PAX East 2013: watch_dogs Preview

By: Michael Dao

The idea of a hyperconnected future is one which is quickly becoming that of the present. The idea of a world where everything is connected, has an ip address and can be reached on and controlled by a network is no longer the idea of a idealistic science fiction writer. Ubisoft takes that concept one step further in it’s upcoming title, watch_dogs. It asks us to believe in a fictional future Chicago powered by an operating system called ctOS – an operating system for a city which uses all of its interconnected devices in order to provide solutions to complex problems such as traffic, mass transit, and crime prevention. Imagine a computer system that knows so much about individuals living in a city that it can model the probabilistic likelihood of crime taking place with a fair degree of accuracy. It is something straight out of an Isaac Asimov short story. 

Ubisoft has kept tight wraps on specific details on the game, but the protagonist is Aidan Pearce, a hacker who has compromised the ctOS that runs Chicago and with the aid of his handy smartphone, has access to any of the city’s systems, all in the pursuit of protecting his family. With complete control of the city, the player is able to use it as a weapon, and to accomplish this goal, Ubisoft has stated that everything that goes on in the city is modelled, so as Aiden may short circuit and shut down the traffic signals at an intersection, the ensuing mayhem is dynamic and occurs procedurally, so no two crashes will ever be identical. The flip side to that is how Aiden reacts to these situations, how he handles them will impact the experience of a player, as a mass murdering psychotic will be received by the residents of Chicago in quite a different manner than an altruistic Robin Hood type.

The concepts explored by this title are something that I would term near-future, and are fairly ambitious on its own. However, the real interesting aspect of the game is how the game will offer some multiplayer activity that will allow people not actually in the game on a console to play as well. Details are indeed scarce, but it seems like people will be able to play on mobile phones and tablets and take control of various surveillance cameras in the game and have the ability to help or hinder the person playing as Aiden. Details on its implementation are indeed scarce, but it lends to interesting possibilities with the whole concept of having a second screen, a friend playing on the couch besides the player giving them that additional needed edge in order to complete a certain portion of the game.

We’ve seen specific gameplay sequences already, ones where Aiden is set to kill someone, and others where he has to tail potential victims in order to stop their would-be assailants. These activities often turn into an inevitable police chase where Aiden has to evade law enforcement, by hacking barriers to rise and stop police cruisers, and perhaps even by controlling local mass transit, providing him with an escape route. Overall, watch_dogs is a creative new title with the depth and creativity to keep a captive audience. An open game world where anything can be hacked could potentially offer limitless hours of entertainment if everything is modellas as well as claimed.

watch_dogs is set to be released Holiday 2013 on the Playstation 4 and XBox 360.


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