Jun 18, 2013

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E3 Preview: Watch Dogs

E3 Preview: Watch Dogs

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At E3, I got the opportunity to watch two live demos of Watch Dogs, one of the most anticipated titles of the holiday season, one at the Sony booth and the other at the Ubisoft booth. Sadly, the developers weren’t letting anyone have hands-on time with the title, but even just seeing the live demos was enough to nudge me from “interested” to “sold.”

The first demo, at the Sony booth, offered a nice introduction to the basic mechanics of the game, along with revealing one of the new elements–tablet interactivity. Before you cringe, let me explain. A free companion app (for iOS and Android) will launch alongside the game and enable those using it to hop into someone else’s live game and assist them in their adventure. The principle of the game is that anything can be hacked, and you play as a modern vigilante named Aidan who uses his smartphone as he tromps around Chicago avoiding the police and helping those in need. In this demo, one of Aidan’s friends has gotten himself into some trouble, and you have to help him escape.

The developer showed off some of Aidan’s tricks, such as hacking into security cameras to give you a bird’s-eye view to better avoid detection. Additionally, you can hack remotely to distract enemies–in this case, into the apartment in which you find your trapped friend–allowing him to leave while the enemies are drawn elsewhere. If you’re really stuck, you can request help from a mobile player–someone playing the app I mentioned earlier. This player could be anywhere, but they will get a view of the map around you and can hack to help clear a path for you to escape. For example, in this demo, a police helicopter had its sights set on Aidan, and the mobile player was able to disable the chopper, giving him an escape route. In this case, it turned out to be a speedboat. Yes, you can pretty much drive anything in the game apparently, including boats and an assortment of vehicles.

While the first demo showed off a mission, the second, at the Ubisoft booth, focused more on the free-roaming element of the game. In this demo, Aidan finds himself in the Wards, a poorer area of the city. At the start of the demo, he hasn’t yet hacked into the ctOS–the government-installed OS that is unique to each section of town. This means that until he does so, his ability to hack is limited. So Aidan’s first goal in this section is to break into the heavily-guarded area securing the ctOS mainframe, install the backdoor, and then go on his way freely able to hack this region.

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As in the earlier demo, you can use your hacking skills to create distractions. In this case, a hack to cause the gate to open, which leaves the guard vulnerable for you to take out silently. This demo also showed off some of the weapons and items Aidan can make, including a homemade IED, which you throw, then hack to explode when you want it to. Once you’re in the ctOS, you can hack everything in an area, including the crime recognition system, which allows you to identify potential victims and aggressors. A little pop-up will indicate which a person is, along with the probability that they’ll engage in or be a victim of a crime. With this tool, you can exercise the vigilante muscles a bit more, deciding when and how you intervene. The demo showed Aidan interfering in a crime by taking out the would-be bad guy. Taking out bad guys non-lethally, such as hacking into traffic lights or road blocks to affect traffic, causing him to crash his car. This adds to your rep. Next, the demo introduced us a bit to the economy system by taking us to a gun shop. Here, we could see how nearly any kind of gun type you’d like is available (assault, shotguns, handguns, etc.). Pawn shops (which we didn’t go into, but passed) are a good place to pick up parts to make things like the IED we used earlier.

While in the shop, a TV broadcast shows his photo, and the shopkeeper recognizes him, hitting a silent alarm to notify the police. You can either chose to simply escape, or, even better–prevent the police from dispatching officers by hacking into their system. That threat averted, it’s time to get some cash, having spent it all on weapons earlier. The demo had Aidan hack into a WiFi box by following the trail router to router until it led him to a PC in a home or office–in this case, a family’s residence. Here, we can see a cellphone with debit card info. You can leave it alone, or you can steal the debit card info (indicated by an icon of a card above the phone), then go to an ATM and withdraw the cash.

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In this example, karma seems to have hit our player, as just as he does so, he realizes someone is trying to install a virus on his phone and hack him! It turns out the hacker is another player, and, in one of the best parts of the demo, a curtain is pulled away to reveal another person has been playing the game the entire time. Drop-in, drop-out multiplayer is another neat function of Watch Dogs. Your goal is to find the player, then try to hack him, too. In our example, he got away initially, but then was killed him. That wasn’t entirely the goal, but at least he was prevented from hacking into the phone.

These two thirty-minute samples were enough to thoroughly excite me for the finished product, which is expected to launch near the release of the PS4 and Xbox One, although it will also be available for Wii U, PC, PS3, and 360. Stay tuned to Vivid Gamer for more previews from E3.