Watch Dogs Preview: Hacking Other Players’ Games Will Be Easy

Hacking In to Hack In

Back at the beginning of the demo, before the multiplayer stuff kicked off, we saw protagonist Aiden Pearce moving through The Wards, a more slum-like Chicago neighborhood that included Cash for Gold pawn shops and a dirtier feel than the upscale neighborhoods we’d seen visited in the past. Here, Ubisoft Montreal devs explain show the fact that Aiden can’t yet hack into the mobile phones or devices in the district, because he doesn’t yet have access to CTOS in that area. As we’ve heard, CTOS is the infrastructure-controlling computer network in Chicago, and Aiden needs to hack into a control station first to gain access to more devices in the area. Some things, like security cameras and a few machines, are still under his control, but full access will require some work.

So it’s off to attacking the CTOS control station, which is heavily guarded. There are a few options for breaking into the control station: a guns-blazing approach, a stealth run, or a number of available hacks — or a combination of the three, as we see.

Getting into the station is easy enough as Aiden uses a nearby security camera to check out patrol routes, then hops a fence in the guards’ blind spot. Next, Aiden uses his hacking capabilities to activate a forklift, drawing the attention of a guard. He uses the diversion to get behind the guy and choke him out with that telescoping nightstick the protagonist carries. One guy down.

From cover, Aiden sneaks into a position from which he can see the other guards, and quickly takes down one with a headshot from his pistol. The other is brought down with Aiden’s gun and his “focus” ability, which allows him briefly to slow down time for quicker reactions. With the guards cleared out, it’s hackin’ time.

“Installing a back door” in the CTOS station is fairly simple. With a few quick hacks, Aiden gets through a garage door and accesses a security camera in the station’s server room. From there, the line of sight on the main computer terminal allows him to quickly hack into the station — and suddenly he has full hacking capabilities in the whole district. The CTOS stations are similar to the enemy bases in Far Cry 3 or the sync towers in Assassin’s Creed in this way; Aiden has to defeat them in order to gain full access to this particular area of Chicago.

The big benefit of these CTOS hacks, we’re told, is that they give Aiden access to CTOS’s crime prediction capabilities. This is the software’s ability to use facial recognition technology to access the profiles of different people around the city and calculate whether they’re likely to be victims of crimes. This is how Watch Dogs facilities its low-level sidequests: you can identify crime victims as they wander around the city, follow them, and then intervene in crimes as they happen. During our demo, we saw Aiden stop an angry boyfriend from attacking a woman, chasing the guy off and then speeding after him in a stolen car in order to stop him in a non-lethal manner.

Good deeds like this lead to a bonus in “Reputation,” a system that seems to suggest Aiden can become something of a beloved outlaw in Chicago. If you manage to do good, avoid civilian casualties and generally treat regular folks well, your Reputation goes up; fail to do so (or inflict too much collateral damage) and it goes down. This is another system that we’ve seen in action but without knowing just what it’s good for, however.

A few other tidbits showed us how Aiden will operate in Chicago. He was able to hack into free Wi-Fi stations throughout the city, which would then show him where nearby devices were connected. Following the lines along the walls, Aiden could climb up or otherwise find the devices belonging to regular people that were connected to the network, and once he had a line of sight on them, hack them. We watched Aiden use the Wi-Fi lines to pop into a laptop’s webcam, and use that to hack a nearby smartphone to plunder a bank account. He could then take the data he grabbed there to an ATM and make off with some cash.

The money Aiden liberated is useful for keeping him in weapons and other goodies. After the developer hopped in a car and drove to Chicago’s financial district in The Loop, near the Sears Tower (a trip that took him over a bridge with nary a loading screen), he was able to stop by a regular old gun store and purchase whatever he needed. It looks as though Aiden will have plenty of tools at his disposal for dishing out violence.

As a wanted man in Chicago, though, Aiden won’t be able to go everywhere without being spotted. Just as the gun store clerk is concluding the transaction with Aiden, he trips a silent alarm, and suddenly cops are on their way.

It’s possible to evade the dragnet, though, and the easiest way to do so is to avoid being spotted by cameras in the immediate vicinity of the alarm. The search grid area for the alarm appears on Aiden’s mini-map as a blue circle, and getting clear of it without being spotted allows the player to avoid triggering a police chase.

The impressive part about the demo was probably how easily every bit of gameplay flowed with every other: we saw developers move from stealth to running and gunning, from hacking to tracking down side missions, literally in seconds. And the multiplayer integration was just as seamless — and can be turned off, if you’d prefer. All these elements finally working in tandem in a demo that didn’t seem quite so scripted was a refreshing bit of newness for a game that has been much hyped but a bit thin on details up until now.

Expect to see Watch Dogs on Nov. 19 for PC, Xbox 360 and Playstation 3, and Q1 2014 for next-generation consoles.

Read more of Phil Hornshaw’s work here, and follow him and Game Front on Twitter: @philhornshaw and @gamefrontcom.

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3 Comments on Watch Dogs Preview: Hacking Other Players’ Games Will Be Easy


On June 18, 2013 at 12:12 pm

Most intriguing. It almost sounds as if they’ve found a way to truly mix single and multi-player in a logical, non-obtrusive way. I do question how seeing a target of your hack through a camera would be the same as having true line-of-sight to it. Maybe the hacked camera relays the signals..? For the simpler line-of-sight hacks Aiden’s phone presumably overwhelms the target’s internal radios with false signals (hence the depleting power). There’s really no other logic to why hacking would require more juice than simply using the Internet. Yes, I know its a game but when it seems like a dev has gone this far into the realm of pseudo-realism the missing pieces stand out more. I also have a little trouble with the whole “beloved bandit” thing. I mean, it sounds like you’ll be killing cops part of the time, probably whether you want to or not (this seems to be a common theme in games lately). Seems like that would slaughter your popularity unless the police are utterly corrupt. Of course, this is a Chicago where you can apparently just walk into a gun store and walk out with a piece, which is about as far from reality as it gets.

Phil Hornshaw

On June 18, 2013 at 12:20 pm


As to your point about killing cops, I’ve seen a couple demos now in which Aiden seems to specifically target kneecaps, Terminator style, to avoid killing police officers. Seems like there’s at least some consciousness there.

The big new CG trailer we saw also had Aiden using his hacking powers to out a sex trafficking ring, though who knows if that actually means anything.


On June 19, 2013 at 6:09 am

My concern with Watch Dogs is that it’ll end up like Remember me: A unique mechanic wrapped around a generic core. Like Remember Me, Watch Dogs shows a lot of promise, and I’m hoping that this time, a (AAA) game with a unique mechanic can live up to its promise…and have a good PC port, of course