E3 2012 Preview: Watch Dogs

June 16, 2012

The general consensus surrounding E3 this year was one of disappointment. With weak showings from Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo, it was easy to feel underwhelmed by what was being put on offer. It’s not too surprising, however; late-generation E3s always feel a bit empty as everyone is shifting to yet-to-be-revealed next-generation hardware.

Occasionally, however, someone will pull something completely unexpected. A game that completely blindsides everyone. It comes along with no pre-show leaks or hints, no implication that anyone might have known about it before, and manages to completely steal the show.

At E3 2012, that game was Watch Dogs. Tacked onto the end of Ubisoft’s press conference, almost as an afterthought after the impressive Assassin’s Creed III showing, the game managed the biggest buzz of any title at the show.

The setting is a near-future Chicago controlled by CtOS, a centralised computing system that manages everything, from utilities and infrastructure, through to mobile networks, electronic devices and basically anything that can be put online. In this world, everybody casts a digital shadow that can be tracked and rifled through by those who know how.

Enter Aiden Pearce, a hacker who’s just as willing to use his fists as his brains. Pearce knows how to get the information in CtOS, and use it to his advantage. Using just a smartphone, Pearce is able to pull up information on people at a gallery, track the location of media mogul Joseph DeMarco, and even instigate an accident scene by manipulating traffic lights in order to stop DeMarco and kill him. He’s also the character you play as.

The initial impression we got of this game at Rocket Chainsaw was something like Eden of the East meeting Grand Theft Auto. The base concepts are similar to the popular anime series from a few years ago, while the game itself looks like a significantly updated version of GTA4. No doubt it’s running on similar technology to that which powers Assassin’s Creed III, but nothing that’s been demonstrated suggests the game will use AC’s trademark free-running systems. In fact, towards the end of the demonstration, the game seemed more focused on cover-based shooting, as Pearce worked his way around an accident scene while being fired upon from different directions.

The developers are planning to make the game interact with an iPad/tablet app that will allow you to get information about the city and check up on what your friends are doing in the game. You can even spy on them, as well as use the tablet in conjunction with the game to gather information and expand your powers.

All up, if Watch Dogs manages to deliver on the hype from its E3 showing, it’s going to be an amazing game.