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E3 starts in a few days, which means the pre-E3 leaks are happening. This week Amazon ‘slipped up’ and listed the new Watch Dogs game, revealing a post-Brexit London setting for Watch Dogs 3. As one of the most surveilled cities in the world, second only to Beijing, London is the perfect setting for a game about fighting the system and hacking city infrastructures. It also presents Ubisoft with an opportunity to tackle one of the thorns in the side of the Watch Dogs series – the guns.
Watch Dogs has always struggled with the incongruous inclusion of guns in a setting that’s about hacking and the little guy dismantling systems via the backdoor. Watch Dogs 2, in particular, saw Marcus accused of a crime he didn’t commit. He embraced the counter culture hacker community to right the injustice and fight the system. But his character arc as wrongfully accused hero seeking justice was marred by the fact that he can 3D print guns and kill anyone who gets in his way. So, rather than a victim of the system, Marcus becomes a multiple murderer, by the end of the game.
Players were given non-lethal options in Watch Dogs 2, which allowed you to play Marcus as he was written, but only up to a point. As the game went on, it became clear that the non-lethal path wasn’t the game’s intention.
Fast forward to the third in the series, Watch Dogs Legion, and a near-future post-Brexit London. I suspect post-Brexit was chosen because it seems to open the door to guns in London, a city that doesn’t even arm its police. The thing, is, Watch Dogs 3 would be better if it embraces the narrative thread that runs through the series and ditches the guns.
We all want the hacking game that Watch Dogs trailer promised, way back at E3 2013. Instead, the hacking was sidelined, in favour of gun combat. Watch Dogs 2 did a much better job by giving us a charming lead character, in Marcus, and working on compelling hacking mechanics. But guns battles still formed a central part of the gameplay.
Taking the series to London and employing the same attitude to gun violence as Watch Dogs 1 and 2 negates the benefits of the setting. Otherwise it’s just downtown L.A. with a London skin on it. The UK’s gun culture is completely different and even Brexit isn’t going to change that. At the very least, Watch Dogs 3 could lean into London’s unfortunate problem with knife crime, which has hit headlines over the last year.
This is also the perfect game to feature a black or South Asian protagonist, hacking their way through a post-Brexit London, highlighting real world issues with stop and search, anti-immigration, including the deportation of British citizens. I’m hoping they don’t back away from that because Marcus was black, which would mean having “two in a row”.
Apparently, you can play as anyone in the game, but I’m hoping that’s just for multi-player, as this setting is prime for a narrative that touches on the injustices people of colour face in London. That narrative wouldn’t play out as well if it doesn’t impact the player character directly. I’m interested to see how that’s implemented.
Of course, AAA publishers are constantly backing away from politics in games. Ubisoft has been particularly vocal, despite making The Division (a dystopian near future, real-world setting) and Watch Dogs (a near future game focused on hacking to dismantle government systems). I don’t see how you can select post-Brexit London and claim it’s not political. That would be confusing, to say the least.
Many are calling it the Black Mirror of the Watch Dogs series and I really hope it is. But it’s worth remembering that a British breakdown in society as we know it involves a rush on teabags, the dissolution of the queuing system and an ensuing free for all at bus stops. Guns are mainly for shooting pheasants on country estates. Plus I think we’d still queue.