E3 2012. There’s one name on everybody’s lips. Watch_Dogs. Ubisoft had a show-stealer on its hands. What was this demo that had taken the gaming world by surprise and left everyone wanting more? Rumour was rampant; It’s a next-generation game. It’s a futuristic Assassin’s Creed. It was a tech demo. It’s a current-generation game. Fast forward to February 20th 2013 and the PS4 reveal. There’s one name on everybody’s lips.
Who Watches The Watch_Dogs?
To say we’re excited about Watch_Dogs is an understatement. In our minds, the possibilities that developers Ubisoft Montreal (aided by Ubisoft Reflections and Ubisoft Romania, Paris and Quebec) are handing to us are countless. We want this to be the next-generation experience we’ve been hoping for. There’s still a lot about this title that we don’t know – this only increases the hype. Since the Assassin’s Creed and Hitman series have become increasingly scripted and set-piece driven, there is a void to be filled in the open-world assassination genre, a void gamers are keen for Watch_Dogs to fill. Here’s what we do know; you play Aiden Pearce, a (so far) mysterious character, highly skilled in hacking electronic devices, from mobile phones and ATM machines to the cities central operating system. Read that again – the city literally is your playground. The premise is built around the concept of information warfare, data being interconnected, and the world’s increasing use of technology – questioning who exactly runs the computers we depend on. Set in an alternative reality Chicago, USA – Aiden will receive targets and objectives to complete by using his impressive arsenal of electronic devices, hand-to-hand combat, gun-play and free-roaming parkour. It’s like Ubisoft Montreal have tapped into our minds and created a game we’ve always wanted.
Then there’s how the game looks. At last years E3, and at the recent PS4 event, Watch_Dogs looked head and shoulders above everything else on show. While it has been announced for every viable format (currently) available, we’ve seen the title running on a PC comparable to what you can expect from PS4 and whatever the next Xbox will be called – and what we’ve seen has been jaw-dropping stuff. Watch_Dogs runs on the Disrupt engine, built at Ubisoft Montreal specifically for this game, and is taking advantage of every graphical trick you can think off – and probably more. Graphics clearly aren’t everything but when a game looks this good, you know it’s going to get people talking.
We all know gameplay is king and judging by the video’s we’ve seen so far, Watch_Dogs looks like it will excel in this department. Playing as a hacker in a world underpinned by technology has huge gameplay potential. The only limits are on how much Ubisoft Montreal impose on us and their (and our) imaginations. Think about it. You’re looking for a person in a coffee shop but have no idea what they look like – only a name; why not hack into all the customers phones or e-mails to find their personal information? Find yourself in a car chase? Why not hack into the traffic lights and switch them to build or ease traffic as you like? Need an NPC to move away from a building or doorway? Send them a text from their partner asking to meet them immediately – the sky is the limit in this sandbox. Think of how vital technology is in our modern world and in your everyday life. Now imagine being a master of that, being able to bend it to your every whim – that’s what Watch_Dogs could be.
Ubisoft Montreal’s Creative Director Jonathan Morin noted that Watch_Dogs is designed to “go beyond the limits of today’s open world games“, referencing both its use of information as a plot point, and allowing players to control the entire city through its hacking mechanics. In fact, their goals are even loftier with Ubisoft’s executive director Alain Coore stating that they want Watch_Dogs to compete with the daddy of sand-box games, Grand Theft Auto. With both games releasing in a similar time-frame, it’s sure to be an interesting head-to-head. While it’s hard for any game to compete with sheer pull on consumers the GTA series has, Ubisoft will be hoping that their title has more than enough tricks and surprises up its sleeve to succeed.
Despite all of our gushing praise so far, we do have a few worries. Assassin’s Creed 3 was a step back for the Ubisoft franchise and we hope that they don’t make the same mistakes with Watch_Dogs – it’s the possibilities of freedom and choice that are getting gamers excited, not the strict guidelines we found in Connor’s divisive adventure. We are also concerned at Ubisoft’s plans to release Watch_Dogs on current-generation platforms. While we see the benefit of doing this in terms of sales potential, we hope it doesn’t impact the ambition of the team creating it. Many recent titles have struggled with the limitations of our creaking current hardware and we hope Watch_Dogs gets the platform it deserves.
With hands-on planned for E3 and Gamescom, Watch_Dogs isn’t going to disappear over the coming months. Ubisoft will hope it’ll have the same impact Assassin’s Creed had at the start of the last generation. We can’t see any reason why it wont.
– Dave Green. Watch and follow him on Twitter @davidpgreen83