’t care how many people you run over, but regaining reputation lost from accidentally plowing through pedestrians is so easy that the nudge against civilian casualties is pretty gentle.

And while Jordi does turn antagonist at the very end, it’s like thirty seconds before the credits roll, and you defeat him literally by pressing the square button. You don’t have to move into position or wear away any defenses or anything. He shows up, he points a gun at you, you push the square button to hack a nearby light to explode, and that takes him out of the fight. It’s really baffling what Jordi’s last minute betrayal is supposed to accomplish and I wonder if there was supposed to be something else here, something that might actually say something about Johnny Gat – like that an unstable violent psychopath wouldn’t actually be a reliable ally the way Gat is.

A lack of clear messaging isn’t unusual in WATCH_DOGS (the first game, not necessarily the whole series – I haven’t played the second one yet, and haven’t even decided if I will play the third), so I don’t think the lack of anything to say about Johnny Gat necessarily means that Jordi Chin isn’t based on the character, but it does make me less confident in the connection. Maybe there was a commentary on Johnny Gat that got cut down until we get the Jordi Chin we see in the game as it is, a character with almost no relevance to the plot at all. Maybe someone really liked Johnny Gat or some suit thought they should capitalize on the popularity of the archetype and shoved a character based on him in, and the reason why Jordi Chin has little to do with the plot is because he’s just there to check a box labeled “character who’s kind of like Johnny Gat.” Maybe it’s all just coincidence, and there was never any connection between Jordi Chin and Johnny Gat (or the Vice Kings and the Viceroys) at all.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s