Developer: Ubisoft Montreal / Publisher: Ubisoft / Release Date: November 19, 2013 / ESRB: Rating Pending
Since its reveal at E3 last year, Watch Dogs has become one of the most highly anticipated games of 2013. With Ubisoft’s promise of a free-roaming environment, abundant with technological advances (for the modern age) that you can control through a cell phone, the expectations are pretty high. After a thorough demonstration of what’s in store, it’s safe to say that a world where everything is connected, and therefore hackable, is still as good as it sounds.
Watch Dogs follows Aiden, a hacker with an ominous presence living in Chicago. Not much is known about the game’s story, but what we do know is that Aiden is extremely proficient at what he does: both in hacking and fisticuffs. These skills make him a lethal weapon, and get him into trouble. In footage briefly shown at E3 and more comprehensively in a private demo last week, Aiden receives a call from his friend T-Bone, a man whose snooping has placed him in a compromising predicament. Aiden agrees to help.
I failed to mention that Aiden was also in the middle of a chase when he received the call, so first he loses the police choppers on his tail. With law enforcement on high alert, being aware of Aiden’s surroundings is one element to the gameplay. The game takes into account the psychology of human behavior when suspicious characters are around, so a nearby newscast has the potential to blow Aiden’s cover. If someone suspects Aiden and starts calling 911, you can take care of that by interfering with the call remotely, or just punch out the nuisance.
After Aiden hacks a nearby CtOS terminal (which is connected to the city’s entire network), he finds the video feed for the building T-Bone is in. In order to divert some goons who are now in the same apartment Aiden is hiding in, Aiden hacks DJ equipment to cause a distraction – giving T-Bone a clear exit.
Once T-Bone is outside, there are a few alternatives to take to help him further. For example, using security cameras as vantage points, Aiden could instruct T-Bone when to move after Aiden finds a way to distract the nearby gunmen: he can start car alarms or activate outside decor that happens to move when turned on. If the opportunity just feels right, guns’ blazing is also an option. Aiden does both, but the resulting gunfire commission alerts the police. With Aiden back on the run, this is the perfect opportunity for the mobile app to come into play.
Demonstrating the interesting real-time functionality of the accompanying app available upon the game’s release, a friend (on their phone or tablet) can see someone’s distress call, and activate certain obstacles to stop police cars in their tracks: cause an accident with traffic lights or activate road blocks. For single player usage, the app can also be used to see building layouts for infiltrations, nearby store prices, etc.
Aiden is eventually cornered by a cop, but using his cell phone the street block’s lights immediately go out. Unlocking more powerful hacks, such as the power to create a full blackout to escape or gain the upper hand is part of the leveling system of the game. There’s also a reputation system in place, given that Aiden is not encouraged to kills cops, but that’s up to the player’s discretion.
Additionally, to adhere to the open world feel of the game, we were briefed on how there are many NPCs with their own stories/profiles that allow for dynamic quests throughout exploration. Not only does this present organic missions, it provides a personality to the world; everyone’s private lives are on display for Aiden to prod.
One of those lives may involve Aisha Tyler.
Following the Watch Dogs demo, I got a chance to speak with this year’s Ubisoft press conference host. She’s currently on the forefront of Watch Dogs press tour, and she had a moment to share some words on the game, her gaming habits, and the overall industry.
You’ve been in the game industry for a bit now, previously as a voice actor in Halo Reach for example. How did you first become involved with Ubisoft to host the press conferences starting last year?
I’ve been in the gaming world for a while. I went to E3 every year. The game industry throws a lot of parties in Hollywood, so I have a lot of friends in gaming and we go to these parties and talk about games. So Ubisoft just approached me and said, “If you want to do this?” which I was super excited about because as far as I know, a woman has never hosted a press conference at E3. That’s a big honor.
Yes, the presence this year and last year were small in terms of women on stage so for you to actually host two years in a row is great.
Yeah, it’s a big deal. And I think the reason they approached me is because I really do love video games. I was really excited to be there, I love E3. For me, every E3 is actually heartbreaking because I don’t have enough time to go to the floor to see and play everything, but for me to be part of a moment where I get to tell everyone else in the world, “this is coming,” is so fun to be a part of that. As a gamer I get as excited as people watching from home.
Especially since you’re so busy with all your projects, so your gaming time must be limited.
I used to play so much more. I’d play every night and have friends come and stay over for weekends and play Halo multiplayer all day. So it’s really sad that I don’t have the time that I want to play. I have a lot of partially started games.
You’re actually now more of a gamer because we all have that shame pile that we never get to! (Got some chuckles) But now that you’re part of Watch Dogs, you obviously get to see more of that. What’s your role in the game?
I don’t think I know for sure. I’ve seen my avatar and recorded a lot of dialogue for her. But part of Watch Dogs is open world, so you’re running through this world and how you behave affects how people and the environment behaves. And I think that’s what’s going to happen with my character: everyone is going to encounter my character under different circumstances. As far as what you’re going to learn about her, a hacker or what, how she’s going to relate to the main campaign or side quests, I don’t know yet.
Okay, because we don’t know much about the main character either – other than that he’s a hacker and you can choose whether he can be a good or a bad guy.
Which is kind of nice though because I think he’s trying to do good things but he may be perceived as bad. I love that moral ambiguity.
Were you able to see anything on the Watch Dogs multiplayer? At E3 I was able to see someone behind the curtain hack into the demonstrator’s game, and that created somewhat of a mini-game chase scenario.
Yeah, the great thing about this world is that you can be hacking other players and they can be hacking you and joining your gameplay; that’s pretty cool. I also saw some second screen features that are pretty amazing.
Now after last year’s Ubisoft conference, I saw your post that talked about how “I’m a Gamer.” Have you seen the community come together to back you up after that?
Yeah, I feel like there’s been a change in dynamic over the last year, and a lot more people responding really positively. I feel like the negative to positive reaction last year was 50/50, but now it’s more 10/90. Last night I actually performed here and I read that letter aloud (they asked me to read that) and a guy came up to me after and said, “I’m really sorry,” really sweet and brave of him to do that. He didn’t need to, he could have just left, but that was nice.
That’s great! Because I was wondering for you as a female in the industry, as I’m sure you’re aware of some of the things that go on, it’s still very difficult even for female developers who are not taken seriously… Do you see negative reactions more as a female or celebrity or both?
I feel like the more women that are in this world that talk about how much they love it [games], since the one thing that all gamers have in common is that we all love video games – it should be the only credential you need to get into this club; that you love to play. F*** you, don’t tell me how to love something.
I feel like when you have these very prominent women in the game industry that are out there and they’re running a studio, that it’s only a matter of time before things change. So I think we’re headed in the right direction. And there are a lot of men playing with women! Just speak up and say something when someone is saying something awful on XBL. I think more people are standing up for it.
Watch Dogs is set to launch in November, so it won’t be long before we all get to experience Chicago in its digital-dependent form. With five years of development behind it, and Aisha Tyler singing its praises, Watch Dogs is shaping up to be what we all hope it to be.