It seemed to me that the longest line at the Ubisoft booth at PAX East this year was the one for Watch Dogs, which I feel like might have left a few people disappointed. A certain amount of detective work was required to mine the gold from the video, pushing through high expectations and a willingness to sit back and soak in what our eyes have already seen. Whichever you take it, the news for Watch Dogs coming out of this video presentation was sparse but interesting if you knew where to look.
In the grand scheme of things, the actual footage shown to us was pretty much the same stuff from the PlayStation 4 announcement. In fact, we got to see it twice: first with developer interviews cut in throughout and then from a city perspective with a pseudo APB police broadcast. You have Aiden Pierce (the first time we get his name), a master hacker “obsessed with surveillance” whose ability to break the city confounds the authorities, trolling for information from people’s wireless devices and then stealing some money from some pro-life lobbyist.
Then you cut to Aiden tracking a woman who has a high probability of becoming a victim of some crime seeing as how she has a restraining order against a presumably shitty ex-husband. She wanders down an alleyway and encounters the aforementioned ex, at which point the probability jumps up from “watch your back” to “oh shit it’s happening.” Aiden intervenes, chases the restrainee down, and tackles him after hack-exploding some electrical conduit.
Cops pursue, Aiden flees, and we watch him escape on a hacked train and we see the same Frag Doll PixxelFD tag over a watchful security camera. But now we are told through the video voiceover that this is because Watch Dogs will be able to be played with other people “any platform, anywhere you want, at any time.” It’s very vague, but we’re shown both the train camera and another newspaper stand camera that people can have influence on your game world through these means. Aiden lives in a “hyper-connected” world, and it seems we are joining him in that connectivity.
The next interesting tidbit is that Watch Dogs attempts to totally recreate an alternate history/future Chicago. This isn’t just from a city planning perspective (though that is true, too) but in that the game will simulate the entire city including traffic, emergencies, and infrastructure. The narrative presents it as something called ctOS, which is short for Central Operating System. It is the system within the story that tracks everyone’s comings and goings and finances and, well, pretty much everything. But for the player, it allows you to interact with a living, breathing city.
ctOS will simulate how city services react to Aiden based on what you’ve done in the past such as help or hinder citizens or how people wandering the streets will go about in their daily lives. You will gain a reputation through the system and people will come to either fear or revere you as you cause chaos and (fail to) solve problems. It seems super-duper fascinating if it all pans out. It’s as if a subset of SimCity has been planted right into a third-person action game and “you’re going to turn an entire city into a weapon against itself.”
And there you have it. That was the presentation in a nutshell: two repeats of the same footage we saw back in February sliced up in two different ways with two different sets of voiceover. Visually, we didn’t get a lot of new stuff except talking head segments with developers and designers of the game, but if you listened carefully, you could pick up on some fresh details.
We have a name, we have some deeper implications of multiplayer across multiple platforms, and we have what seems to a deeply complex, systemic set of simulations that power a dynamic recreation of Chicago. It all sounds incredibly fascinating, but that’s all we have to go on at this point: ambition, a grand-scale story of family drama and city politics, and a dude with a cool jacket.
Look for Watch Dogs in Q4 of 2013.