What are we thinking? What do we believe in? This will be shown to us by Watch Dogs. This adventure, set in a completely networked open-world, has the potential to be something very special indeed.
Everything can be hacked in Chicago, by Aiden Pearce. The protagonist in Watch Dogs is a hero in full control. Born in a lousy corner of the city he grew up in as a petty criminal - he now has a problem. He has full access to the city through his powerful smartphone. The city has for years been completely externally controlled by CTOS. The computer system manages the records of all; of subways, traffic lights, ATMs, cameras inside and outside of buildings, the very lives of the people.
Aiden knows this - and uses it. He protects his family, unfortunately he does this too much. He stalks his sister, always monitoring her. At first only her house, then her life in the whole city. His tragedy is that he knows too much and sees too much. His story in the game is told in a pretty linear fashion. There will not be ten endings, no infinite amount of story-lines. The narrative may follow a straight line, the rest of the game doesn't. Aiden's motive is revenge for a death, and he wants to atone for it by directing the city as a weapon against itself. On his way there are many options. All actions in the game world contribute to the story, but they don't change it completely.
It almost seems as if Watch Dogs could succeed in being the first video game that really associates so many thing with each other. Although Ubisoft uses the saying "Everything is connected to everything," during the whole day of the presentation in Paris, this is certainly going a bit too far. But the options in the game seem to be almost overflowing. Creative Director Jonathan Morin has interesting words to describe his game: "Watch Dogs is like a painting, because they are at the end like a video game - static, but open to interpretation."
Everything should, therefore, affect everything else. The weather, time of day, the people, all of the characters running around in the city should fit into this world, to make it understandable and believable. People open umbrellas when it rains. When the wind is blowing the rain should believably splash against Pearce's chic trench coat as it billows around. We can at all times be an unrestrained spy, via the profiler inside the powerful smartphone, using it to browse people's lives.
Everything is connected to everything - and we can actually actively influence quite a lot. Jonathan Morin calls it the creation of an action movie, but he says at the same that action must not be, but can be. Traveling in stealth mode, or being totally passive, is also possible. This is visible in the live Free Roam demo that is being played out in front of us. As he passes by people, Pearce scans them, but this is only possible if he has power in his smartphone. If Connectivity is missing, we need to establish it first. For this purpose, we need "only" hack into the CTOS distributed hubs in Chicago, to unlock the power grid and thus the relevant part of the map.
The hubs are well secured. This can be seen quickly by a hack in one of the surveillance cameras, which also provides us with profile information. One could now proceed to smoothly and quietly stun a guard from behind so as to find a way to the interface that you have to hack. Or you can simply wade in with full military force. Alternatively you can stay out of the way in a secure position and try to deliver the hack via skillful interplay with surveillance cameras. Or all of the elements combine, for a mission fails only when Aiden Pearce dies. Otherwise Freestyle is possible, it's even part of the concept.
The game is based on four elements: chases on foot and in cars, as well as battles with guns and objects, plus the hacks - and everything can be combined (relatively) seamlessly. Using the focus function puts the game in slow motion. We can, for instance, shoot three types of projectile, or drift in and out of heavy traffic with ease. Focus is designed to utilise the skills of the character and "learn the language of the game," says Morin. The entire game is designed so we learn to use all the possibilities of all the dynamic objects. To play the game the way we want to, to make it our own.
All game elements should work equally well. The driving is "very convincing," promises Morin, "not on the level of a simulation, but it is very convincing." I believe the man, because the detail can be seen in many places. There is completely correct simulated wind blowing in Chicago, which affects the rides, the trajectory of bullets, or the water splashing from puddles. The cars look fantastic, by the way. A trashed Camaro with paint damage rests at the roadside in the run-down suburb. Exhaust gases waft from the pipes of waiting cars. When we race off in a roar, it's inside a cloud of exhaust smoke and tire rubber. Lovely. These are just details, "but we like them, they are our mantra and they just make a difference." I fully agree.
Everything and everyone is connected to everything. The phrase could actually be real. The missions in the main story are organic, and they're largely open, depending on how we act. There are many ways to reach the end of the game. Over 100 classic missions wait, even if Jonathan Morin, doesn't like the word "mission". Watch Dogs just happens, it will show us who we are - simply by how we play.
And that's just the first level. Because even the players themselves are interconnected. The developers plan that the solo and multiplayer parts of the game (and players on mobile platforms) are connected with one another - often without the player even really noticing it. We will help each other or stand in each other's way, chasing us while we think it is simply a guy controlled by the CPU. "And then you realize that it is not the case," says Morin and goes for an euphoric grin. No specific multiplayer modes were shown, only an augmented reality game called Invasion. This can be purchased in the App Store of the smartphone in the game. Then we can play as Aiden Pearce in a brightly coloured augmented reality game against real players in multiplayer in the normal game world. Just an example of how crazy Watch Dogs can be when you think about it. Of course, there are leader boards, and the potential to get lost with this causal side game. Just like in real life.
It is not the only app. Spot-a-song makes it possible henceforth to scan music we hear somewhere in the game world and then unlock it for our playlist. Since Chicago is not only known as the city best equipped with surveillance cameras, but also as the nucleus of techno in the U.S., we can look forward to nice tunes. You can of course also buy some with in-game currency. The Wall gives us access to a social network. City hot spots lead us to interesting points, and the Dedsec Survival Guide provides an ironic tutorial. Challenges and Contracts are also available over the phone, though what exactly is behind them remains unclear.
When we travel around with Aiden Pearce in a rundown suburb, the hero shoots his gun around aimlessly. Only for demonstration purposes of course. If you shoot and threaten people you get into trouble. Passers-by will call the police immediately. You can snatch the phone from them in order to defuse the untenable position. Fleeing works too. Shooting people is another option. Or you can wait and look for the inevitable confrontation with the police, which quickly leads to long escape sequences, either in car or on foot.
Once we took off, there were many possibilities. There are pawnshops where we can sell and make things. From chemicals to electronics, we build the special items that occupy the diagonal spots on the Selection Wheel and serve to provide additional solutions for missions. The weapons are left, right, up, down - and in the shops we find all you would normally see in a modern shooter. We can, of course, pick up guns from downed opponents. If we killed them with a head shot, there's also special experience points to be had. All actions in the game influence our reputation, which in turn affects how the world reacts to us.
We can interact with buildings, to learn about the history of the city and the individual properties, and what the people that dwell within are up to. They can be watched by surveillance cameras and, for example, we can steal their number plates to sell them later and unlock that type of car for our own use. In these houses you see everything from nice moments to disgusting things, like a guy who prefers relationships with life-size mannequins. Yikes...
As packed and overflowing with possibilities Watch Dogs may seem, there remain questions. How accurate and how clever will the integration of single player, multiplayer and mobile players be? Will the game fail by wanting too much at once? The linearity of the story in an open world game makes sense, but the game could also end up being fatally boring. Hack while driving and fleeing, making crossings appear to block pursuers, or opening garage doors, is nice once or twice. However, it will also repeat itself regularly. Repetition might be the biggest problem. With the smart phone in hand it feels powerful to scan other players and see their lives, but it might also become annoying quickly. We've a while to wait before we find out either way.