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Exploring the connected city of Chicago in Watch Dogs

8:00 AM on 05.10.2013 // Hamza CTZ Aziz
  @CTZ

Everything can be hacked

Watch Dogs has been on everyone's radar ever since its surprise debut at E3 last year. It's an open world game, but what makes this one so unique is that you play as Aiden Pearce, an expert hacker who can control the connected city of Chicago right in the palm of his hands.

Anything that's electronic or connected online can be controlled with ease, and with this power Aiden will use whatever means necessary to get revenge on those that have wronged him. At the same time, Aiden becomes sort of a vigilante for the city of Chicago, and your actions will have an impact upon the game's world.

Those of you worried about story spoilers need not fear, as Ubisoft ran us through a live demo that merely consisted of exploring the open world environment to show us just how much future Chicago can offer players.

Watch_Dogs (PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, Next Xbox, PC, Wii U, iOS)
Developer: Ubisoft Montreal, Ubisoft Reflections, Ubisoft Romania
Publisher: Ubisoft
Release: November 19, 2013 (NA) / November 22, 2013 (EU) / November 21, 2013 (AUS)

The team at Ubisoft started work on Watch Dogs over four years ago, and Dominic Guay, senior producer on the game, gave us some background info on how they came up with the concept.

"We were inspired by how technology had changed the way we lived our lives," Dominic said. "How we were connecting with others -- with information, with work -- through computers but also smart phones. As we dug deeper into that vision we were interested in the vulnerabilities, the new types of flaws, and crimes, and hacks that were possible because of that. We continued to dig deeper and we finally discovered that we were gradually moving from smart phones, to smart cities.

"Now smart cities are really happening in our world right now. Some are being built from the ground up in Asia, the Middle East, and in Europe. Even in established cities those technologies are being put in one step at a time, for good reasons. I mean if you think about it, city governments are the closest form of government for us to deliver most of the core services we need. Clean water, they gather our garbage, they give us electricity, transport systems, security -- all things we need and that we need to make efficient. Now they use technology and connectivity to do that, and in smart cities they start intertwining those networks to make them even more efficient."

So with all that in mind, the developers wanted to ask players what if you had all of those systems right at your fingertips? What would you do with that sort of power? You as Aiden Pearce have access to such powers, and will use it get back at those that harmed his family. Aiden's number one goal is to get revenge, but Aiden will quickly find himself getting addicted to looking at people's life easily and covertly.

You can spy on others via their webcam, listen in to people's phone calls, see text message conversations -- there is no such thing as privacy as far as Aiden is concerned. With such easy access then, the question becomes what do you do with these powers? You can help others in need, you can rob them blind, or you can even just ignore them completely. Watch Dogs is exploring morality here, but it's not just simply focusing on right and wrong. There's a lot of gray area too.

"It's more your interpretation of the story that we want to change, then having like a black and a white ending," Dominic told me. "You know one is you become an angel, and the other one is you spend an eternity in hell [in other games]. That's interesting, possibly, but that's not really what we're exploring.

"It's all going to be nuance, and how you perceive the story. Our creative director likes to say if you show a paining, two people can interpret it totally differently. Our hope is depending on how you play it and how we reflect your way of playing back to you, you will have a different interpretations of what just happened, and what was the actual story of Aiden Pierce. We think that's stronger than two different cinematics."

In the demo, the player hacked into one of the free Wifi hotspots located around the city, and from there barged into someone's apartment via their laptop webcam. We could then see a guy and a woman sitting on a couch having a conversation. Aiden then jumped to a tablet nearer the couple for a better look, and from there you saw that the woman was actual a real doll. Something completely private was exposed to Aiden's prying eyes. It was here where the player could see the man's license plate info too, which you can take and trade to car robbers that would then allow you to get this guy's car for yourself.

Later we saw Aiden intercept a text conversation where a guy was trying to track down someone that raped his wife. You go to where the rapist is in the city, and from a safe distance you can observe the two men have a confrontation. Do you interfere? The rapist is scum but does he deserve to die in a back-alley somewhere? It's up to you, and in this case you just sit back and watch the accused rapist get gunned down.

Choices like this will be everywhere, and how you respond to them will actually affect your reputation with how the media and citizens of Chicago see you. You're a vigilante, and if the press and citizens are in favor of you, maybe they won't call the cops when they see you confront a target. Or maybe if they find your actions to be too violent then yeah, they'll probably call the cops. As a side note, if you see someone calling the cops you can totally go up to them, grab their phone, and smash it to the ground.

Chicago is a smart, connected city in the world of Watch Dogs, and that's all thanks to ctOS, a computer system that controls and manages everything in the city. There are a number of ctOS operating centers that protect districts from hackers like Aiden, and while they're functioning you can't simply hack into systems or people's phones. You first need to infiltrate and insert a backdoor into the ctOS system before you can have fun with your abilities.

Essentially, think of Far Cry 3's Outposts. You have to infiltrate your way into these buildings that are full of armed guards. You can go and take on guards with deadly force head on, or you can sneak your way in and avoid ever firing a bullet. You'll always have options when it comes to combat, but note there will be moments where you do have to kill others. These ctOS takeovers are all totally optional as well, as there are no specific missions telling you to take these over, but there are rewards for doing so.

In the demo we saw Aiden hacks open the security gate, which lured a security guard out of view from other guards, thus letting you take him down with a quick choke hold. Later Aiden climbed to a roof, and opened fire onto guards on the ground. While the guards are shooting at you, you can jump into one of the cameras in the base and use it to see exactly where the enemy is positioned at, allowing you to then hop back to the action and throw a grenade with greater accuracy from cover. It's here we also saw that players can engage a meter that slows down the action, allowing you to lineup shots with greater accuracy. This can be employed while driving cars and boats as well.

With the ctOS building taken over you now have everything under your control in the district. This opens various perks, including optional missions. ctOS can predict crimes, and you can go investigate suspicious events should you want to.

All throughout the demo you can easily see people's private information as they pass by you. You can see people's names, their occupation, criminal records, income -- their lives are just as easy to access as everything else. It's quite eerie seeing such private info so easily, even if this is just a game. We passed one guy who had his bank account info tied to his phone, which Aiden promptly sucked away all his money for himself.

Later in the demo Aiden is trying to buy some guns -- there's a wide variety of weapons from pistols, assault rifles, shotguns, grenade launchers, and more -- and while in the middle of purchasing a weapon the TV behind the counter lit up with a news alert warning citizens to look out for Aiden. The gunshop owner recognizes the photo on the screen, and immediately trips the silent alarm.

Once the cops are called, they'll use the ctOS system to pinpoint the source of the crime in an area. You have a few moments to escape their search net, but if caught cops will be able to track you down. Like most other games, you'll lose the heat once you get far enough away from their search grid or break line of sight long enough.

Your powers over the city work especially well in chase situations, as you can forcibly change traffic lighting, raise guards rails behind you, or enter private garages. You can easily take any car you want too as car locks are all electronic so no need to smash open windows.

We didn't see a single mission from Watch Dogs yet there's so much to say. The overall mechanics from the cover system, to the climbing and free running look pretty fluid. There's an economy system where you can buy, sell and even craft items. You can acquire legal and illegal phone apps that allow you to do things like find out what song is playing that you can then add to your music player, to forcibly changing a song that's currently playing somewhere to something you enjoy instead.

There's even augmented reality games you can play, with the one we saw having you shoot flying, retro looking alien bugs. Like real augmented games, the citizens of the world will look at you like you're crazy while you're shooting invisible things with your phone. There are leaderboards for these games where you can challenge your friends for the highest score too.

There's so much to Watch Dogs, yet we've only scratched the surface. While I'm intrigued by the story, I think I'm looking more forward to just getting lost in this big brother take on Chicago. Check back later today for more coverage on how Ubisoft built a new game engine for Watch Dogs, and to get a taste of what they're planning for the multiplayer.

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destructoid's previous coverage:
Watch_Dogs


  Mar 03

ERSB says Watch Dogs has nudity and drunkenness

It took me six attempts to spell drunkenness correctly


  Sep 05

Watch 14 minutes worth of Watch Dogs gameplay

A demonstration of the open world gameplay


  Jul 18

All the crap you'll get with Watch Dog's Limited Edition

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  Jun 11

The Watch Dogs mobile app is really cool

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  May 10

How the new Disrupt engine gives life to Watch Dogs

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  May 10

A little more on Watch Dogs' multiplayer offerings

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