E3 2012: Watch Dogs Preview

By Jordan Douglas on June 15, 2012, 10:40PM EDT
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E3, and the big-budget gaming industry in general, is often criticized for a lack of creativity, because of the perception that publishers lean toward established properties to lower their risk. While plenty of sequels were on display this year - which is not a commentary on their merits - it was refreshing to see some triple-A calibur announcements and surprise reveals of original properties at E3 2012. Ubisoft's Watch Dogs, an open-world game in the vein of a near-future Assassin's Creed, with an emphasis on hacking and manipulating increasingly ubiquitous technologies, was easily one of the show's most exciting unveilings.

After watching Ubisoft's press briefing demo, one question lingered in my mind above all else: How is Ubisoft Montreal handling another megaton project? Well, I was later informed the team's headcount has surpassed 2,100 people, with 100-200 currently working on Watch Dogs... Madness. The Canadian nerve-center of the company is already responsible for some of its most-lucrative franchises, and now they're tasked with pulling together elements from some of those same games into a brand-new epic. Traversal elements and fluid animations from Assassin's Creed? Check. Action-oriented shooting mechanics from the Tom Clancy multiverse? Present and accounted for. Throw in a little something Far Cry, and Watch Dogs has it all!

Beyond that, the Watch Dogs demo introduced several new mechanics, hinting at some intriguing possibilities ahead. Players can use the interconnected, Big Brother-nature of technology to jam communication signals, browse people's virtual histories, manipulate traffic, and more. If you haven't seen the footage released to the public, you really should check it out.

We saw an extended version of that same scenario. For the most part, it played out in a similar way, with a handful of subtle deviations. For example, instead of heading directly for the intersection outside the club to mess with traffic, protagonist and digital puppet-master Aiden Pearce climbed on top of some train tracks to showcase the game's free traversal. Aiden then proceeded to hijack a car, remotely raise an oncoming drawbridge, and use it as a launching pad to evade law enforcement. These new portions highlighted the game's open-world aspirations, but much remains shrouded in mystery. One thing that didn't change was Watch Dog's incredible environmental detail, animations and generally out-of-this-generation visuals.

Ubisoft Montreal closed the session by pulling out an iPad to discuss Watch Dogs' mobile features, which will no doubt find its way onto SmartGlass, Cross-Play, Wii U and whatever Trey Parker and Matt Stone have in the pipeline for South Park. The app allows players to view a three-dimensional recreation of the city, analyze information relevant to their current missions, and check up on friends. How exactly these multiplayer interactions will work is still a closely guarded secret, but the approach feels like more than a branding-driven cash-in.

Watch Dogs is currently slated for a 2013 release on current generation consoles, PC, and more than likely, devices yet to be announced.

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