We live in a superconnected world. With Twitter, Facebook, CCTV, GPS, Google ads, and all the other ways in which we track our lives or have them tracked for us (knowingly or unknowingly), it’s easy to become paranoid about how much data there is out there. For instance, the NSA security crisis sparked a major debate about privacy. But what if all your data and all your connections as well as those of the people and city around you were controlled by one centralised system? That is the world of Watch Dogs, the forthcoming open world action adventure game from Ubisoft.
First unveiled at E3 2012, Watch Dogs wowed onlookers with its premise, mechanics, and graphics. Set in an adapted Chicago, you take on the role of Aiden Pearce, an Irish-American vigilante who uses his hacking skills to take control of his environment. By hacking into Chicago’s Central Operation System (ctOS), Pearce can control CCTV cameras to better survey his environment, manipulate traffic lights to cause accidents or help him escape from pursuers, and even hijack webcams on laptops in the city’s apartments. The scale and scope of Pearce’s abilities, which are all controlled from his smartphone, are impressive. Need to distract some chasing police officers? Cause a localised blackout. Need to find security codes to get into a restricted building? Take control of a CCTV camera and then ‘jump’ into a guard’s smart phone and lift the digits you need from there. If all else fails, you can still draw your gun and blast your way out of trouble before jumping in a car and speeding off.
Ubisoft has been keen to point out that the game can be played in three main ways: you can go guns blazing and shoot your way through difficulty, you can sneak around like Sam Fisher in Splinter Cell, or you can hack from a distance. All three methods will be open to you and it’s up to you how you go about achieving your goals. From gameplay videos we’ve seen thus far, this game is not going to hold your hand and tell you exactly what to do next. Instead, it will give you the tools you need to get the job done and then let you take over.
The world surrounding Aiden Pearce looks like it’s going to be one of the stars of the show in Watch Dogs. Beyond Pearce’s hacking, there is a live set of media broadcasts going on around him. You might be in a gun shop stocking up on ammunition when a breaking news bulletin might show up on the shop’s TV. That bulletin could label Pearce as a dangerous vigilante and make the shop owner want to trigger his silent alarm.
Pearce might not always be considered dangerous: in a video released by Ubisoft showcasing the world outside of missions, we see that Pearce can use the data he collects on the people around him to discern if any of them are likely to be victims or perpetrators of crime in the near future. Pearce can use that information as he sees fit, either by ignoring it or by getting involved. You can help people in peril and bring justice to criminals if you so choose. Doing so carefully and without hurting anyone can improve Pearce’s reputation which may change how the game unfolds around you.
Another intriguing part of the experience is knowing that you are not alone in Watch Dogs. Other people can drop into your single player game and turn the tables by hacking you, stealing information you’ve harvested. You can prevent this by tracking down and stopping the other human players or you can go on the offensive and start trying to steal data from other players yourself. Couple that with a second screen experience that lets friends help you out via their tablets and the game about a superconnected world shows that it is superconnected itself.
Not even released and already a winner of numerous awards, Watch Dogs has shown that it has the potential to be one of the first major next-gen titles. This is Grand Theft Auto with brains, a high-tech Assassin’s Creed, and it is one of the most anticipated games of 2014.