Ubisoft has officially unveiled a new IP titled Watch Dogs at E3. The game’s fiction involves the installation, following the summer blackout of 2003, of a Central Operating System (ctOS) which connects entire cities to a single network, enabling the unified control of city-wide operations, including the public works. Such a world leaves little room for privacy, and the private organizations operating the ctOS leverage the vast amounts of personal information that is constantly being dumped into the networks that they own and operate.
Ubisoft has provided a video of an extended gameplay demo from the game, in which we catch up with our (anti?) hero heading to an art gallery in the Chicago of the near future. On the way, he displays his ability to hack into the ctOS to shut down communications and gather information on passerby. After tracking down his mark at the gallery, the protagonist shuts down a nearby traffic light to cause the mark’s car to be involved in a multi-car crash. A firefight ensues, and the mark is assassinated. You can catch the entirety of the demo below:
The game already looks extremely polished. The graphics are gorgeous. The seamless transition between cinematics and gameplay is really quite striking. The premise of the game, i.e. hacking the ctOS, seems as though it could lead to a wealth of interesting mechanics and gameplay options. The flow of what we’ve seen of the game resembles that of a well-scripted Hollywood blockbuster, something that has definitely been attempted before but is tough to execute. Watch Dogs seems to hold promise in delivering such an experience.
In particular, the shootout peppered with bullet-time sequences had me rewinding that portion of the footage. The way the muzzle flash of the pistol is slowed down yet remains utterly realistic-looking is a graphical feat in and of itself. That move comprising jumping over the car to take out an enemy is awesome. And that NPC’s reaction to the situation and interaction with the protagonist is something I have never seen before.
The NPCs in even the most renowned open-world games seem disconnected from the goings-on around them. In most games, the focus is strictly on the protagonist, so if tension is introduced to the game world, the NPCs will duck and run out of the way, often either screaming or not uttering a sound. If no tension is present in the game world, NPCs seem to just wander aimlessly around, uttering a catch phrase or sometimes something relating to the goings-on of the game world, though usually completely out of context. I was thoroughly creeped out by the NPCs in L.A. Noire; they were always commenting about the main character, completely out of context and never directly to him. It was always a comment to a second party, like “hey isn’t that the cop that did XYZ? I heard he is ABC…” If they are talking behind my back, shouldn’t they not be shouting but rather ensuring that I can’t hear them? And the recycled catchphrases of the thugs in Batman: Arkham City really got on my nerves towards the end of my play-through, and even broke the immersion. Do you honestly expect me to believe that all these thugs have one of three voices and say the same damn thing over and over again? It would have been best if Rocksteady just kept them all silent.
But it seems so different in Watch Dogs, or at least based on the above gameplay footage. The NPCs seem to all have… purpose. When you pass by two NPCs engaged in a conversation, what you overhear is believable. The interactions between the protagonist and the NPCs seem to have an unprecedented level of fidelity. This, and the other factors mentioned above, result in my thinking that the immersion factor will be extremely high in this title. Thus, Watch Dogs is firmly entrenched on my list of upcoming games to keep an eye on.