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Brief Impressions: Watch Dogs

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I overheard a man at Ubi’s recent Digital Days event describe Watch Dogs as “not really single-player, not really multiplayer”. I’ve no idea who it was, and it might have been a ghost, but it’s a fairly good description. Watch Dogs is an odd game. An open-world game of hacking that has touches of GTA and Deus Ex. But Like Dark Souls, it allows you to let other players into your game as sneaky opponents. There are a few ways they can get involved: you can leave the door open for anyone to wander in and they can bring their character and guns and try and take you out, or there’s a versus game where you can let a friend mess with the world from the free mobile ‘ctOS’ app as you attempt to escape their attention. I had a very brief play of the latter as the tablet prodder. It’s not great, but it is interesting.

Bringing a friend into the game makes it a different experience

The tablet-wielding overlord has access to all the powers Aiden Pearce has, but they’re watching from above, and using those hacks to trip him. When they log-in to your world, after asking the owner of the main game for permission, they’re presented with a wire-frame view of the map on the tablet. On that map they generate a race: dragging the beginning, the end, and the checkpoints. It’s up to Aiden to complete it in the allotted time.

It’s like inviting a GM into your game: as you sneak through the world, the tablet-player needs to find you with his avatar, a flying police chopper with a beam light. Part of his challenge is to keep the chopper over the Aiden. With Aiden in the glare, you can see where he’s going, what direction he’s facing, and what bits of the world you can hacktivate. If he drifts away you need to reestablish contact or you won’t be able to manipulate the world.

I was watching the little arrow try to escape my glare and redirected nearby police to his location. I looked up to the player’s screen (we were sat together, me with the tablet and my unnamed journo companion fleeing my attention) and saw the cars screech around the corner. I did that! I only had indirect control over the police, guiding their presence around the map. Aiden managed to squeeze past them, though, and hopped into a car.

I looked back down to the tablet where it was now apparent how this makes things harder for me: if Aiden’s on the move, the chopper needs to be continually dragged around while you’re hurting for ways to disrupt Aiden’s journey. It’s not completely intuitive, and a bit of lag made it tough to anticipate his movement.

I managed to lock-on again and looked around. I flicked traffic lights to green, but he dodged the now freely moving traffic. I popped up some bollards and looked up to see him powerslide into them, spinning wheels and boosting away from my flipped up blockers. Then I noticed the bridge. I can’t, can I? I can. I did. The bridge began to tilt, and Aiden’s car had too much velocity to avoid it this time. Smash! I win.

All in, it was no more than a three or four minute diversion from the main game, which makes me think this is another companion app designed for toilet breaks. It wasn’t a complete success. Watching a few other games being played, I got the feeling that I probably wouldn’t allow too many people into my game. I’m a stealthy gamer by default, and this mode has no subtlety to it at all: instead of the careful hackery we’ve previously seen from Watch Dogs, escaping from the invited foe was was an all-out sprint. Playing with the tablet was fairly fiddly, because keeping up with a moving car as you attempt to set up road-blocks is a proper fumble-thon.

But I’m a big fan of games that have mobile editions that engage with the full game, and Watch Dogs is an interesting attempt at making something that has a thematic reason to bring two systems together. It’s a game where the player uses his mobile to hack the world, and that’s exactly what you have to fight against, here. I think I’d prefer it if it was more subtle, using the street cameras as a way to view the player and mess with his game, rather than using a chopper to direct set-pieces, but I’d guess the difference in power between the systems precludes that. It’s start, and the first game that takes the potential of mobile vs PC in a way that makes sense on both devices. It’s neat, and an encouraging step that shows you can have the pair interacting. It just needs a better game-mode.

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Craig Pearson

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