In April of this year, programmer John Matherly announced that he had built a search engine called Shodan, which searches billions of Internet-connected devices and reveals the ones that don’t have passwords.
The result was a wake-up call: a simple Shodan query can return hundreds of millions of results, including traffic lights, security cameras, garage doors, heating systems and more, all of which could be accessed remotely with very little skill or effort.
Matherly chose the white-hat approach and made Shodan a tool for security professionals, helping to secure the Internet of Things against less conscientious hackers, but what we don’t know is how long it took him to decide. It must have been very, very tempting to just start using that power, to start changing traffic lights, opening gates, repositioning CCTV cameras and disarming car alarms, unseen and undetected. It’s what we would have done.
Happily, we’re not expert programmers and we’re frightened of prison, so the closest we’ve come to such dizzying power is playing Watch Dogs on a high-end gaming PC (using a PS4 gamepad). As hacker vigilante Aiden Pierce, you can access any Internet-connected device in Chicago, which gives you huge potential for mischief.
You can also hack people: every NPC in the game has a personality (they’re procedurally generated) that pops up when you look at them, giving you a couple of quick facts about the person. This allows you to find people, predict their movements and crack their bank account.
It also influences your decisions - if you see that a security guard is a father of two, you’re more likely to sneak past him than just shooting him - and gives the game a great feeling of depth.
Welcome to the Windy City
The dirty, windy Chicago of Watch Dogs’ future is a real beauty, and it’s big, too.
Driving is pretty easy and the cars handle nicely, although the motorbikes have that flicky, twitchy steering that’s common to bikes in open-world games. As with all the best open-worlders, we could see ourselves spending a lot of time just driving around (although if that’s all you want to do, have a look at fellow Ubisoft title The Crew).
Combat, too, is spot on, with the time-slowing Focus skill adding finesse to the tricky business of third-person gunishment.
Trolled by your real-life friends
While unlocking parts of the city, completing missions and going off on side-quests is all great fun, the truly next-gen moment in our demo came when we found ourselves being hacked. The object is then to discover the hacker – who, like Aiden, is concealed by being just another person in a crowd, mooching around and checking their phone – and shoot them.
What was surprising was that the hacker wasn’t an NPC, but another player. Watch Dogs allows you to intrude upon your friends’ games, hack them and then run away, and not just from your console – the app is a multiplayer minigame, too, allowing you to chase Aiden through Chicago using the citywide operating system.
All this adds up to the feeling that Watch Dogs is a very big, very detailed game, and of all the launch titles that’ll be landing on your next-gen console, it could be the one with the most long-term playability. And who knows, it might even make you think twice about those dodgy Android apps you keep installing...
Watch Dogs is coming to PC, PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One and Wii U on 22nd November 2013.