Every year the Electronic Entertainment Expo (or E3 for short) presents the newest innovations in gaming. Only this year was rather disappointing. Not only did Sony not show up, but most of the presentations did not reveal anything new. One very notable exemption that most journalists glossed over was Ubisoft’s Watch Dogs: Legion.
Watch Dogs is now a series of games focused on ‘hacktivism’, enabling players to become vigilantes that utilise their hacking abilities to fight crime, corruption and generally cause mayhem in the streets of their respective city of Chicago or San Francisco.
The first Watch Dogs was a huge commercial success (although there was a big backlash, due to an apparent downgrade of the final product from what had been shown before at E3). Watch Dogs 2 trailed behind its predecessor with 80% less copies sold in the UK in its first week. This could be due to the difference in tone and lack of gameplay innovation.
Legion is doing its best to remedy this with a revolutionary new gameplay mechanic that uses procedural generation, meaning that content of the game is being generated randomly, using some predefined factors and assets.
For example, a whole level and its obstacles in a jump-and-run game could be different each time the player attempts to beat it. This mechanic has been around for years now and has been continuously evolved over time, with games like Shadow of Mordor creating procedurally generated enemies that seemingly remember their specific interactions with you and evolve as a result.
But Watch Dogs: Legion is taking procedural generation to a whole new level. Because this time they are proceduarlly generating the main character(s) of the game. As the title suggests, Legion lets you play as multiple characters and these are completely random. You can walk through the city of London and recruit anyone to your cause. Every single citizen gets their own backstory, animation, voice-over and quirks. Of course there is bound to be repetition, but it remains to be seen if Ubisoft can pull off the mirage.
Most interestingly, this game is not only the first set in Europe, it is also described by its developers as taking place in the near future in a post-Brexit London. The UK has isolated itself from the world and corrupt opportunists have taken over and established an authoritarian regime, using mass surveillance and other technological terrors.
Creative Director Clint Hocking further presented it like this: “The UK has become a surveillance state and freedom replaces fear… deportation squads rip people from their homes and Grandad is using cryptocurrency to buy a new kidney on the black market.”
With this set up, Watch Dogs: Legion presents itself as a Remainer fantasy. All the worst things you thought could possibly happen, happened. The NHS is gone, mass surveillance has been implemented, police brutality is a given, freedom of speech is gone. Human rights? Forget about them. Now it is up to you, ordinary citizen of London, to ‘reclaim your future’, as the subtitle of the game reads. This undoubtedly refers to young people that are going to be deprived of freedom of movement across the EU, should a hard Brexit come to pass.
Ironically, you can hear characters in the game say lines like ‘it’s up to us to take our city back,’ which sounds very reminiscent of the Leave campaign’s ‘take back control’. The final line of the trailer ‘let’s unfuck this world!’ perfectly summarises how many remainers feel today and shows that this game is clearly targeted towards them and individuals like them across the world that are finding it hard to comprehend what is happening and how they are seemingly powerless to stop it.
The reaction of the British media is also interesting. The Guardian didn’t write a separate article on the game, but summed it up like this: ‘Bloody hell, Clint, we know Brexit is going to be bad, no need to rub it in.’
The Express, which is notoriously pro-Brexit, omitted any mention of Brexit at all and simply explained ‘the London in Watch Dogs Legion is ruled by a “surveillance state”, with an authoritarian government in place.’
The Sun summarised it most accurately, stating that ‘in Watch Dogs’ vision of post-Brexit London, the jobs are gone, thousands are sleeping on the streets, and people are going hungry.’
‘But it’s not due to Brexit itself, but the rise of technology.’
‘The pound has seen its value plummet and cryptocurrencies have taken over as the disaster capitalists seized on growing popular dissatisfaction with their lives to grab power for their own ends.’
‘The greedy corporations have seized control via populist authoritarian politicians who have shredded workers’ rights and seen swathes of jobs from doctors to cabbies be replaced by AI tools.’
In the end, each medium will try to spin the story their way, but Creative Director Clint Hocking explains in an interview with IGN that it is not about one single issue, but a whole range of issues that we see all over the world that lead to things like Brexit and tear us apart. ‘Brexit is not the cause of the problems in our world. But the causes of Brexit are the causes of the problems in our world and these are issues we have to address collectively. People have to come together, put aside their differences and try to build a better future and a better tomorrow. That’s what Watch Dogs: Legion is all about.’
If we cannot come together in the real world, at least we might be able to unite in this fictional world. Who knows? Perhaps a game like this could inspire some real social change in the end? We will find out after the game launches on March 6th 2020.