by Jonathan Ottman, contributor
After being blown away at E3 2012 by Watch Dogs, I wasn't so surprised to see it once again grace E3 with a commanding presence. As we already know, Ubisoft’s open-world title takes place in a near-future Chicago, where the entire city is connected to the CTos, which integrates everything: cellphones, cameras, public transportation, stoplights, even road blockers. Originally put in place to help the population with technological convenience, it is now used as a means of control that violates many rights and freedoms and is used to control the very population that depends on it.
You play as Aiden Pearce, a hacker and former street thug, for whom a tragic family incident has changed his personal goals. Playing the part of an anti-hero, Aiden works his way through the game with his own sense of justice, dishing out punishment to the targets he picks for his revenge. With his ability to hack into any number of devices from his smartphone, he manipulates the CTos, turning the entire city of Chicago into a formidable weapon. From hacking a stoplight to cause a massive pileup to popping up road blockers to stop police pursuits--it's all second-nature to Aiden, who's ridiculously skilled at what he does.
As with other open-world games (inFamous in particular comes to mind), you have the ability to walk around and stumble upon side missions. In Watch Dogs, these usually consist of some kind of dilemma where you can choose to intervene or just walk on by. In a demo shown at E3, Aiden comes across a man who is lying in wait for an ex-girlfriend. The Ubisoft developer chooses to stay and observe the situation as it unfolds. You have a notification system that tells you how likely a situation is going to escalate to violence, and after a bit of conversation, the man starts to assault the woman.
Aiden interferes and pursues the fleeing man, eventually causing a high-speed chase. Using his ability to hack various objects, he stops the man from escaping. This situation then results in a reputation increase--over time, Aiden can prove to the citizens that he may not be such a bad guy. The reputation system affects how people react to you, which in turn helps with an economy that yields new weapons to craft and purchase. As long as Ubisoft keeps these interesting and above Assassin’s Creed levels of repetition, the game experience should benefit from these random encounters. Plentiful variety will keep these instances interesting and engaging.
All of this takes place in a recreation of Chicago that is filled with life and stunning visuals. These streets being littered with people, you have plenty of opportunity to interact with NPCs. Whether it be hacking their phone for bank account information or saving them from random acts of crime, there's an array of possible gameplay scenarios. All of this leads to a main point with Watch Dogs: choice. You have the ability to choose to interact with people. Taking a stealthy route to your target, ignoring a mugging, or chasing down an offender--all of this adds to the complexity of the very well-thought-out and attractively rendered city.
For those of you that like multiplayer, Watch Dogs also offers an innovative type of multiplayer gameplay. Other players have the ability to jump into your game and steal information that is on Aiden's smartphone. Once the intruder has located your Aiden, they can start a download process that notifies you of the hack-in-progress. As Aiden, you must then go to the hacker's location and attempt to spot them among NPCs and city hubris. The intruder looks like an everyday citizen, so if they act as such it will be much harder to find them.
Once spotted, the hacker must escape while you, as Aiden, give chase with your full arsenal and skillset. If you fail to stop the intruder, don’t worry--Aiden has the chance to reverse the process and hack them as a form of revenge. The idea looks and sounds fun; however, it remains to be seen whether the connectivity will blend well with traditionally isolated open-world gameplay.
So with a strong single-player campaign, a different kind of multiplayer, random side quests to entertain you, and a Chicago that's not far removed from our own, Watch Dogs is shaping up to be an excellent next-gen launch title. Whether you decide to play straight through the main story, find as many side missions as you can, or just walk around a beautifully rendered city, odds are you'll find something compelling to do when Watch Dogs launches alongside your shiny new PlayStation 4 (or your still-kicking PS3) this holiday season.