Sandbox behemoths like Grand Theft Auto always make me feel like that genre is all-inclusive. Aspects of just about everything are covered, with little room for improvement – it’s hard to be ingenious and unique enough to make a game that breaks free from the monopoly that Rockstar Games have established through amazing design.
Watch_Dogs, on the other hand, looks amazing.
You play Aiden Pearce, a gifted hacker and rather bad-ass individual (think 21st century Ezio) who has the ability to hack just about anything around him. As you traverse the city of Chicago, you take advantage of the Central Operating System (ctOS) which governs and controls everything from cameras to streetlights to speeding bollards. I’m sure the videos available of current gameplay are only scratching the surface on what you can do, and even they are impressive. On release I expect to be able to cause a biblical stock market crash from my smartphone.
And that’s really where the magic takes place – your phone. Whereas the old adage of the pen being mightier than the sword might be a little outdated, the phone being mightier than the combined forces of the Chicago Police Department seems much more fitting. With good timing and an understanding of the mechanics, you’ll be untouchable. Manipulating the traffic lights can cause massive pile-ups which render the roads unusable, street lamps and light fixtures can be overloaded to cause distractions and let you sneak about unnoticed. Car alarms can be wired to piss off that neighbour who plays Nickelback at 3am. The open-ended possibilities leave a lot of room for exploration.
Naturally, not every situation is likely to be solved by your phone, unless you’re a good throw. Aiden is no stranger to violence, and packs both a baton and a pistol to dispatch anyone who gets in his or his accomplices’ way. Even though combat is not a central focus for the game, it still gets a good look in and lets you do some nasty takedowns. Roughly five minutes in on the E3 gameplay footage and you see a thug being taken down and executed, and shortly after a miniature shoot-out akin to the VATS function on Fallout. Glad shooting the joint up is a feature and not an addition.
One thing I hope they do focus on is the population. No, I don’t mean deep and sentimental character backgrounds for each pedestrian I brush past, but rather just them being there. Nothing detracts from the immersive feel of a city more than it being emptier than Joey Barton’s morals. I want to see people moving, living and understanding the world, each one possibly about to recognise me and blow my cover. The Elder Scrolls series is an example of a game which has always suffered from a lack of population density, although they have addressed it more and more as the games have advanced. It’s a bit like having the outer fringes of the family present at a wedding – you don’t need to do or say anything, you just need to be there.
You also see towards the end of the video the inclusion of someone helping Aiden out from a tablet. Yeah, that’s right. Even if you don’t own a full copy of the game, it is possible for iOS and Android users to answer your request for help if you’re caught in a sticky situation. A push notification is sent via your console/PC’s WiFi, and they can respond by seeing a blueprint of your situation and doing some hacking. You’re even able to type messages (which you can make out in the video when Aiden steps out onto the dock), have a nose around somebody’s user account and send gifts, something Ubisoft haven’t clarified entirely as of yet. Knowing the trajectory of social networking, we’ll likely see an abundance of funny looking cats appearing on our in-game smartphones shortly after release.
If yet more coercion is needed to convince you that Watch_Dogs will be a sound investment, there is the allure of multiplayer. In a video that I just watched this morning, you can see how the concept might work, at least in a basic sense.
The availability of you being hacked can be turned off whenever you feel like, and will temporarily be turned off during missions. Other than that, you will always be open to attack from other players, which adds a whole new element of espionage to the occasion. No information has really been released about what hacking someone does as the video seems to have been an unintended leak. Either way, you can choose to lend a hand to a friend by hacking certain infrastructure, or you can ruin their day by hacking them instead. Or alternatively have your day ruined when they find you and plaster your noodle all over the sidewalk. Swings and roundabouts.
The game looks set to be released November 22nd, and I for one am going to have to try really hard not to fail my degree when I get my mitts on it.