Watch Dogs: Why We Thought It Was Awesome

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Posted on June 7, 2012, Mitchell Saltzman Watch Dogs: Why We Thought It Was Awesome

For most people with eyes, ears and a love for video games, Ubisoft’s “Watch Dogs” was likely the biggest surprise of E3 2012. In an industry dominated by sequels, remakes and reboots, it’s always nice to see promising new IP’s come onto the scene, but especially when they make nearly everything else look last-gen in comparison.

Over the course of a 10 minute demo, protagonist Aiden Pearce manages to learn the dirty little secrets of an entire city block, beat a man unconscious with a hidden baton, orchestrate a massive chain of car accidents by tampering with the traffic lights, shoot people in the face while sliding along cars, and make his grand escape by stealing a car and hacking a bridge to rise just as he’s driving over it. All of this in a stunningly detailed recreation of the Windy City.

In case that’s not enough for you, here are some thoughts from the Game Front writers who got to catch an extended look at the Watch Dogs demo shown at the Ubisoft press conference, explaining why Watch Dogs deserves all of the hype.

Mark Burnham’s Thoughts:

Kevin Short, Lead Story Designer on Watch Dogs, prefaced the demo we saw earlier today saying “This game has been our little secret for two years.” Looking back on the full demo, that kind of blows my mind.

My mind is blown on two levels:

A). Keeping a game of this magnitude quiet for two years, and then pulling back the curtain to reveal this insane, complicated, beautiful thing. It feels rare, to be surprised like this, and could be what’s contributing to the game’s growing buzz.

I was in a way thankful I knew nothing about it, and that we didn’t already have several irritating teaser trailers and press releases, leaking tidbits of controlled information over months.

B). Watch Dogs itself feels truly, indisputably new and exciting, and that too seems rare. Not only that, but it sold itself really well. It’s one thing to try and make a game where you can hack into a vast matrix of information in Chicago on the fly, and use the environment to your advantage. It’s another to make that look badass graphically, and yet another to display all that information to the player in a way that makes some sort of sense.

The stars are in alignment for Watch Dogs, a rare synchronicity between tech, premise, gameplay and PR.

Phil Hornshaw’s Thoughts:

One of the things that was really striking to me from the demo of Watch Dogs was the little bits of story we were able to pick up from it. There’s not a lot of context, but we do know a few interesting things about protagonist Aiden Pearce. Primarily — he’s an assassin. Or at least, he has a vendetta against various “targets,” it would seem, one of whom he executes. There also appears to be some sort of conspiracy against which Pearce is working.

We also know that Pearce is something of an enigma in terms of his moral standing. During the demo, Pearce gets pretty brutal at times. He bashes in a bouncer’s face with a retractable night stick at one point, although the results are nonlethal. Then he uses a traffic accident to trap target DeMarco — and in doing so, during the press conference, we got a very telling bit of contextual story about Pearce the man. While he was willing to put probably around 30 lives in danger to get to his target, as well as gun down a number of bodyguards along the way, we also see an incident where a random driver is killed in the crossfire after Pearce takes cover behind her car. The woman’s passenger is panicking, struggling to wake his comrade, until Pearce gets to him. As we watch, the player gets a prompt to “rescue” the man, which includes Pearce pulling him from the car and advising him to stay down and get clear of the wreckage. So in just a short span, we see Pearce endanger a lot of people and indirectly get someone killed — and also save another person’s life. Iiiinnnteresting.

The other remarkable story moment of the demo is Pearce’s interaction with his contact, Jordy. The two have a great momentary exchange, discussing why they don’t like each other and what Pearce’s plan is for killing DeMarco. Jordy’s dialog here is great; he’s funny and no-nonsense, his facial animations are stellar, and he’s a very engaging character. Pearce, on the other hand, maintains a sort of Bruce Willis John McClane swagger during the exchange that’s a lot of fun to watch. The pair foil one another beautifully, and their relationship is tense. I’d love to see how it develops.

Overall, in just a short demo, there was a lot in Watch Dogs that made me very excited for its writing and presentation. I can’t wait to meet Aiden Pearce again for the first time. And I hope Jordy has a major role to play as well.

Mitchell Saltzman’s Thoughts:

To avoid sounding like a broken record and repeating everything that my colleagues have said — because they’re both right on about why Watch Dogs’ presentation floored all three of us — let me instead focus on the aspect that you might not know about if your only knowledge of Watch Dogs is based on that presentation at the Ubisoft Conference.

By downloading the Watch Dogs app to your mobile device, players can have a companion for the game similar to Microsoft’s newly unveiled SmartGlass and the Wii-U gamepad’s screen. What’s interesting though is what you can do with this app. It allows you to spy on your friends who are currently playing the game and actually remotely affect them by hacking things in their city. You can also check out what missions they’ve done, then find the locations of those missions on the app’s map of Chicago. Once you find the location you can learn all about the layout of the building, the schedules of the people inside, and all kinds of information that can better help you plan out your method of attack. Of course, whether or not this all works will be dependent on the quality of the game and level design, but if this all works as advertised, it really could revolutionize the way players interact with each other in non-multiplayer focused games.

Plus, how cool is it just to be able to hack everything? I could see myself spending hours just walking along the streets learning everyone’s secrets, eavesdropping on phone calls, stealing money from ATMs, etc.

Are you as excited about Watch Dogs as we are? Tell us in the comments!

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