Watch Dogs Preview from E3 2012 -- A Truly Next-Gen Adventure in the MakingBy Adam Rosenberg - Posted Jun 12, 2012
We all leave a digital footprint that spans multiple gigabytes on a yearly basis. The average in 2011 was 2.3GB per person. That little factoid came out of the appetite-whetting video that Ubisoft was showing behind closed doors at E3 2012 as a lead-in to a live gameplay demonstration of Watch Dogs.
Revealed at Ubi's pre-E3 press conference, Watch Dogs is an open-world, third-person action game set in a near-future rendering of Chicago, Illinois. Players step into the shoes of Aiden Pearce, a 21st century vigilante anti-hero who uses his skills as a hacker to give himself an edge in all things. The game's larger story is being kept under wraps, but the demo makes it clear that Pearce exists in a moral grey area; he'll mete out punishment to someone who deserves it, but he'll have no regrets about causing a multi-car pile-up to get his mark out into the open.
Watch Dogs certainly looks the part of an open-world effort from the talented folks at Ubisoft Montreal, with pop-up iconography marking points of interest all around the world and large numbers of virtual bodies on the screen, but it's what you can't immediately see that makes the game so compelling. You can run around freely, shoot a variety of firearms, and hop in any car you see just like any other open-world adventure, but Pearce's skills as a hacker are central to everything you do.
As Pearce, you'll be able to hack into pretty much anything. You'll fiddle with traffic lights and draw bridges. Tap into security cam feeds. Listen in on cellphone conversations. You can even pull mundane facts about random people that you see--anything from age to income to phobias to pre-existing medical conditions--by tapping into the Central Operating System, or ctOS. The idea in Watch Dogs, as any Ubi PR rep will happily tell you, is to turn the city into your weapon.
The E3 demo certainly sells that pitch. The mission in question finds Pearce on the hunt for Joseph DeMarco, a powerful player in Chicago's social scene who was recently acquitted of a murder that he most likely committed. As Pearce approaches a DeMarco-owned club, pop-up windows for each pedestrian offer insight into their stress levels and other personal information.
The line to get into the club is restrictively long and Pearce is on a tight schedule, so some technical wizardry is called for. Standing off to the side of the club entrance, away from the line, Pearce watches as the bouncer manning the door babbles into his cellphone. The demo driver selects his Jam Communication tool from a pop-up radial menu, disrupting not only the bouncer's call but also anyone in line who was using a phone. The bouncer takes a few steps forward in the hopes of picking up a better signal as Pearce uses the distraction to slip inside behind him.
The busy theater interior paints a believable picture of near-future nightlife, with giant screens and futuretech lighting joined by servers and bartenders wearing cube-shaped helmets with QR codes printed on them. Pearce wanders around the room until he meets up with his contact, an apparently unfriendly acquaintance who nonetheless passes our man a pistol.
Exploring the room a little more, we come across a middle-aged woman throwing glances Pearce's way and talking into her cellphone in hushed tones. A look at her hacked profile from the ctOS reveals that this is a DeMarco employee; listening in on the call reveals that she's letting her boss know that he has an unfriendly visitor.
Now that he's been identified, profile pop-ups for the club's security guard start to include a readout for "violence probability," with the figure rising for every moment Pearce remains in the club. He knocks out a lone bouncer at the back of the club using an extendable metal baton and escapes out the back before DeMarco can show.
With the target on his way to the club, our demo driver moves Pearce up onto a set of elevated railroad tracks. He doesn't appear to be quite as nimble or climbing-capable as any of the Assassin's Creed protagonists, but he clambers up onto waist- and chest-high objects with no problem. From his newly elevated vantage point, Pearce looks down on the intersection outside of the theater and messes with the traffic lights, resulting in a multi-car accident the blocks the entire street in all directions.
DeMarco's vehicle is mixed in among the stopped cars; the target remains inside, but his goons start to wander around the site of the accident in search of trouble. Pearce takes aim with his pistol and fires, taking out one DeMarco goon, and then another. He leaps down to the street and continues the firefight there, taking cover behind cars in a canned animation.
Once all of the goons are taken out, Pearce uses hit baton to shatter DeMarco's car window and then the bones in his target's arm. DeMarco jumps between pleading for his life and warning Pearce that the attack amounts to suicide; Pearce, for his part, tells DeMarco that he's got a message to deliver. The message of a dead man. One well-placed bullet later, it's time to flee.
The demo ends shortly afterward as Pearce hops into a nearby car and attempts to make a getaway. Speeding through the streets of Chicago, he comes across a drawbridge that he hacks open as he drives across it. Whether or not that was enough to shake his tail remains to be seen, as the screen went dark here.
There was, however, more to Ubisoft's demo. In addition to in-game cooperative play, gamers will also be able to use a complementary mobile app alongside Watch Dogs. Offering a VR street view of the city, the app will allow you to remotely hack into and mess with or gather information on various locations, both in your game and in your friend's games.
You'll even be able to help (or mess with) your friends using the included hacking tools, as well as get a sense of how people you know are going about finishing each mission. From the sound of it, some of the abilities you'll unlock for use in the app are specific to certain neighborhoods.
Watch Dogs amounts to the biggest surprise reveal of E3 2012 and one of the most refreshingly original treatments of the open-world genre that we've seen in a long time. There's still plenty more left to be revealed about the game, but the underlying ideas that drive it are compelling enough on their own. We'll definitely be watching this one and hoping that the promised 2013 release turns out to be accurate.