Ubisoft didn’t have Watch Dogs playable on the show floor at PAX East, but the game still had an enormous presence. The publisher showed a special behind-closed-doors presentation of the game, which included a special Watch Dogs lanyard as a giveaway (and if you were wearing it on the show floor, you may have gotten a surprise visit from a Frag Doll with a free t-shirt). I would have much preferred being able to play the game myself, but what I saw on the screen was a somewhat impressive, if disappointingly short, display of the capabilities of main character Aiden Pearce.
Platforms: PC, PS3, PS4, Wii U, Xbox 360
Developer: Ubisoft Montreal, Ubisoft Reflections, Ubisoft Romania
Genre: Open-World Planet Hacker
Release Date: Fall 2013
ESRB Rating: Rating Pending
Watch Dogs take place in Chicago, Illinois, in a future in which cities are run on a computer system called Central Operating System, or CtOS. Aiden Pearce is a known hacker who is wanted for his criminal activity against the system. In the game, you’ll be playing as Aiden, making your way through the city and manipulating the system as you go. Ubisoft showed two videos during their behind-closed-doors presentation. The first was very similar to the video shown at the PS4 reveal in February. The second, which was brand new, showed the CtOS in action in its battle against Aiden.
Ubisoft has been boasting that Watch Dogs would be completely open world, giving the player full access to Chicago’s CtOS. In the first video, Aiden was being watched by someone else – as he traversed the city, he noticed that cameras were focusing in on him, and an unknown entity (in actuality, another player) was monitoring his presence. This hyper-real, technical game of cat and mouse is something we’ll be able to explore more in the game. The second video, told through the lens of the CtOS, showed just how other players will be able to track Aiden.
By tapping into CtOS, Aiden can access full records on the people he’s watching, as well as statistical information on whether or not a crime is likely to befall this Chicago citizen in the near future. The example shown was a man and a woman meeting in an alley – the woman had just filed for custody of their child, so the chance of him performing violence against her was high. As the player, you have a choice as to whether or not you want to get involved in the situation – risking your own life to save others. It’s very similar to the plot of the show Person of Interest, where a computer determines who is most likely to be the victim of a crime, and an official saves them – only in this situation, you get to be the person who chooses if you want to intervene or not.
This isn’t the only way you can get involved with the people around you. Aiden has a lot of power – the power to spy, the power to manipulate, and the power to destroy. When on the run, Aiden can tap into the system and make changes on the fly, including tampering with traffic lights. In the ensuing accidents, innocent people can get hurt, and the player has the option to help those people – or let them die. So far, Aiden has been portrayed as an anti-hero, seen more as a dark character with access to unimaginable power. But Ubisoft revealed another facet of his character, explaining that the main plotline will involve a threat to his family, fleshing his personality out more and giving clues as to why he is using his power in this way.
Watch Dogs has an organic feel to it that brings a new flavor to open world games. But is your ability to choose really this free? It’s hard to tell from these early videos whether or not the scenes and situations are scripted, or if you really can go to any part of the map and start messing with controls anywhere you want. Even if they are pre-set into the game, the premise itself is interesting enough to carry Watch Dogs into our living rooms at the end of the year.
Watch Dogs will be available for the PC, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Wii U, and Xbox 360 in time for the holiday season.