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LOS ANGELES — Watch Dogs is breaking new ground in multiplayer action — your friends can barge into your single-player game and challenge you. They can break into your game, hack your defenses, steal the data that belongs to your character, and then try to escape with it.
Watch Dogs is a very imaginative and original work that has drawn a lot of attention for Ubisoft, the French video game publisher that plans to launch the game Oct. 8. If successful, Watch Dogs could generate huge revenues for the company and establish a new franchise. I’m predicting success because this game is full of so many fresh ideas, like its seamless connection between the multiplayer and single-player modes.
With a multiplayer demo at the E3 video game trade show, Ubisoft has shown that lot of thinking has gone into making the game fun. In a single-player game, cyber-vigilante Aiden Pearce can hack into the central computer system of Chicago (think of him as a one-man National Security Agency) and obtain data on everyone. He uses that information to hunt down criminals and other enemies and deliver street justice. Aiden is all-powerful, acquiring secret codes, stealing money, buying upgrades, and making cars crash by changing the street lights. But the authorities in charge can use the same technologies to hunt him down. That basic tension drives the single-player experience.
But multiplayer mode can intrude into your game. Using a companion app on an iPad, another player can direct the police as they try to trap you and hunt you down during a car chase. The player with the iPad can see the chase happening on a city map. They can direct a chopper to chase after you and can control other forces as they try to trap Pearce.
Here’s another way that multiplayer gamers can intrude into your game. Since Watch Dogs takes place in a big city, you can’t always tell who the people are when you pass them on the street. Some of them might actually be your friends. If a player enters your game as another random character, they can sneak up behind you and use a smartphone to hack into your own mobile device. They have to stay within a certain range in order to do that as they follow you, said Dominic Guay, senior producer on the game.
“This is core to the game experience,” Guay said.
It’s similar to the way that multiplayer works in Assassin’s Creed games, which Ubisoft also makes. In that series, you try to find an assassin or target in the crowd and take that person out. Then you try to blend back into the crowd. But this is a modern-day version, where players duel with their smartphones rather than their knives.
If you, as Aiden, discover that you’re being hacked, you can try to run away. If the hacker succeeds in compromising your phone, they can then run away and download your data as they do so. The download takes a couple of minutes. During that time, Aiden gets an alert that he is being hacked. He knows that the hacker must be nearby, so he then as to chase down the intruder and kill them. That’s easier said than done in a large city, since the hacker will likely pretend to be an ordinary nonplayer artificial intelligence character. So begins a cat-and-mouse chase in a crowd.
This portion of Watch Dogs looks enormously fun, because it makes the city come to life. You don’t know if the people who are in your city are just faceless A.I. characters, or if they’re actually real human beings. That’s a brilliant way to make the player believe in the reality of the world, and it’s one more reason why Watch Dogs is going to be such a compelling title.