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E3 2012: Watch Dogs [Preview]

8 Jun 2012  by   John Robertson

For many, Watch Dogs is the big surprise of E3 2012. Revealed during Ubisoft’s press conference and being created by Ubisoft Montreal, Watch Dogs has supposedly been in production for more than two years. Just how Ubisoft managed to keep a secret for that long, in an industry famously bad at keeping secrets, is anyone’s guess. Bribes and assassinations are not beyond the realms of possibility.

So, Watch Dogs, what is it?

Well, it’s being promoted as an action-adventure game. But then, what isn’t nowadays? It’s set in an open-world, present day Chicago (no, not the future as we originally thought) and follows the story of Aidan Pearce. Pearce, according to developer’s Ubisoft Montreal, is a man “shaped by violence and obsessed with surveillance.” Sounds like the guy I jog past in the park that’s always wearing that long coat and devilish grin.

The key feature being shown off at this year’s show is Pearce’s ability to hack into anything connected to a network – be it WiFi, wired, cellular etc. During the demo we saw Pearce tap into cell phones and a set of traffic lights, but laptops, public communication systems and more are also promised to be shown off in future.

Apparently, every person in the city can be tapped into if they’re carrying an electronic, network-enabled, device. The idea is to move away from the typical open-world draw backs of a large population but with little personality or individuality. Tapping a person’s phone, for example, allows you to see their name, their current job and listen to their conversations.

 

Exploring these people’s lives will be key to the experience, we’re told, and it’s up to you how far you want to take that with each individual. How true this is has yet to be revealed, as the demo on show hints at what is (hopefully) only a tiny slither of the possibilities.

The demo begins with Pearce infiltrating a charity event being hosted by media mogul Joseph DeMarco, it’s taking place in a busy theatre with plenty of opportunity for hacking phones. Hacking one particular phone gives Pearce the info that DeMarco’s man have spotted him and that it’s time to get out of there. Shame, he’s only just arrived and the party looks plush.

On his way out a cut-scene kicks in as Pearce walks past a certain character wearing a daper grey suit and red shirt. If you’ve played Max Payne 3, the way cut-scenes seem to blend in and out of gameplay will be very familiar to you. Like Max Payne 3, it’s a tool that gives Watch Dogs a fluid, streamlined feel and should prevent a disconnection between pure-gameplay and pure-story.

The conversation plays out without you inputing any dialogue options, so it’s unclear whether or not you’ll be able to make big changes to the way the story plays out.

Conversation over, Pearce leaves the club, but not before being accosted by a bouncer and getting himself in a fight. Combat seems to be focused on style rather than complicated button prompts or learning combos. The fight sequence lasts for only a couple of quick-strike attacks, which helps give it a more realistic look. Because we weren’t in control of the pad, we can’t weigh in on how it feels or how difficult it is to execute.

Outside the theatre it has started raining, it’s gotten dark and the city’s inhabitants are wrapped up in warmer clothes and/or carrying umbrellas. Here Pearce hacks into a set of traffic lights and causes a multi-car accident, the perfect way of setting up an obstacle to slow down his pursuers.

It’s here the visuals look most incredible and makes you wonder just how current gen consoles (particularly the 360) are going to manage. The build we’re seeing is running on a PC with an unknown setup, but it must be very powerful.

Ubisoft Montreal have built their own engine for Watch Dogs, which must have taken up the bulk of the two year development time thus far. We’re told that it’s going to be well over a year before the game is ready to be released.

Finishing off the demo is a sneak peek at how multiplayer could possibly work, with hints that other players will be able to exist within the same city and have the ability to monitor your actions in the same way that you’re doing yourself with the game’s NPC population.

Ubisoft said that other players may well have their own objectives and that they may contradict those of Pearce. While the details are still very shaky, the goal is to connect single and multiplayer into one seamless experience. However, if Aidan Pearce is the game’s single player protagonist, and other players will be able to exist in the same city, getting the “seamless experience” bit right sounds like a tough job. How, for example, will single and multiplayer remain seamless as you jump between different characters?

Surely there can only be one Pearce in each city? Maybe not.

Conclusion: Watch Dogs looks and sounds good, but the E3 2012 reveal has brought more questions than answers.

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