One of the United States' hot button issues in the first half of 2013 was the news of the National Security Agency having access and insight into a fair amount of data via companies such as Verizon, Microsoft and so on. Those who feared they were being watched were, from a certain pint of view, were proven correct. The topic goes far beyond what should be explained here. Even so, Ubisoft’s Watch Dogs, a game that showcases surveillance and the different issues surrounding privacy invasion and information warfare, seems all too appropriate for this year. On the floor at Comic Con International, I was able to see a CCI exclusive demo of dynamic gameplay.
Watch Dogs places you into the shoes of Aiden Pierce, an incredibly tech savvy vigilante who can hack into various devices connected to a futuristic Chicago’s Central Operating System (CtOS). This system was put into place by the city’s government to help facilitate communication, improve traffic conditions, assist police operations and so on. As a result, more people have online capabilities and crime rates have dropped as the police have been able to use predictive tools to help curb activity. However, it’s also given rise to surveillance abuse and shadier behavior. Within this world, as Aiden, you'll use your skills to turn into a true vigilante or a seedy criminal. It all depends on what actions you take and how the game's citzens and media will react.
The demo shown was not a specific mission in Watch Dogs. Rather, it was explained to be randomly generated activity by the game itself. It’s an open world setting and so the Ubisoft Montreal developed Chicago will live and breathe around you. People will mill around their daily lives as they normally would. As you pass by citizens within a monitorable area, you'll see quick profiles pop up. The person on your right is a yoga instructor; the one on your left is a teacher. Others will get tagged as potential criminals. Aiden has the ability to hack into nearly every device connected to CtOS. You may want to steal the bank info of that yoga instructor; that’s a moral gray line issue I'll explain a bit later. But say you spot a potential victim. You can use the area's technology, such as cameras, to gain better insight into a situation before diving in.
During the demo, Aiden was taken into a neighborhood with heightened chances of criminal activity. However, he didn’t have access to hack certain devices because the district's CtOS was still locked down. Unlocking a disctrict's CtOS requires hacking into the local station, which is what Aiden was tasked with. Our demo controller showed what it's like to use incredibly stealthy moves and more not so subtle approaches. Aiden slipped his way over the wall and hacked a radio controller forklift to distract a guard and silenty taken him down. He climbed up on the roofs and used the station's cameras to get a better read on where the remaining guards were. At that point, stealth was soon ditched for a brief shoot-em-up. Aiden hacked into some of the building’s security features to bring up cover for himself and successfully flee.
With the district now fully hackable, Aiden tracked down a potential victim in the area. Stepping in to make a difference is appears to be optional (we could not determine what the result of taking no action is). In this case, the demo controller had Aiden intervene and stop a robbery; the controller explained that criminals reactions will be randomized. This would be thief decided to make a run for it and it led to a car chase. Aiden was able to hacked a set of pop-up barricades to force a car crash. Stopping the crime and not killing the thief resulted in positive reputation being earned. .
This is where Aiden can be taken into different paths. The media and public will have insight into your actions. If your actions resemble that of a hacker pseudo-Batman, they’ll respect your actions and remain supportive. Killing criminals and making brutal decisions will paint you in a bad light and you have a harder time completing your tasks. Some activity will blur the lines and test your moral compass. As Aiden was snooping around, he was able to find unattended bank information and was promptly made to steal it. This is an unseen crime, so you won’t have your reputation affected; you'll just have to decide whether you feel comfortable doing so. However, in the middle of this, we got a look into how the game’s multiplayer will work.
The demo controller used Aiden to access an ATM with the stolen data and soon another hacker began to hack Aiden himself. After all, Aiden is not the only one in town with hacker skills. This put the demo controller to evade the hacking. You’ll have the choice to simply evade or evade and retaliate. The demo controller retaliated. After successfully evading the hacking, he attempted to hack the hacker back, which is accomplished from hidden spots. Aiden was discovered and this turned into another chase. The enemy hacker initially got away, but you’ll be able to use the entire city’s network to see whether the hacker pops up anywhere else. When he did, Aiden gave chase yet again and killed the hacker. The evasion was considered a "success", but the demo controller primarily classified it as personal satisfaction.
One of the odd things I found about the Watch Dogs demo was how the city was reacting to Aiden. It didn’t seem too unlike what we would be used to in a game like Grand Theft Auto. If you bump into somebody, they’ll give you a look or some attitude. If you are doing something noticeable, they’ll give you some attention too. That's fine. However, when Aiden was very visibly snooping (one of his “trademark moves” will be a low hunch of a walk), nobody seemed to really pay him any attention. It didn’t ruin the atmosphere, but it was noticeable that nobody, at least at the time, was reacting to a guy sleuthing around. It seemed like one of the more noticeable acts that people to which people would react, but they did not.
Overall, the demo was fairly impressive and gave a good glimpse into just how lively the atmosphere of Watch Dogs can be. None of the story was shown, but getting hands on time with the game would have been more desirable. And I would be remiss not to point out this irony: no recording of the demo was allowed. I could appreciate that level of irony from Watch Dogs.