Hacker and thief Aiden Pearce was the best at what he did, so good in fact, that he uncovered something he shouldn’t have which lead to the death of a member of his family. Now, on a mission of revenge and vigilantism, Pearce will make those who wronged him pay and he can use the entire city of Chicago as his weapon. This is Watch Dogs and its surprise unveiling by Ubisoft at E3 2012 blew away the video game industry.
Meshing together open-world gameplay mechanics of Ubisoft’s other key franchises, with driving and stealing reminiscent of Grand Theft Auto, progression systems and skill trees of RPGs, with an entirely new way of interacting with environments through hacking, Watch Dogs aims to launch a new and different franchise. After 5.5 years of development, two demo showcases at E3 and a preview event last year, we – along with the rest of the game industry’s media community – had yet to get hands on with the title until earlier this week. So, does it live up to the hype?
The story of Watch Dogs remains unclear in how it plays out. We know what protagonist Aiden Pearce’s motivations and objectives are but we know little about his enemies or allies he meets along the way. On our visit to Ubisoft Montreal this week we had the chance to play the game – for the first time – on a PlayStation 4 for 90 minutes before chatting with some of the developers who are working on the game. The main Watch Dogs game has actually been complete for a while and the remaining months are comprised mostly of debugging, to ensure a polished and smooth launch come May 27th. More on that here.
Watch Dogs plays similar to other open-world shooters and driving games, with a few additional layers, some more subtle than others. Players can, walk run (hold ‘R2’), hop and slide over obstacles, and can enter cover. Once in cover, looking at nearby obstacles will let players know on the HUD that they can quickly rush from one to the next by pressing ‘X’. While Watch Dogs doesn’t feature the climbing mechanics of the Assassin’s Creed franchise, Aiden frequently must hop over or into objects such as lifts or garbage cans using the ‘Circle’ button.
Here’s where it gets different. Tapping the ‘L1’ button will draw the currently equipped gun, and the type of weapon matters. A sidearm will put Aiden into incognito mode and he’ll slip on his trademark mask so as to not be identified by cameras, police or random civilians, walking with the gun semi-hidden behind him. A larger weapon like a shotgun or rifle, can’t be hidden and people nearby will react in horror. Some may even pull out a phone and begin calling the police which you can then interrupt by taking their phone and smashing it. Holding down ‘L1’ brings up the inventory wheel. Aiden carries everything at all times, and each of the 8 points on the wheel can have multiple weapons, so selecting left or right lets players choose what weapon they want selected in each slot for quick access.
Of course, firearms and explosives are not Aiden’s most powerful and important weapon – it’s his smartphone that defines his abilities. Similar to Assassin’s Creed and the latest Far Cry, the open-world map (push the touchpad down on the PS4 to access) features hotspots where players can find stores (clothing, weapons, materials, etc.), mini-games (AR games and gambling, etc.), side-quests (blue icons), story missions and ctOS (Central Operating System that runs the city) hubs – the latter of which is key to unlocking content.
To open up the freeroam activities and see points of interest on the map, narrative stuff and additional information, players must infiltrate control centers (red icons on the map). Think of these as outposts from Far Cry 3 where they can be approached from any angle and accomplished in any way the player sees fit. Once unlocked, not only does the map reveal the details of that area, but Aiden can use his handy profiler.
While walking along the streets, pressing the ‘Square’ button pulls out his phone and begin scanning people as they walk by for information on them, their backgrounds and bank account info. It’s from this Aiden can access objects in the environment (i.e. street lights) and use cameras anywhere in the city. In areas where enemies are abound, cameras can be used to tag enemies based on the devices they’re carrying – it’s a more realistic and practical of way of tagging enemies like you can in Far Cry 3.
The phone is also used as a menu of sorts and pressing up on the D-Pad brings up a menu where players can access skill trees, the music player, options to call in an unlocked car, etc.
Page 2: Playing The ‘Watch Dogs’ Demo
Watch Dogs will be available for PC, PS3, PS4, Xbox 360 and Xbox One on May 27, 2014.
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