Aiden Pearce has a lot on his plate. As a lone vigilante hacker standing against the police and corrupt corporations that dominate near-future Chicago, he'll have to rely on his wits, hacking skills and trigger finger to survive. Driving at insane speeds one moment and remotely infiltrating CCTV cameras the next, an antihero's work is never done.
However, he'll also have to deal with me griefing him when I'm bored on the bus thanks to a staggeringly ambitious companion app.
Explanations are in order. ctOS Mobile is one of the first synchronous companion apps to release with a major AAA title, allowing iOS and Android users to challenge console Watch Dogs players while out and about, or sprawled on the sofa behind them. Once you've freely download the app and logged in with a Uplay account, you can set routes and courses for your target to follow around the sprawling city streets, along with a time limit to beat. If they accept your challenge while playing, a simple matter of pressing up on the D-Pad, it's game on. While Aiden scampers to reach each checkpoint as quickly as possible, it's up to you to stop him by any means necessary; a console and tablet player both competing in the same game.
The ctOS Mobile interface presents a top-down map of Chicago, letting you track your opponent's progress as Aiden hijacks cars and hops rooftops to reach his checkpoints. Your primary weapon is a police helicopter, which you'll control by keeping a searchlight reticule trained on Aiden's position by dragging it around the touchscreen. So long as you've got your rival in your sights, Chicago P.D. automatically deploys a steady stream of armed officers and roadblocks to harrass them, forcing them to creatively find new routes or improvise when their car ends up smashed off the road by a cop cruiser.
Aiden's more than a match for the fuzz on a good day, though, meaning that you'll have to rely on more sadistic methods to keep the hacker from his objective. Thankfully Chicago is full of interactive hackable hazards such as deployable bollards, traffic lights and over-pressurised steam pipes; all of which can be triggered by simply tapping a corresponding on-screen icon. A clear run down a road can be totally derailed by blocking the street with steel barriers, for example, forcing them directly into a devastating steam explosion. If you're lucky, you'll even manage to lure them across a bridge... which can be raised sending Aiden plummeting into the river. A slight delay while hacking forces you to lead the target, but doing so pays dividends.
Put simply, ctOS Mobile is a right laugh regardless of which side you're on, and it's all in good fun. No permanent damage is done to the Watch Dogs player's health, save game or virtual reputation, since the action effectively takes place in a pocket universe - and it even awards a few Dollars just for taking part.
Turnabout's fair play, so after sampling ctOS Mobile, I swapped seats and accepted a challenge myself. Watch Dogs controls nicely, complimenting impressively fluid animations with an intuitive control setup that provides easy access to context-sensitive hacking commands while traversing, shooting or driving. A good thing too, because my session had barely started before my opponent triggered a steam pipe underneath my flashy sports car, overturning it and forcing me to seek alternative transportation. The only car in sight was a stretch limo, but needs must, so I took full advantage of its long wheelbase with spectacular powerslides through a speedily-hacked parking garage an attempt to evade the ever-present searchlight.
Unfortunately a stretch limo isn't ideal when a bridge suddenly raises in front of you, ending up with the impractical vehicle beached between both hinges. Chicago Police rushed to the scene, putting Aiden out of his misery by shooting him squarely in the head. He was probably happy to be spared any further humiliation, to be perfectly honest.
ctOS Mobile is likely to be a fun throwaway diversion when played against random opponents, but I'm convinced that the meat of the experience will be found when competing against a player in the same room; taunting and mocking them all the while. Though The Division is likely to revolutionise the way apps and videogames interact, Watch Dogs: ctOS Mobile will give us our first glimpse of the asymetrical gameplay revolution.
Just as importantly, mind, rampant griefing has never been so much fun.
Disclosure: Ubisoft paid for return Eurostar travel to Paris, one night's accommodation and refreshments during the Digital Days 2013 preview session.