Watch Dogs: How The Game Actually Works

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Posted on June 7, 2012, Phil Hornshaw Watch Dogs: How The Game Actually Works

Perhaps the most exciting triple-A demo shown at E3 2012, and certainly one with the most buzz, has been Ubisoft Montreal’s Watch Dogs. The game came out of nowhere and created a mess of intrigue, but if you happened to catch the Ubisoft pre-E3 press conference livestream, you might have watched the demo and then asked yourself, “What the hell did I just see?”

I know I did. And if you haven’t seen it, well, watch this video. It’ll make the following make A LOT more sense.

Fortunately, Game Front was able to check out the demo again at the Ubisoft booth on the E3 floor, this time with members of the development team to actually explain what the hell we were seeing. We got the walkthrough treatment from Lead Story Designer Kevin Short, who explained quite a bit about what Aiden is actually up to in the demo. First up, we know that Aiden comes from “a violent past” and is “obsessed with surveillance.” We also know that Aiden has an insane amount of hacking power — so much so that he’s wired into the ctOS, or Central Operating System, for the entire city of Chicago. That gives him access to absolutely everything that’s wired or connected in terms of computers, and allows him to manipulate machines to gain information and alter things in his favor.

The Mechanics

We also got a bit of insight as to how you actually play Aiden. First off, Chicago in Watch Dogs is an open world, and as Short noted, “if you can see it, you can go there.” That means that the entire city is available, from the street to the rooftops. We saw Aiden climb onto an el train track, for example, and Short mentioned that it’s possible for Aiden to return to the club he visits in the demo — that’s not a mission-specific interior, and in fact, all locations in the game can be similarly revisited.

Aiden carries a smartphone or a similar device, and it has a battery indicator in his heads-up display. It also has functions that Aiden can set from a radial wheel that allow him to use information as a weapon. During the demo, we saw Aiden jam all cell phones in a short radius with one function. When he chooses a different ability, he can manipulate other things, like traffic lights, drawbridges, and security cameras.

With another ability, Aiden can listen in to any phone conversation going on around him. And from those conversations, Aiden can activate new gameplay activities.

Story from Eavesdropping

Both the Profiler and the eavesdropping function can lead to side content, Short explained. The Profiler brings up bits of information about everyone based on all their aggregated data on the network — things like employment, personal background, vices, all kinds of stuff. You can also hack in deeper and find out more information about people, and, as Short told us, even find gain access to things like their “shadow” bank accounts or secret information. Supposedly, you can gather and access this information on anyone in the game.

Couple that with your ability to eavesdrop on phone conversations, and you could potentially learn a lot about the people around in Chicago. And with that information comes options. Short explained that you can help people out of their jams, should they be in them — or you can choose to blackmail them. One character that was hacked during the course of the game could be digitally robbed by the player, he suggested.

Of course, Short was speaking in the grandiose terms of a game developer, so just how much of the world you can explore on a person-by-person basis is really hard to gauge. But to hear the developers from Ubisoft Montreal tell it, there’s a huge amount of content to explore in Chicago, given your hacking abilities.


Yup, there’s combat, and in various different forms. For one, we’ve seen Aiden whip out his nonlethal but altogether nose-breakingly brutal night stick, which he used to pummel a guard in what may have been a one-button takedown. Executed as a surprise, it seems like that move can be pretty effective against a single target. The Profiler was used in that situation to indicate characters who may be planning violence against Aiden, and he was able to respond with a surprise attack to take the guy out.

We’ve also seen some third-person shooter mechanics. Aiden later pulls a gun and gets into a firefight. During that sequence, he is able to take cover behind cars, then stand up and unload on people from an over-the-shoulder viewpoint. He also is capable of rolling over the hoods of cars (mantling cover) and getting in close for fast executions. There’s is also definitely some sort of “Bullet Time” mechanic visible in the demo. Aiden is able to slow time, or intensify his focus, to quickly aim at several enemies and take them out not unlike what Max Payne 3 offers players. Unfortunately, we have no idea how this works as yet, and it was only used very briefly in the demo, and never discussed.

Short pointed out that using the city to create traps and for other situations is fully possible and encouraged. During the demo, Aiden uses access to security cameras and traffic lights to stage an accident at an intersection, boxing in his target and forcing an all-out firefight. Presumably, you can use this sort of technique, and undoubtedly others, to affect combat. The whole situation is created by that accident; it’ll be interesting to see what other things Aiden is capable of doing to turn odds in his favor.

There also seem to be some contextual possibilities. During the video demo, for example, we see a woman is killed in the crossfire during the gunfight. At that point, Aiden gets a “rescue” prompt above her surviving, distraught passenger, and is able to pull him free of the car and urge him to go find safety. It looks like a short contextual animation triggered with a single button. In another, different contextual instance, the accident or maybe the gunfight sparks a fire at a nearby gas station, which cascades into a massive explosion.

Continue to page 2 to hear about navigating, exploring, mobile tie-ins, and to see what we thought.

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