Watchdogs – Benny Hill and Next Gen hide and seek

Yesterday saw the much delayed release of WatchDogs by Ubisoft. It was originally one of the flagship release games for last November when we had the console refresh of Xbox One and PS4.
Firstly, after a good few initial hours of play and investigation I will say that I do really like it. However, most of what I really like are things from other games in the city sandbox genre. They have built a new version of Grand Theft Auto/Saints Row et al. That is not a bad thing, but it would seem the newer features and ideas are extra icing on the cake. It’s not a bad thing. Genres develop and succeed because we enjoy them. We need the patterns of the familiar with some extra tweaks to keep out interest.
So in Watchdogs you are a vigilante with some tech smarts and some hacker friends. Using your trust smartphone you get to do things to people and the city of Chicago in addition to the usual running, driving, shooting, climbing, exploring and collecting of the other great games this builds upon.
Before I go any further though. What is going on with the price of the game? I pre-ordered the disc on Amazon and it arrived on release day for £42. I had nearly cancelled in favour of getting a digital download. Which on Xbox One means that you don’t need to pop the redundant (once installed) disc in the drive on order to play. I am glad I did not. The digital download, you know the easier to distribute, lower overheads, no additional production costs easy money for the distributor version, was £59.99. Nearly half as much again as the physical version direct from Microsoft. Way to go to encourage the digital age.
Anyway, back to Chicago. I found that being a fan of the free roam game I tend to only do a few of the initial missions before getting into wandering around doing side missions. I may have dived into that a bit early as some things I already had unlocked and did made less sense than if I had discovered them in the plot. That is not a criticism. To get this much free roaming variety and link in a story is very hard. I prefer to discover, and would probably be less happy if everything was locked until I had done the first level tutorial grind.
Some skills in the typical RPG progression were locked until a certain level of mission was achieved, so I think all the pointers were there to get on with the campaign and stop gaffing around 🙂
Like all Ubisoft games there is the almost default unlocking of territory by climbing up something and pressing a button. In Far Cry 3 and Assassins Creed maps are unlocked by finding the a hub and dealing with it. Here it’s a cell phone tower. The climbing tends not to be quite so vertical as Far Cry 3. It is generally a puzzle of lifting platforms, razor wire and camera jumps that is needed.
I say camera jump as this is the main new dynamic to reach places that are hard to get to. Being a hacker, if you can see a device like a camera you an take it over. You then get the camera view of the world, in digital snow covered CCTV. Once you have the camera, it is as good as being there. Which means if you can see another camera you can jump view to that. Each camera can then take you round corners up building and into server rooms for the final puzzle hack of a level without having to traverse the level. It’s a twist on the stealth sneaking and it works really well. There are also nice twists such as guards on patrol wearing cameras that you can dive into, but have to wait until the get to the right place on patrol to do whatever deed it is you need to do.
Police chases are as per Grand Theft Auto. If things are going badly, they scan and then chase you. Running and hiding to avoid them ups the tempo of the sneeking around. This is where hacking the city comes into play. You gain the ability to switch traffic lights as you approach them. Initially this seems odd as in a car chase a red light is hardly off putting. When you do switch though all the cars at the intersection get confused and tend to cause a roadblock collision. It’s a bit like Benny Hill’s role in the original Italian Job as you cause gridlock with the lights. Other things such as lifting bridges and massive pipe explosions under manhole covers also feature. You find that this sort of messing around with the environment at a distance also works in the on foot sections. Blowing a pipe or exploding a bad guys phone as a distraction gives a lot of freedom to finish a mission.
One of the parts I like in these games is jumping in a vehicle and seeing the sights. Sort of a pedestrian thing to do by not being a pedestrian. In this mode you generally get to listen to some tunes. The music so far has been good but it is not the multiple radio radio channel experience of GTA.

So you can just grab a boat and sit in the harbour and admire the sky line.
As usual there are some great weather and time of day effects. You have a hideout (or several if you do the tower climbing unlocking ) where you can go a sleep, replenish and set a time to get up. It has only forced that once by way to letting me know that was an option. Sleeping currently seems underrated 🙂
With this game being all modern day hacker the phone plays a major part. It is the scanner that pops up to tell you things about the people around you, the device that lets you blow things up and take over cameras. It does have a few apps on it too though, of course!
There is a shazam style whats this tune app and some media players for the various things you collect. There are also some games. They are referenced as a sort of digital drug experience to allow them to be a bit trippy. Again very Saints Row and like the drug missions in GTA. As a game device it allows some every weird things to happen. I have played 2 of the 4 so far. One is a 3d bouncy jump game around the city, where the platforms are colourful giant flowers that you rag doll onto and bounce around a track, with lots of psychedelic reference points. The other was a full on action game as a giant spider robot in a small part of the city. It is a destruction derby but with the ability to climb up the side of builds and even walk upside down on the elevated railway track whilst firing a massive chain gun. It is a mini game, but not that mini. I am sure the others games and the extra content on its way will be equally satisfying.
Ah yes the other content. Of course a season pass is on offer. i.e. pay in advance for the updates and unlock some content. It’s something to factor into the price of a game now too. Given digital download is the only way to do this properly, and given the price difference of downloading the full thing digitally, I wonder how much more rinsing can go on of early adopters with apparent disposable income?
The smartphone relationship is not just in the game. There is a companion app, separate from Smartglass. This provides a hacking from the map approach of flying a helicopter around and deploying squad cars. It is like Battlefield commander mode.
Then there is the hide and seek game. Whilst playing your single player game you can be invited or just invaded it would seem by a multiplayer task. I only did a few of these but the ones I did were high end hide and seek. I was given a target, I had to find that target and scan them with my phone. They get made aware of the hack and they then have to try and find you in the area amongst the crowds before a time limit expires and then “deal” with you.
The first few didn’t go to well, as I was spending more time thinking about the game dynamic than playing it. The third time was very tense and exciting. I arrived in a flash sports car but parked properly. This meant I looked like an NPC car. I scanned the other player almost by accident as I parked. I think hit the hide in the car button. Light are off engine off. You can be seen in the car. I then watched, panning the camera around as my foe frantically dashed around the block cross crossing, circling, switching direction trying to find me. There I was sat hunched down in the car. I knew if the car moved it would like like a player, if I got out the same thing. So I sat. I watched the timer go 25%, 50%, 75% and as it does so the area the player has to search decreases. It was at 98% and I was about to drive off when they clocked me. Needless to say the car was not bulletproof. It was a very memorable moment for me. It was very different to hiding as a sniper in an FPS (something I prefer not to do). It felt more like an action thriller as the hero watches as the bad guy gets closer. Of course in this case it was not a happy ending. I should imagine though my opponent felt quite a rush too in dealing with me with so little time on the clock. Its a connection to another human through gameplay. We both know how one another felt, but that was it. An anonymous game of hide and seek 🙂
It generally seems to be these moments that define games for me now. It may be the relationship you form with a games puzzle, trying to solve it, realising how much thought and evil intent to catch you out went into it (like in Limbo the game).
Watchdogs may not be the ultimate next gen game, might have more pixels on a PS4 to and Xbox One, but it has got me thinking about the genre again and about these gaming moments in a metaverse.

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