Review Price to be confirmed
First Look - Watch Dogs
Every big games show has to have a breakout hit, and the breakout hit of
E3 2012 was unquestionably Ubisoft’s Watch Dogs. Shown only behind
closed doors, it rapidly became the stuff of hype and rumour amongst
journalists at the convention. Have you seen Watch Dogs? Are you going
to see Watch Dogs? Can it even run on Xbox 360? Is this the first
next-generation console game?
Having seen a demonstration of early code, we can confirm that there’s good reason for all this fevered speculation. Watch Dogs does look amazing. It’s an open world action adventure game, clearly influenced by Assassin’s Creed, but set in a very near future Chicago and featuring hacking as a central theme.
The conceit is that, right now, whole cities are running on one central network. This network interfaces with the internet, and through the two every streetlight, every traffic signal, every database, every financial record, every bit of personal history or hidden dirt, will be acccessible to those with the right skills. One of those is Aiden Pierce, a hacker with a troubled history who’s now out to fight the authorities with every tool at his disposal.
Knowledge is Power
In Pierce’s hands, all information is accessible, and everything connected to the network can fall under his control. As people pass him on the streets you can see trails of information, whether financial details, details of a criminal record, or personal secrets they might want to hide.
Pierce can also monitor mobile phone calls, get feeds from surveillance cameras, hack the traffic system or turn out the lights - and presumably much, much more. By gathering information and using his powers he can close on his targets and destroy them.
In the demo we witnessed - and the one shown brielfy in Ubisosft’s trailer - he deliberately uses himself as bait to attract an enemy towards an art show at a futuristic club, taps into a phone call to check the trap has worked, then escapes the club and uses the traffic signals to stop his target on the road. It’s mind-blowing stuff, and Ubisoft is promising that this is just the start.
Your hacking skills should give you a huge range of options and approaches to every situation, and lead on to optional quests and side-missions. How do you use your knowledge? Do you hack for personal gain or to right injustice? One piece of information might lead to another, and before you know it you’re investigating a human trafficking conspiracy or on the trail of a violent criminal. The game takes an amoral standpoint. Your actions might be for good ends, but what if innocents get hurt along the way?
Man of Action
This is a thinking person’s action game, but still an action game. The demonstration showcased third-person gunplay, fast-paced melee combat (with some vicious-looking baton-work from Pierce) and some impressive high-speed traversal. And while it seems unlikely Watch Dogs will go as far as Assassin’s Creed when it comes to clambering up landmarks or rooftop parkour, it has driving to cram in instead. Think Assassin’s Creed meets Deus Ex meets Grand Theft Auto. Do we really need to tell you more?
Maybe. First, we’ve been shown a companion iPad app - not some superficial bolt-on, but a kind of game that interfaces with the main game, so that you can control parts of the city, check background information, or even help out friends who are playing their own games, without actually picking up the controller and playing the game. It’s one of the coolest uses of tablet technology we’ve seen with a console game.
The Next Generation?
Secondly, we can’t ignore the fact that Watch Dogs is an astonishing-looking game. It’s vision of the Windy City is beautifully detailed and highly realistic, with a convincing human population and authentic-looking wind, rain and weather effects. When violence kicks off, the explosive effects have to be seen to be believed. The lighting is stunning, and the whole thing has a lavish, cinematic sheen. The version we saw demonstrated was running live on PC hardware, but while Ubisoft has stated that Watch Dogs will appear on Xbox 360 and PS3, it has all the hallmarks of a game in development with next-generation consoles in mind. It’s not that we don’t believe it can’t be done on the current systems, but we struggle to believe it can be done and look this good.
Ubisoft will not be drawn on whether it’s in development for future games machines or not, but one thing is for sure: Watch Dogs looks like a glimpse of gaming’s future, and we just can’t wait to see more.