Sitting down with the team at Ubisoft Montreal for a demonstration of Watch_Dogs was one of the highlights of the show for me. In this free-roaming demonstration we got to see the “systemic” aspects of the game – the 24/7 day to night cycle, the mechanics of hacking, gunplay, and more. You play Aiden Pierce – a man capable of wreaking incredible havoc merely with the touch of his smartphone. Watch_Dogs is a world interconnected. A fictional version of Chicago, in response to the real-world 2003 blackout (which the game presents was perpetrated by a hacker) has installed a network of interconnected computers known as “CtOS (or Central Operating System). With its virtual foot in the door, the CtOS has become a natural part of the city, taking over nearly everything with a circuit in the city. Street lights, cameras, lights, cars, gates, and much more all run on CtOS, and worse yet it also contains all demographic information for the cities citizens, and that makes Aiden very nervous.
Watch_Dogs is nothing if not augmented reality personified. As Aiden walks through the Wards (the poor part of fictional Chicago) he can see popups from his phone showing things he can hack, prices on objects, people and their demographic data, and much more. During our demo, as we approached a pawn shop we could devices with a red X over them, indicating that we must unlock them by hacking the nearby CToS node in the area. These nodes, installed by the Blume Corporation – the creator of the system, are well-guarded and in restricted areas. Since we can’t hack the gate, we instead hack the nearby camera to scout the area.
Using the camera we tag them, identifying them as Blume Security Contractors, also nabbing their age, income level, and any other accessible information. Using a small box we hop the side fence and head to a nearby storage shed. The cover system allows us to easily move from area to area. Hacking a gate from the inside, we distract a guard to sneak past. Hacking a nearby forklift we turn the gaze of a second guard long enough to use an collapsable Asp to take out a knee and then crack his skull. As the other guards catch onto our incursion, we use an improvised IED – two sticks of dynamite – that we’ve put a radio on so we can trigger it through hacking as well. Using the “Focus” skill to slow things down, we pull out a machine gun and take down the final guards.
Rounding the corner we find an entry point into the network – an outside node. Hacking this node lead us to bounce through a camera, and then another until we had a line of sight to zoom in on the local CtOS Mainframe. Finishing off the mainframe, we gain access to all items in the area. We can now hack into civilian cell phones, personal computers, cameras, and so much more. We can also use the crime detection and prediction system.
After receiving a prompt stating that a potential crime could occur in a specific area, we walk the area and use the profiling system to spot our potential aggressor. Tailing this person and then choosing how and when to intervene will change the way that the citizens of Chicago might react to you later on. In this case, Simon Tagers and Patricia Flores get into a verbal and then physical altercation. As he starts to strike her, we intervene. You can choose to be lethal or non-lethal as you see fit. In this case, we chase the guy across a playground and into a car that we hacked to give chase to the fleeing scumbag. Hacking and disrupting the traffic lights ahead of him is an option, but we opt for the full stop, deploying an emergency roadblock system in the road to destroy the front end of the vehicle. Picking up a 25 point reputation bonus, we turn our attention to a local weapon shop.
The DB&R weapon shop has everything a gun afficionado could want – shotguns, M107 sniper rifles, G106 shotguns, SG-590s, AK-47s, and bullets for all of them just to name a few. As we check out, the TV behind the clerk reveals us as a fugitive on the loose. Using a far-less-than-subtle reach over to the underside of the counter, the clerk hits the silent alarm. The police use the CtOS and cameras in the area to try to pinpoint our location. We escape the area by tactically driving to get away from the scanning area, ducking into underpasses, and ultimately using a crafted EMP consumable to take out nearby devices to prevent the chase.
With a peek at another activity we hack a nearby WiFi box. These boxes are also provided by the Blume Company, granting free WiFi access (and likely an easy way for Blume to spy on citizens) for all. Hacking the primary box we follow a trail through the routers on the wall, making our way into others areas of interest. Bouncing through cameras and other boxes we run the entire line, ending up in a wired laptop inside of a home. Turning on the camera in the laptop we see a cell phone with a credit card symbol. You can use your hacking skills to steal from this family – the choice is yours.
Much like the end of the demo we saw at E3 last year, it was the final activity for Watch_Dogs that had us the most excited – multiplayer. As we walk around the open world doing our own thing we suddenly get a message in the corner – “You are being hacked!”. Unbeknownst to us, someone has joined our multiplayer game and is actively hacking our phone, trying to install a virus on on it. On our map we see a small area where the hacker is hiding, and we must reach that area, identify him or her, and then run them down. Blazing across the Willis Tower we use our profiler in the area to determine the identity of our rogue hacker. Blue Xs pop up over the faces of the citizens as we use facial recognition, cameras, and anything else we can hack to spot someone who doesn’t quite fit in. Similar to the paranoia-inducing multiplayer in the Assassin’s Creed series, this multiplayer will have us all looking over our shoulders.
Watch_Dogs was all we could talk about last E3, and this demo only confirmed our suspicions. We’ve awarded Watch_Dogs the Most Innovative of E3 2013 award, as well as a nomination for Action/Adventure title of the show. If there was a title to pre-order for the launch of the next generation of platforms, or your freshly juiced-up PC, this is the one.