Watch_Dogs has long been one of the most highly-anticipated titles coming to next-generation consoles. The idea that the game plays host to a city that can be hacked and controlled to the whim if the player via a simple mobile phone has captured the imagination of gamers, and offers endless possibilities in the open world environment of the game. But what if you could take that hacking power from the game and put it in your own hands – on your personal tablet?
Companion Apps to big games isn’t a new idea, but generally the implementation has been somewhat half-baked, offering no real features of interest, or simply information rather than any real in-game interaction. Due to the themes of Watch_Dogs, it really makes sense to integrate some sort of control via mobile platforms – allowing the developers to bring the game to life even further. At the Ubisoft Digital Days event, we were shown one way in which the Watch Dogs Companion App interacts with the main game – although there may be even more ways in the final version. Lead Gameplay Designer Philippe Baude walked us through the ins and outs of the mode.
We got the chance to go hands-on with the two-player Challenge mode. The idea behind this mode is that any gamer can download the App onto their mobile device, and then challenge others players who are currently console based to a game of cat and mouse. They need not own the full game themselves, allowing players to get a taste of Watch Dogs without even needing to own a console. Through the app, players can connect with friends, or search out new games to play, before choosing or creating their own obstacle course of sorts for the second player to take on.
The mode works more or less like a race. The gamer who is playing the main game controls Aiden Pearce, the main protagonist of the game, whilst the app-based player takes control of the Blume Corporation, and all of their security forces. The basics of the mode are that Aiden must make it from point A to point B, passing through certain checkpoints before a timer expires. He can make use of cars, boats, trains, or any form of transport to do so, whilst also utilising his hacking skills to aid his escape.
On the flip side, the app player has a map of the city on their screen, and they primarily control a security Helicopter. With this, they must locate and follow Aiden, keeping him in view as much as possible. This then allows the gamer to co-ordinate their security forces against Pearce. As the Helicopter moves around the city, the app player can also gain access to the hackable objects in the vicinity. They can, for instance, change traffic lights to cause pile-ups, bring up security barriers in the middle of the road, or raise suspension bridges – all in an attempt to stop Aiden from escaping.
Their final trick up their sleeve is to deploy police cars, to intercept and hopefully run the so-called hero off the road. Again, they can only be deployed when the copter has sight of Aiden – so the app player has to be constantly aware of both their position and that of their opponent. This can result in a kind of tug of war in terms of hacking, with both players trying to gain control of the various elements around them to use to their own advantage, as Aiden also uses Gates, smokescreens and more to evade the Helicopter. XP and cash are also earned in these modes (but only for use on the platform that you earned it on), so you can level up and buy upgrades to improve your arsenal and your overall experience.
The mode is a fun multiplayer addition to Watch_Dogs, and allows for a second player to quickly and easily join your game – whether they be on the sofa next to you, or in another city, and even if they never plan on buying the console version of the game. But what is also nice is that players cannot simply invade your game. The app user must always send a request, that must be accepted by the console player.They must also be free in-game, and not already involved in a mission – so there is no risk that you will ever be interrupted mid-quest.
The companion app will be free on iOS and Android at launch of Watch Dogs, and will only require the player to have a Uplay account in order to play. This kind of cross-platform play is a very welcome gameplay experience. Of course the kind of interaction between two systems with entirely different architecture is limited, but Ubisoft have done a good job here of making the most of the hardware and thematically tying in the app with the aesthetics of the main game. This gameplay mode may not have the legs to go long-term, but as a casual drop-in, drop-out experience, it is an exciting prospect.