The lights are on
Whenever I’m set loose in a game, I test the waters simply doing what feels natural. Immediately upon stepping into Watch Dogs, I made my mark on Chicago. I wasn’t paying attention to the people and traffic rushing by when I saw the option to hack a traffic light, and with a mere button press my decision affected the world before me. Two cars slammed into each other at full speed, causing a traffic jam with concerned NPCs rushing to assist. I knew I’d have power over the world, but actually experiencing it was such a rush.
The Watch Dogs’ excitement has been going since E3 2012, and Ubisoft’s project has always been ambitious, tantalizing us with the possibilities of the city of Chicago bent to your will. After five-and-a-half years of development, Watch Dogs has found itself positioned as the new-gen title showcasing the future of open-world games. What Assassin’s Creed did for exploration last generation, Ubisoft plans to top with its romp in Chi-town.
Ubisoft turned even more heads because it associated Watch Dogs with the PS4 launch, offered as part of a bundle. In a surprising move, Ubisoft delayed Watch Dogs by a few months, pulling out of the PS4 launch window. “It was hard,” says senior producer Dominic Guay. “One of the reasons it took us a while to announce the delay was we still thought we’d ship it. We still thought we were on track to make the game we wanted. We were playing it and having fun. We were looking at playtests and the results were good; gamers had fun. We were like, ‘Okay, there’s stuff we need to fix, stuff we need to tweak, but we still got a few months, we still got a few weeks.’ And then it got to the point and we were like, ‘We won’t have enough time.’” Making the decision to delay the title and put extra polish on it wasn’t easy, but the team is now confident they are shipping their ideal game.
An aura of mystery has always surrounded Ubisoft Montreal’s baby; after all, we’ve only seen small peeks of what’s under the hood. Thankfully, Watch Dogs is finally ready to show what it’s all about. At a recent event at Ubisoft Montreal’s offices, I received not only an hour and a half of hands-on time and insight into its development, but Ubisoft also finally set its new release date: May 27 for PS4, PS3, Xbox One, Xbox 360, and PC. (The Wii U version still does not have a specific release date).
Adapting To The World
Being thrown into the hustle and bustle of Chicago is chaotic from the get-go. The city isn’t a 1:1 replica, but as a Chicago native, I find the essence pretty spot-on. My demo recreates the frenzy you’d find in The Loop; the streets are swarming with people, each with their own agenda. If you pay attention, you’ll find little things, like overhearing arguments or being exposed to some serious public displays of affection. In fact, as I roam, a fender bender happens right in front me. The two drivers get out of their cars and the exchange is authentic — worrying if everyone’s OK, and the responsible party panicking about not having the money to afford it.
The little stories that these NPCs tell enhance the immersion. This extends to deciding if you want to hack and profile people for extra cash. I find myself looking at their backstories, as the profiles bring up little tidbits like their occupations and recent events in their lives. Some of the circumstances are humorous like, “trolls online political threads,” while others are more serious like “recently diagnosed with manic depression.” These threads are small, but they affect who I’m willing to victimize.
As I spot an abandoned car at the gas station, I decide to take my chances behind the wheel. An NPC immediately notices shouting, “That’s not yours!” but I fly down the street without a care in the world, cruising to the music and hacking whatever’s in my vicinity, from traffic lights to barricades. A nice sports car idling in traffic catches my eye, so I decide to hijack it, but immediately witnesses start calling the cops. If you’re fast enough, you can smack the phone out of their hands and prevent the 911 calls. Unfortunately, I’m too distracted by my new wheels to react in time, and I soon find the fuzz chasing me.
Driving is smooth and hacking from the driver’s seat is simple enough that it doesn’t impact my focus on the road. Cues noting what you can hack are clear and simple, allowing a few seconds to make the choice. The decision making is quick, but I never feel pressed for time. The first traffic light I encounter I hack, and traffic immediately crashes into one police car, taking it off my tail. The next one sneaks close to me, but I ram into it, running it off the road. For the final car, I raise a barricade via hacking, preventing further chases. The experience reminds me of what I love about Grand Theft Auto, creating my own stories within the world.
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