Hacking the City in Watch Dogs? There's an App for That

E3 2012: We get a closer look at the Watch Dogs stage demo, and a brief glimpse of an app that lets you turn the city against your friends.

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Ubisoft debuted its upcoming open-world game Watch Dogs during its stage show here at E3 2012, and that showing easily established it as one of the standout games of the show. Yesterday at the Ubisoft booth, we had a chance to take a closer look at that same demo. Far more interestingly, we also got a brief glimpse of a mobile app that looks as if it could expand the Watch Dogs experience in some innovative ways.

The non-playable demo was commented on by Kevin Short, lead story designer on the game. He described protagonist Aidan Pierce as a man shaped by violence and obsessed with surveillance. We noticed that Aidan's target during the demo has been acquitted of murder--presumably a murder he actually committed, which left us wondering if Aidan is something of a city-hacking Dexter, a man who doles out death to people who have killed others.

As Aidan entered the club in which he tracks his target during the demo, Short stated that fully realized interiors like the club aren't limited to mission-specific locations and that you can enter and investigate these interiors at any time, not just when dictated by a mission. Different locations draw different kinds of crowds, and hacking into the personal information of people outside of missions can lead to other opportunities and benefits.

Speaking of that personal information, this closer look at the demo let us better appreciate just how personal the info displayed for characters you approach is. One individual was revealed to be HIV positive, for instance, while another was shown to be the subject of a restraining order. Other personal details like annual income were also displayed, and Short suggested that your access to this kind of information could enable you to blackmail people.

But it was after the demo wrapped that the biggest revelation occurred. Short pulled out a tablet that displayed a 3D map of Watch Dogs' version of Chicago. He showed that using this app, he could track the movements of in-game characters and access dossiers of personal information about them--just the sort of thing that protagonist Aidan might himself make use of. You can also access information about locations, including schematics that might help you work out advantageous ways into and out of buildings you need to infiltrate.

Most intriguing were the social aspects Short hinted at. He indicated that you could see how friends had completed missions, perhaps giving you ideas on new techniques you might employ. Even more exciting was the competitive aspect he described. The app will let you challenge your friends, and if they accept your challenge, you can use the app to hack the city to make their lives more difficult. For instance, if your friend is driving down a road toward a mission objective, you might be able to hack traffic signals using the app (not unlike how Aidan does during the demo), attempting to cause collisions that hinder his or her progress.

Unfortunately, our glimpse at this app and its features was brief and left us with many unanswered questions. But it also left us more excited about Watch Dogs than we were before. Apps that tie in to games are nothing new; Mass Effect 3 had an app that let you send agents on missions to improve your galactic readiness level, and a Batman: Arkham City app helped you find and acquire the trophies the Riddler had scattered around town. But this looks as if it could be much more than a handy little app. It could be a meaningful and fun augmentation of Watch Dogs' surveillance-focused gameplay.

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