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Watch Dogs - hands-on
First impressions from E3 2013Having stolen the show at E3 2012, Watch Dogs was back at E3 2013 to cement its position as one of the most exciting early titles for the PS4 and Xbox One next-gen systems - though it's still set to appear on PC, Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 as well.
Watch the 10-minute Watch Dogs gameplay demo from E3 2013:
Read our in-depth Xbox One vs PS4 comparison
As you might remember, Watch Dogs is set in a near-future Chicago where everything in the city is wired into a single network, run by a system known as CityOS. However, CityOS is no longer just about supporting the population, but about surveillance, clandestine oppression and control.
As a hacker, Aiden Pierce, you're up to your neck in trouble and on a definite anti-authority kick. Luckily, you're able to hack just about anything with nothing more than your smartphone, while you have the kind of parkour, driving and close-combat skills that make Watch Dogs feel like a cyberpunk Assassin's Creed, though perhaps with a little less emphasis on clambering up local monuments.
Ubisoft had an extended demo of the game behind closed doors, kicking off with a sequence where hacker hero, Aiden Pierce, helps his ally, T-Bone, escape from his apartment when it's invaded by gun-toting goons.
Hacking into a Wi-Fi router at ground level, Pierce uses lighting and music in the apartment to create a distraction, while using security cams in the building to guide T-Bone from cover to cover, or issue advice on when to sneak up and tackle his pursuers. It's clever stuff, and there appears to be more than one way of doing things.
Once T-Bone reaches safety, Pierce covers his escape by taking on the bad guys, again using hacked devices to distract or disorient, then coming in to knock them out with what appears to be a signature weapon; a sneaky coiled-up baton.
This sequence also gave Ubisoft an opportunity to demonstrate how mobile players can interact with the single-player game. Coming in with the companion tablet app, another player was able to hack into nearby lights and short them, giving Aiden the advantage of surprise.
After that, it was time to show off some of the everyday activities Pierce gets up to in Watch Dogs' Chicago open world. One of the biggies is creating 'back doors' into CityOS systems in new areas, so that Pierce can hack into the devices and public amenities in the surrounding area.
In our example, Pierce used his smartphone to get access codes to the building, and then sneaked his way up onto the roof. At this point he was discovered, and it was time for some cover-based shooting. Cleverly, Pierce can use his phone to raise defences and create his own cover; the sort of touch that shows how hacking is integrated into every aspect of the game.
Ubisoft also demonstrated how Pierce can use his focus abilities to get a slow-motion overview of what's currently happening in the local district. Using this information he can take part in optional activities. For example, you might discover that a man is lying in wait with plans to assault his ex-girlfriend, and you can intervene and prevent it happening, then chase the miscreant and bring them to your own kind of justice, either on foot or in a stolen car.
The result? A handy boost for your reputation. The game has its own reputation systems that affect how the other citizens see you and react, plus an economy and new weapons to craft and buy. One way of making more cash is to trace signals to a Wi-Fi router, hack in, and use a webcam to steal the financial info of some poor, unwitting sap. Only you can choose whether that's the kind of path you want to take.
Finally, Ubisoft demonstrated how multiplayer can intersect with the single-player game, with other players able to infiltrate your game and download the contents of your phone, and you able to do the same to them. While it's happening you can try to locate the other player, using all the tools at your disposal, and put a stop to their interference. Fail, and there's still a chance to steal their data and take revenge. Ubisoft claims that this seals the single-player and multiplayer experience together. It sounds like fun, but also like something that could be an irritating distraction when you're in the middle of doing something else.
First ImpressionsOverall, Watch Dogs remains as impressive this year as it was last year, with the realistic architectural detail of its Chicago setting and the lifelike weather effects particularly strong. If we have any reservations, it's that a lot of the game mechanics echo those in the Assassin's Creed games, though with more emphasis on hacking, surveillance and GTA-style driving, and less on the parkour stuff.
With the Assassin's Creed games, Ubisoft has sometimes had trouble balancing the missions that pull you through the narrative with the side-activities, which grow increasingly mundane as the game progresses. We hope that there's enough richness and variety in the world and in Pierce's toolkit for that not to happen here. We'll have to wait until November to find out.
Next, read our Forza 5 hands-on from E3 2013
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