Ubisoft took E3 2012 by storm with the unveiling of a brand new, next-gen ready IP, Watch Dogs. The mysterious cyberpunk game has continued to retain our attention through reveal after reveal of the gameplay and “hacking” features the game features, along with is suspicious vigilante protagonist Aiden Pearce.
Watch Dogs won numbers Best of Show awards at E3 and easily made Game Rant’s most anticipated games list of 2013. After previewing the game in May and learning that the game would feature a seamless multiplayer system that integrates online play with the single-player story. It was teased in various trailers and expanded upon in Ubisoft’s E3 2013 media briefing, but behind-closed-doors, we got to see it up close and personal in action.
In a dark, small room, we put on headsets and watched as an Ubisoft Realization Director talked us through gameplay as an Art Director played it live. There were two sections to the demo, the first being a mission and the second being an example of free-roaming, free exploration play.
Just like the video above, Aiden’s associate T-Bone needs help out getting out of a jam. He’s found some sensitive info and is being tracked down. This particular mission takes place later in the game where Aiden is a wanted fugitive. We begin with Aiden in a car and immediately the glistening rain drop effects on the dark-colored car catch our attention, along with the neat heads-up display detailing the incoming caller from a digital readout presented on the back of the car for the player. The demo is being played on PS4.
What we see is the same segments played out almost exactly the same as the video up top from the Ubisoft E3 press conference, with the exception of some different actions when the second player seamlessly drops in via their tablet to help Aiden (player one) escape for the police in a nonlethal manner, by disabling the police helicopter’s search light and throwing up street barricades to block incoming pursuers.
The second mission was a little more interesting as it offers a greater look into what will make up the bulk of the gameplay players experience in Watch Dogs: freedom. Players can explore the open world and its 24 hour day/night cycle and dynamic weather system, earn cash in various ways, spend that money on items, collect cars, play AR games on their in-game phone, etc. etc, but to expand Aiden’s potential and his power he needs to insert backdoors into ctOS stations around Chicago in order to hack into devices and the infrastructure of each respective district.
This second demo begins the same way as our May preview from an event in New York where Aiden is in “The Wards” near a ctOS control area. This enclosed area shows up as red on the map and there are a number of armed guards defending the position. As we’ve described before, these areas are essentially the same as outposts in Far Cry 3 or towers in the Assassin’s Creed titles, and players can approach them in any way they please. In this demo we saw the player hack into the surveillance system, switching from camera to camera to locate and identify all of the guards in the area, scanning to see which one has the access code we need before getting inside and using the code to insert a backdoor into ctOS.
We then see Aiden hop a fence to get in, stealthily take out several foes, before planting an IED (improvised explosive device) that players can craft. There’s a gunfight and the Ubisoft demo player sets off the bomb, strategically eliminating the remaining enemies to finish clearing out the area. The player then hacks a terminal to access cameras inside the building and hops from camera to camera to locate the access point and insert the backdoor, thereby unlocking all of the security cameras and other hackable devices in that district.
The next example of gameplay we’re shown picks up right from there and we’re scanning the newly unlocked area using ctOS facial recognition, profiling, etc., to seek out potential crime. There’s a potential victim found but not much info on the woman so Aiden follows her into an alley to see how the situation develops. She confronts someone and we see the crime probability number going up. Players can intervene or let it play out, but in this instance we launch into a chase, as Aiden and the assailant hop over fences and other obstacles with very polished animations. There was even one moment where Aiden instinctively kicked off a tree on the left to get a quicker booster over the tall fence. It looked very natural.
Since the district is unlocked, the player can hack roadblocks and we see a barrier activated which ruthlessly disables the criminal’s car. The man was stopped without being killed so the player’s reputation goes up. If the player chooses to kill the criminal the reputation would have gone up differently and people would react to Aiden differently as a result. Reputation, as we discussed in our Watch Dogs interview with producer Dominic Guay, is an essential part of player progression.
An example of this came next where Aiden walks into a gunshop. We see the typical arsenal including an assault rifle, shotgun, etc, and a news report plays on a TV in the background featuring Aiden. The shopkeeper recognizes him and sets off alarm. The player’s reputation affects the reaction of NPCs. In this case, the police are notified so the player holds the shopkeeper at gunpoint, grabs the money in the cash register and takes off. There’s a yellow scan area on the minimap that the player must escape from to evade the police, very similar to other sandbox games like GTA.
Once clear we’re shown how the Wifi hotspot system works. The city essentially has free wifi spots that residents can use, and these spots can be hacked, giving players access to any and all devices that use that wifi signal. From the hotbox the player is then able to jump from system to system within a building for example and we’re shown a mother feeding her child in her apartment. From the laptop webcam, we can also see a cell phone on a table that once scanned, reveals bank info that we can use to steal funds. The player shows some morals and chooses not to but the next segment is the most interesting, when some mysterious foe begins trying to hack Aiden.
The player sees a blue area on the map where the hacker is and must locate that person by profiling everyone to stop them. This enemy is actually another player and this moment is the beginning of a multiplayer challenge. In the demo, the enemy is located but gets away in a car. The main player remains victorious however because they did successfully prevent the hack, even if the enemy got away. Feeling not satisfied the demo presenter decided to seek that same player out and hack them, reversing the situation. We see the other desperately trying to seek out Aiden as the player hides in cars and tries to remain inconspicuous. The player is eventually located and a car chase leads to an alleyway shootout – intentionally to avoid civilian causalities and to maintain reputation – and the enemy is killed.
Both players can now continue playing single-player if they desire, with no interruptions. This example, like the second player assistance via a tablet in the first demo, exemplify Ubisoft’s goal of implementing seamless multiplayer and blurring the lines between what players traditionally know as competitive, co-op and solo gameplay. And it worked flawlessly.
Watch the cinematic Watch Dogs E3 2013 trailer for more!
Watch_Dogs releases November 19, 2013 for the PC, PS3, Xbox 360 and Wii U. It’ll also launch for the PS4 and Xbox One this holiday.
Follow Rob on Twitter @rob_keyes.