Watch Dogs may be the most anticipated game of the year and with good reason. I haven’t seen a showing of this game — a demo, a trailer, anything — that didn’t reinforce the game’s potential for greatness. At E3 we sat down for a demo with the game. Then, afterwards, we saw a demo that we couldn’t record. Both were among my highlights of E3.
The demo not featured in the video was billed as an ‘open-world’ demo. It was intended to show the non-mission side of Watch Dogs and replicate the kind of experience you’ll be having outside of the game’s main structure. It began in a less populated area of the game’s version of Chicago, a poorer district with less technology and, hence, less potential for fancy mobile wizardry.
As a result the demo featured more of the gameplay we typically expect from open world games — shooting, hand to hand combat, exploration, driving — but it also provided an insight into how the game’s systems worked in tandem. This was by far the most valuable part of the demo: the chance to see how Watch Dogs hung together as an experience. I was not disappointed.
The open world experience of any games lives and dies on its options. What are the possibilities? What options does the game provide you with to achieve any given task? In order to spread the reach of your protagonist’s mobile technology and grant him the ability to mess with tech in any given district, players must hack into a mainframe in each specific area — it’s the Watch Dogs equivalent of synchronisation points in Assassin’s Creed or scaling the radio towers in Far Cry 3.
These mainframes are usually heavily guarded. You can shoot your way through if you must, but watching as the Ubisoft rep cruised through in an agile (and clearly planned) fashion really gave a feel for the vast array of options availble. You can scope out situations, mess with the environment and — in general — plan out a slick assault on these areas. The game genuinely allows you to ‘perform’.
But it’s the accessibility of the systems that is perhaps most impressive. Options unique to Watch Dogs hover over objects you can interact with using your phone — cameras, computers, mobile phones, etc. It’s as simple as a button press, but the challenge comes from deciding how you want to approach each scenario. The game makes it relatively easy to put plans into practice and I think that’s a good thing. It allows you to think your way through each situation and focus on the performance of it.
Watch Dogs seems like the end point. It’s the culmination of lessons learnt in games like Assassin’s Creed, Far Cry 3 and Splinter Cell. The hacking angle weaved into this familiar experience is a unique point of difference and it’s been seamlessly integrated into the universe. At this point it’s difficult to see how this game could possibly fail given its pedigree. It was certainly among my favourites at E3.