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E3 2012: Watch Dogs

E3 2012

“Oh, one more thing…”

The room had already given a round of applause, but the Watch Dogs development team had something else up their sleeve. A separate iPad companion app represented the first multi-screen gaming experience that went beyond gimmicks. Watch Dogs‘ press conference debut made it the standout title of the show, but its app cemented it as one of the most promising games in years.

Watch Dogs‘ premise revolves around the vast quantities of personal data we have online and in government systems, and the digital shadow that casts. The game’s setting, Chicago, has implemented a centralised city OS, allowing any hacker to potentially take control of CCTV cameras, traffic lights, bridges and anything else hooked up to it.

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The demo shown at Ubisoft’s booth was a guided version of that seen in the publisher’s press conference on Monday. Aiden Pearce is on a mission to find a murderer who’s avoided justice, and seek revenge. We were shown a preview of the open world and the character’s hacking abilities, as he took over a CCTV camera, then listened in on someone’s conversation. Every NPC in the game has their own story and secrets, shown by a minimal summary in the UI.

To get into a nightclub and find a lead, Aiden jammed nearby phone signals, forcing the bouncer to go and look for cell reception and thus move away from the door. Once inside, he scanned the crowd for the murderer’s associate, then listened in on her call. Once the next lead was established, we were shown a more violent side to the game as Aiden incapacitated a guard before moving to a cross roads where his target was expected.

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Hacking into the traffic lights caused a pile up, and gun battle, showing off the game’s combat mechanics. Here the game’s novelty value is less; the cover system and slow motion shooting will be familiar to anyone who’s played an action game in the last few years.

A brief driving section followed, as Aiden sped away in the rain. The demo closed with him hacking a bridge, jumping the gap as the two ramps raised to a horizontal.

As the videos available only show, it’s a stunning demonstration of a game that’s still a considerable way from release. The game’s mechanics, visuals, audio and UI all look polished, if only in this small piece of the city.

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It was the surprise appearance of the iPad app that really shone though. It showed a 3D rendition of the city in the game’s signature black and white digital block style. Its streets can be navigated using simple touch gestures and locations examined, allowing you to plan missions in advance.

While the developers were non-committal over its exact features, there was talk of being able to see you and your friends’ mission logs, the ability to stalk NPC characters in real time and help out friends in their missions. The app is intended both for use while playing the game and while away from your console, something that other developers and publishers have talked about, but not shown.

We left it late in the show to see Watch Dogs, but it was undoubtedly one of E3’s most impressive titles. If Ubisoft can keep it on track through development, it could be one of the most memorable games of this generation.

The author of this fine article

is the Editor at Thunderbolt, having joined in November 2000. Get in touch on Twitter @PhilipMorton.

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