Great moments in PC Gaming: Spotting an invader in Watch Dogs

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(Image credit: Ubisoft)

Great moments in PC gaming are bite-sized celebrations of some of our favorite gaming memories.

Watch Dogs

(Image credit: Ubisoft)

Developer: Ubisoft Montreal
Year: 2014

When the original Watch Dogs launched back in 2014, I played through the campaign like a digital Spider-Man: swinging virtually between security cameras, setting off traps and electronic devices, and defeating entire skyscrapers full of bad guys without ever entering the building. Everything I needed to do, I could do while standing on the sidewalk outside peering at my smartphone.

But as fun as that was, the best part of Watch Dogs was invading other players' games. Silently joining their sessions, posing as a random NPC, and hacking their data while they frantically ran around trying to find me was a hilarious thrill. There was nothing like finding a great hiding spot and watching my target completely freak out that they weren't alone in their singleplayer game. For me, it was beyond a fun activity. Watch Dogs invasions became an absolute obsession. It was all I wanted to do.

One of my most memorable invasions came when I started hacking another player and ran into a shop to hide. I crouched down behind the counter, which felt like a great spot to conceal myself. Unfortunately, the NPC shopkeeper looked down at me crouching behind his counter and immediately tried to start a conversation with me. (I hadn't thought to kill him and stand behind the counter in his place, which is a fun and often effective strategy.) 

The player I was hacking ran in and out of the shop probably 10 different times because he'd narrowed down my location to a tiny circle on the map that pretty much only contained the store. And I was in a complete panic because the damn shopkeeper wouldn't stop staring at me and talking to me the entire time. I was sure he would give me away. But somehow the player never noticed the store owner staring down at his feet and cordially chatting with the terrified man hiding there. Against all odds, I completed the hack and escaped.

The only problem with spending most of my time invading other singleplayer games is that I gradually became—and I think this is the approved clinical term—paranoid as balls about other people invading my own singleplayer game. It was always fun when it happened, but I became obsessed with making myself the most difficult target possible for an invader. To hack someone, you need to get pretty close to them without them noticing, so I made sure that was a real chore. I tore through the world at top speed at all times, made crazy turns in my cars, switched directions constantly, and then I'd abruptly slam on the brakes, jump out of my car, draw a weapon, and see if I could spot someone desperately trying to keep up with me. I did this constantly. As a result I basically got nothing done in singleplayer from then on, because I never actually got to the place I was headed for. I was too busy trying to spot someone who was never there.

(Image credit: Ubisoft)

Except this one time when someone actually was there. I was driving through the city as usual, like a complete maniac, and as usual I made a few hairpin turns at top speed before screeching to a halt, jumping out of my car, and staring behind me with wide, paranoid eyes. I stood there watching and listening for probably about 30 seconds while nothing happened. Then I heard, faintly, some noise in the distance. A crashing sound. Distant NPC screams. Glass breaking. Then there were more smashing sounds. Sirens growing closer. Louder screams.

Then a car came roaring around the corner—though it's not actually fair to call it a car. It was a twisted, crumpled, smoking, shuddering ball of metal that used to be a car. I don't know what this player hit while trying to keep up with me, but my guess is: everything. The mangled, smoking wreck of what used to be an automobile skidded to a halt a few feet away from where I stood in the middle of the street. I stared at it. The driver, presumably, stared back through his shattered windshield. After about five seconds, during which I couldn't do anything because I was laughing so hard, he abruptly reversed at top speed in a straight line back down the road where he instantly collided with the police car that had been chasing him.

Needless to say, it wasn't a successful hack on his part. And just that one instance of successfully spotting an invading player before they started hacking me justified all the paranoia I'd built up over the past several weeks. I never spotted anyone else tailing me, but I never stopped trying.

Christopher Livingston
Senior Editor

Chris started playing PC games in the 1980s, started writing about them in the early 2000s, and (finally) started getting paid to write about them in the late 2000s. Following a few years as a regular freelancer, PC Gamer hired him in 2014, probably so he'd stop emailing them asking for more work. Chris has a love-hate relationship with survival games and an unhealthy fascination with the inner lives of NPCs. He's also a fan of offbeat simulation games, mods, and ignoring storylines in RPGs so he can make up his own.