Preview: WATCH DOGS managed to take everyone by surprise at this year’s E3. We take a look at what we know so far about the ambitious hack-’em-up, and can’t help but come away excited.
Nobody is a bad guy in their own mind. Only the perception of others colours your actions. So when Aiden Pearce causes a pileup on a crowded Chicago intersection and initiates a shootout that results in the death of innocent bystanders, he believes he’s doing it for a good reason.
That’s a scene from Ubisoft’s unexpected but very welcome Watch Dogs demonstration, our first glimpse at a contemporary world governed by information and those who have access to it. It spins off a version of Chicago that reacted to the Northeastern blackout of 2003 by consolidating all computerised systems into a supercomputer called CtOS (Central Operating System).
Managed mostly by private companies, CtOS is responsible for the day-to-day activities of the city, but it also amasses a disconcertingly deep level of information on its citizens. Watch Dogs’ protagonist, Aiden Pearce, is a hacker who can freely access all of CtOS and use it to his advantage.
Pearce is trying to expose CtOS for the Orwellian surveillance tool that it is by using it in that exact fashion. Why? Because his loved ones were affected, and now he’s striking back. How? That one’s entirely up to you.
Aiden’s primary weapon is the Profiler, a modified cell phone that he can use to hack into every piece of technology connected to CtOS. This allows him to change traffic lights, operate drawbridges, divert train routes, and jam cellular reception, among other things. These tools turn the city into Aiden’s playground.
Profiler? I hardly know her!
In the E3 demo, Aiden is on the hunt for Joseph Demarco, a media mogul who was wrongfully acquitted of murder charges. Using the Profiler, he manages to infiltrate Demarco’s art exhibit and trick the man into coming to him. With a well-timed manipulation of a traffic light, Aiden causes a massive pileup that traps Demarco’s car.
The Profiler isn’t Aiden’s only offensive capability, as he’s quick to engage Demarco’s bodyguards in a firefight and take out the man himself with a single gunshot. While the pileup looks suitably scripted, Ubisoft have assured that it’s but one of the ways to deal with Demarco. Another would be to let him pull into the parking lot and ambushing him there, minimising the risk for civilian casualties.
This choice then affects Aiden’s moral compass. Several visitors at Demarco’s exhibit seemed to recognise and be wary of Pearce, hinting at some form of notoriety gauge that will change depending on the nature of his actions.
Side missions can also feed into Aiden’s morality. What if the Profiler identifies a random passerby as a convicted rapist? What if you then see that passerby following a woman into a dark alley? If you choose to act at all, there’s always the possibility of misinterpretation.
Aiden won’t have to go it alone either, but he may wish he could. Watch Dogs will incorporate a blend of single- and multiplayer that sees players operating within the same city, and not always towards the same goal. The exact nature of this online component is as yet unclear, but it involves Watch Dogs spreading itself across multiple platforms that reinforce one another.
Hack the planet
For instance, a Ubisoft developer used an iPad to show a mobile app with a base overlay of the Chicago as it exists in Watch Dogs. The isometric view reflects Aiden’s actions in real-time, allowing you to track targets and scout locations.
The social aspect comes into play here as well, as the app allows you to see how your friends are doing. As long as they’ve given permission, you can interfere with their game too. Is one of your friends making a getaway in a stolen car? Change the lights ahead of them and watch them get stuck in a pileup.
This is only one of the designs that feed into the overarching theme of information warfare. Watch Dogs looks to be one of those rare games that’s built from the ground up around a single theme and actually says something about it (as Deus Ex: Human Revolution did with transhumanism).
If that isn’t enough for longevity and staying power, there’s also Ubisoft’s coy remarks about Watch Dogs bleeding into the next generation of consoles. Like CtOS itself, we may soon find that Watch Dogs is everywhere and all at once.
Watch Dogs, from Ubisoft, will be released in 2013 for Xbox 360, PS3, and PC (and possible next-gen consoles as well)