Watch Dogs E3 2012 Preview

Aiden Pierce slides across cover.

In this technological age, knowledge is power. The more you know, whether it be about people, places, or things, the better off you are. Combine all three, along with the wherewithal to use it to your advantage, and you have an incredibly skilled and dangerous individual. It’s something that the game industry has seen in real life thanks to the hacking attacks by Anonymous on Sony just over a year ago. Now, Ubisoft is taking that concept and applying it to a virtual world with Watch Dogs, and if the game’s E3 presentation is any indication, it could very well hack its way into a lot of gamers’ hearts.

This near-future, sci-fi setting bases itself very much in reality. Using the example of the Northeast blackout of 2003, Watch Dogs informs us that if a determined hacker with knowledge of a critical societal system wants to, he or she could bring blocks, boroughs, cities, regions, or even entire countries to their knees. This is made possible thanks to the conglomeration of information into massive digital networks, particularly ctOS (Central Operating System). Thanks to ctOS, people are just as accessible as these systems since we too are included in this network. Any determined hacker can get behind security measures and find out the “digital shadow” left behind detailing someone’s personal information, ranging from credit card and employment status to dark secrets.

The game demo follows one of these hackers, Aiden Pierce, as he sets out to hunt down and kill Joseph DeMarco, a media mogul who had been acquitted of conspiracy, perjury, and the solicitation of murder. After a brief cutscene shows the target with Pierce voicing his disdain and desire to expose him, the game seamlessly transitions into actual gameplay to show its immense graphical power. Dressed in a baseball cap and brown leather trench coat, our protagonist saunters his way down the streets of Chicago to a theater hosting an event in DeMarco’s name.

Upon reaching the theater, we get our first look at one of the primary game mechanics for Watch Dogs: our character’s cell phone. Accessing the phone will give players a look at the digital shadows of those around them while also allowing for the hacking of bridges, trains, cars, communications, stop lights, and more. Anyone who has a symbol with three arrows above their heads is susceptible to hacking via their electronic devices. Pierce takes advantage of this opportunity and disrupts the calls on the phones of the bouncers working the event, allowing him to slip by them undetected.

 Your cell phone is your biggest ally in Watch Dogs.

We then discover that our hacker’s plan isn’t to find DeMarco at his art gala, but instead lure him in with his presence. After another seamless slip into a cutscene to show our man meeting with a contact to obtain a pistol, Pierce finds DeMarco’s employee at the exhibit via gameplay. Here, we are introduced to more of the cell phone’s scanning power. Each person we look at in this scanning mode gives us each NPC’s name, age, income, and an interesting fact about the person – HIV positive, foster parent, denied loans, etc. It’s also at this time that I notice displays in the lower left corner of the screen for Pierce’s phone’s battery level and what task the phone is currently set to perform.

Once the employee is found, our hacker listens in on her conversation with DeMarco, who has taken the bait and sent security to snag him. With the target on his way, Pierce scans around to find the guards in the crowd, which is determined not just by their fun fact through the scanner but also through the violence probability meter. This meter allows the player to know how close an enemy is to attacking at any given moment. After avoiding one guard, a second is discovered blocking Pierce’s exit. Before his probability rises high enough for him to strike, our protagonist whips out a retractable baton and beats the brute to the ground with it.

Now outside and knowing that DeMarco is on his way, Pierce walks to the intersection the target is set to cross. Whipping out his pistol and covering his face, the hacker switches his phone to stop light interference. He turns all lights in the intersection green just as DeMarco is about to drive through, causing a multi-car collision at the crossing. However, the target and his hired protection aren’t willing to go down so easily, as the goons open fire upon exiting the vehicle.

Right as we get our first taste of gunplay for Watch Dogs, we are immediately introduced to the game’s version of bullet-time. Everything slows as Pierce delivers a few quick bullets to a pair of DeMarco’s guards, dropping them before the game reverts to normal speed. Still taking fire from one last guard, our hacker takes cover behind one of the crashed vehicles. Inside the car, a civilian panics as his female driver – likely a spouse or good friend – lies slumped in her seat from a stray bullet. Not wanting the man to suffer the same fate, Pierce opens the door and rescues the man, telling him to flee. Here is also a good time to point out that once a weapon is selected, it will find itself a spot on the HUD in the lower left corner while the map shows on the lower right whenever traversing the city. On that map, red indicates enemies, blue represents mission objectives, and white identifies points of interest.

Pierce isn't all cell-using hacker.

This is made relevant as a car filled with more thugs arrives on the scene. The four of them fan out among the damaged vehicles, each with their own red dot. Pierce shows finesse in moving over cover as he rolls over one hood after dropping an enemy, then slides across a second while shooting another guard in the face. After picking up the dead man’s assault rifle, our hacker downs the remaining foes, but not before a flaming gas station – victim to a stray car from the wreck – blows its gasoline reserves in a fiery blaze.

With only DeMarco left, Pierce shatters the window to his car and drags him out. DeMarco tries to bargain for his life, but Pierce won’t have it, shooting him in the face as a “message.” Though the target is eliminated, the police have been alerted to the obvious scene caused. As the player character gets inside a sports car and attempts to flee while jumping a hacked bridge, the camera pans to the rooftops, showing another hacker. This isn’t just any hacker however; it’s another player that had been tasked with protecting Pierce and ensuring his escape. As the demo ends and zooms out on the city, indicators show several different players in different portions of the game world; hinting that Watch Dogs will be able to deliver this impressive single-player experience to several people at the same time in one world.


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Author: Mike Murphy View all posts by
Mike has been playing games for over two decades. His earliest memories are of shooting ducks and stomping goombas on NES, and over the years, the hobby became one of his biggest passions. Mike has worked with GamerNode as a writer and editor since 2009, giving you news, reviews, previews, a voice on the VS Node Podcast, and much more.

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