The Hidden Insanity of Watch_Dogs

At the minute I’m playing through Watch_Dogs, Ubisoft’s long-hyped open world game focused on hacking the creepily prescient virtual operating system responsible for running an entire city. I’m having a lot of fun with it, as it has some cool ideas for combat and exploration that leverage the unique idea at the heart of the game. However, none of the extensive preview coverage I watched or read before the game’s release has prepared me for some of the crazy ways that the game’s developers push the idea of a super-digitised world through side missions and activities. Regardless of whether or not I end up reviewing – or even finishing – the game, I wanted to highlight the ridiculousness of some of the stuff I never expected to be doing in Watch_Dogs, but that is keeping me moored in Act I of the game’s story:
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Giant Flower Bouncing

This was actually one of the first things I did in the game, launching me right into completely unexpected territory. Several street vendors offer you the ability to take part in “digital trips”, which are pretty much self-explanatory. They transport protagonist Aiden Pearce into the world of a bad acid trip, changing up the game’s mechanics in the name of the kinds of minigames you’d normally only see in a Japanese-developed title. The trip aptly named “Psychedelic” has you bouncing belly-first from giant blooming flower to giant blooming flower, using the control stick to angle your trajectory and trying to land as close to the middle of each flower as possible. It’s actually quite difficult and there are plenty of levels to play through.

"I'm flyyyyiiiing!" cries our hero, completely un-ironically.

“I’m flyyyyiiiing!” cries our hero, completely un-ironically.

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Retro Augmented Reality Shooting

In a cool nod to the possible future of interactive entertainment that also serves as a throwback to a 1980s videogame aesthetic, the augmented reality game “NVZN” can be found at various locations around Chicago and layers Aiden’s surroundings with blocky, brightly-coloured alien portals that spew tiny targetable alien bugs. Wait too long to kill them and they will evolve, before attaching themselves to random NPCs and reproducing. There are power-ups, weapon drops and old-school bonus rounds in the surprisingly deep minigame, and reaching a certain wave will improve Aiden’s aiming in standard gameplay.

Not on my watch, alien scum.

Not on my watch, alien scum.

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Competitive Drinking

An activity that probably contributed to the R18+ rating given to Watch_Dogs by the Australian Classification Board, Aiden is able to challenge random Chicago barflies to a drinking contest, during which you need to keep a colour-coded, unpredictable moving circle inside a larger circle for long enough to, I guess, gather up the courage to slam down a glass of hard liquor. The controls change up slightly as the game gets more difficult, and there is gambling money to be won if you are successful.

This is what real drinking is like, clearly.

This is what real drinking is like, clearly.

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8-Bit Coin Chasing

A minigame no doubt partially influenced by the artistic direction of Scott Pilgrim vs The World, the “Cash Run” missions available to you around the city involve collecting giant rotating coins, each of which explode into hundreds of sparkly squares when collected. Aiden’s parkour skills are tested by these courses, which lay themselves out bit by bit as you collect each hunk of virtual currency. Making things more difficult is the presence of several giant red floating skulls, each of which add a whopping 5 seconds to your clear time when touched. Difficult, but fun.

Aiden makes a run for it.

Aiden makes a run for it.

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Zombie-Demon Crushing

Another one of the aforementioned digital trips, the game of “Madness” puts you behind the wheel of a flaming car in a red-tinged version of the normal game world, where you need to ‘deliver souls’ by running over gaggles of zombies with flaming heads. Different flame colours are worth varying amounts of points and you are able to activate volcanic craters in the environment to hit areas your ride cannot if you’re quick enough with the square button. The hellish take on the likes of Carmageddon is a real blast.

It's like a hundred Nicholas Cages all at once.

It’s like a hundred Nicholas Cages all at once.

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Post-Apocalyptic Robot Avoiding

A chilling remix of the game’s strong basic mechanics, the minigame “Alone” turns Chicago into a creepily deserted ghost town patrolled only by shambling robots with coloured vision cones. You are re-cast as one of the earth’s last freedom fighters, aiming to avoid the sight lines of your AI foes (which turn red and sap your health when alerted) en route to a number of beacons you must hack to ‘liberate’ the area from the rule of said robots and their evil organisation. It’s a tense minigame that comes complete with its own set of skill trees to make you a more effective infiltrator.

They are always watching...

They are always watching…

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Spider Tank Rampaging

By far the best of the game’s minigames if you ask me comes in the form of a power trip to end all power trips. The game sections off a quadrant of the main city and sets you loose on its inhabitants inside a badass spider tank, armed with a chaingun, a number of explosive shell rounds, a brutal front claw melee attack and a powerful jump to evade attackers. The behemoth under your control can even climb straight up the side of buildings, which is just incredibly cool. Everything you do takes a chunk out of the same energy meter, meaning you must balance offense with the ability to flee in a tight spot. As you complete destruction objectives and demolish vans, helicopters and cars alike, your tank levels up and you can choose how you want to strengthen it on the way to your final goal. The whole thing is over way too quickly, but score-chasing has already brought me back to it more than once.

I wish this was the whole game. It's that much fun.

I wish this was the whole game. It’s that much fun.

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Less Crazy, Still Addictive

Watch_Dogs also features a suite of distractions more standard for an open-world game, but that doesn’t mean they are any less enjoyable. There are slots to spin, an infuriating cup-and-ball guessing game to play, a fully featured poker minigame to rob your wallet (I lost $10,000 of in-game currency to it earlier today) and a couple of genuinely brain-twisting chess puzzles that challenge you to avoid checkmate for as many turns as you can. All of these games are robust and offer in-game rewards (as well as a Trophy/Achievement) to boot. I even got all the way to the end of the chess challenges, despite my general ineptitude at chess, mostly because I could not let the smarminess of my opponent’s voice go unpunished.

What a smug bastard.

What a smug bastard.

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