I may be a little bit late to the party on this, but Watch Dogs from Ubisoft is my favourite video game of recent years due to one simple word: paranoia.
I’m not going to get into details about the graphics being downgraded or any other conspiracy theories here, I’m talking about the sense of paranoia whilst playing the game. I think it’s something that Watch Dogs’ developers got very much right.
You see, Watch Dogs is all about paranoia. It’s about watching and being watched. It’s about constantly being under surveillance, and never knowing when a hacker might come, and it’s that final point that makes the designers got so right.
In case you don’t know, Watch Dogs is an open-world game where you can pretty much wander (or drive) about doing what you like, just taken on the story missions or side-missions when you feel like. However, at any time when you’re freely roaming, another real, human player can jump into your game via the internet and try to hack you and steal your data (in a game sense, of course. Not your real data).
This is where things really start to get good, as the invading player doesn’t look like some kind of super-soldier or even like your stealthy character. Instead, they appear to you as just another random citizen of the city, like all the other NPCs. They could be man or woman, skinny or fat. They’re also free to switch between walking and driving a vehicle as they see fit. It’s this anonymity that adds to your sense of paranoia, as any citizen you see in the city could be an invading hacker, and, provided they don’t do anything stupid, you wouldn’t know it unless you profile them.
This is where the designers have got really clever though, as the computer-controlled NPCs aren’t perfect. Occasionally, they’ll drive a bit too fast in their cars and squeal the tyres around a corner. Sometimes, they might even crash into another car at a junction, causing all sorts of shouting and honking of horns. When you’re playing a game where you know you could be hacked by an invading player at any moment, you suddenly become very twitchy at the sound of squealing tyres or a high-revving engine.
After I’d been hacked in the game a few times, I actually found myself looking over my shoulder (well, my character’s shoulder) every few minutes whilst driving to check I wasn’t being tailed. I’d make sudden erratic cornering moves, then look behind to see if anybody else did the same. If I was on foot and I need to stop in one place for any amount of time, I’d find myself hiding in the bushes, just to make it harder for anybody trying to track me down.
Since the game’s been out for nearly two years now, invading hackers probably don’t come as often as they did when the game was released, but that doesn’t stop you from worrying about it all the time that you’re in the game. To me, in a game where one of the themes is paranoia, I think they got it spot on!