By Daniel Rutledge
Everyone who came out of the 2012 Ubisoft E3 media briefing was gushing about Watch Dogs, an entirely new gaming title which was a surprisingly well kept surprise.
As soon as the behind-closed-doors demonstration of it I enjoyed at the E3 expo started, it was easy to see why.
The game is mind blowing. It’s hard to believe it is to be released in current generation consoles, it looks so good, is so big and so finely detailed.
Conceptually the game builds on the idea of how much information there is about each of us lurking about on the internet.
Humans aren’t individuals in the game world’s massive network but rather data clusters who can be manipulated. Who controls the Central Operating System (ctOS), and what happens if it is hacked? This is the premise of Watch Dogs.
Players take control of Aiden, a man who has hacked the system. Much of the gampelay revolves around the way he can hack any electronic device and access information on anything.
In the E3 demo we saw him mess with traffic lights, eavesdrop on phone conversations, jam phone signals, control drawbridges and learn very private information about anybody he wanted to.
The city of Chicago is gorgeously realised. It’s graphically stunning and smoothly animated in a way that had many of us thinking it could only be released on future generation consoles.
Being an open-world third-person sandbox game, the developers told us that we could access any area we could see, whether it be sidewalk, bridge, window ledge or roof.
Aiden is also an expert fighter in both melee and firearm combat and, of course, had to use these abilities a lot in the E3 demo I watched. The animations around the violence were superb and included a ‘bullet-time’ slow-mo shooting ability. It wasn’t explained how Aiden was able to bend time like this, but it sure makes for stylish fun.
In the demo Aiden made his way to the Ambrose Theatre on the trail of some nefarious sounding dude. He gained access to the bar simply by jamming the mobile phone signal of the bouncer. The bouncer walked away from the door trying to get his signal back, turning his back on his job and letting Aiden just walk right in.
It looked cool, but seemed a little silly – why would the bouncer abandon his job just to continue a phone conversation?
Walking through the doors was a seamless change in location – there was no load time between areas and it looked fantastic inside. The stylish bar interior has smoke machines and very appropriate looking clientele, all brought to life with Watch Dogs’ impressive, powerful graphics engine.
Aiden chatted with an associate inside, someone he seemed to share an uncomfortable alliance with born out of common enemies. The other chap gave our antihero a gun and then left.
Shortly after this interaction, Aiden learns his target is on the way to the bar to confront him. Taking his leave, he has to bash a security guard on the way before stealing a car and getting into a chase which ended in a gunfight with the target and his henchmen.
This driving/street battle section had somewhat of a Grand Theft Auto feel to it, but the action has a style all its own and on the same stupendously high level as everything else in Watch Dogs.
It’s hard to say how great the whole game is going to be from the short eyes-on preview I had at E3, but what I saw played out was incredible.
And it gets better. The game can be played in conjunction with another mobile device to enhance the world it is set in.
At the E3 demonstration, lead story designer Kevin Short had his iPad displaying an interactive map of the city packed with information on characters and locations.
Short says this will also allow players to see which of their friends are playing Watch Dogs and how they are doing at the game.
And there’s co-op play. Very little was shown of this except a brief tease to show that it is another aspect of the game to look forward to.
By the end of E3, the Watch Dogs room had a number of ‘best in show’ badges adorning its door and there’s no question that it deserved them. It’s not out until 2013 but is way up the top of many people’s list of most highly anticipated upcoming games, including my own.