Watch Dogs preview: Grand Theft OS

It's very clear what Watch Dogs is: it's Ubisoft's take on Grand Theft Auto, with a magical hacking twist.

5
When Watch Dogs made its sudden and surprising debut at E3 last year, I couldn't help but be mesmerized by it. It's not often that a game--seemingly as ambitious as this one, at that--can take the entire industry by surprise. What was Watch Dogs? After seeing 30 minutes of the game in action, I have to admit that much of the mystery is gone. It's very clear what Watch Dogs is: it's Ubisoft's take on Grand Theft Auto, with a magical hacking twist. To avoid revealing any story spoilers, Ubisoft intentionally avoided starting a story mission. Instead, they decided to have Aiden Pearce free roaming around a digitally recreated Chicago. However, doing so makes it incredibly easy to see the parallels between Watch Dogs and Grand Theft Auto. Just like a Rockstar thug, Aiden can just as easily hop into any car on the street, race around, buy weapons at a dealer, run over pedestrians, and call attention to the police. Watch Dogs even uses a similar five-star rating system to represent the intensity of the chase. I couldn't help but feel like some of the mysterious charm of Watch Dogs had dissipated as I watched Aiden take cover whilst shooting down thugs, and running over pedestrians as he fled a crime scene. Granted, that's not the only way you can play Watch Dogs. Ubisoft may be adhering to many of the genre's conventions, but there's enough of a twist to keep things fresh. Hacking opens up a whole new set of powers, making Aiden far more capable than Niko, but with a level of sophistication that Saints Row 4 is intentionally omitting. Aiden's hacking ability is really just wizardry given a technological coat of paint. You can--for one reason or another--interact with nearly everything in the world. For example, you can turn on random vehicles to distract guards. You can open and close any digitally-controlled door. You can take over security cameras and wi-fi hotspots to get a better look at your surroundings. You can even magically spawn new cover points by controlling conveniently located barricades. Aiden's powers will require the suspension of disbelief--but hey, you're in a video game and he regenerates health. One of the more intriguing uses of Aiden's digital powers is the ability to see quick summaries of every NPC in the world. Not only will you see their occupation and bank account info, you'll also get a snippet of revealing information: has a gambling debt, works at a children's zoo, HIV positive, etc. This profiling will also reveal "potential criminals" and "potential victims," letting you become a city-defending vigilante--if you wish. Like Infamous, Watch Dogs utilizes a notoriety system that reflects your choices. Although Ubisoft wants to focus on the "moral gray" of Aiden's abilities, it seems like a clear-cut representation of "good" and "bad." For example, running over random pedestrians will lower your reputation, while stopping an in-progress crime will raise it. And while you'll be able to play the game as dirty as you'd like, it's clear that being "good" will have its benefits. In the demo that I saw, a gunshop owner called the cops as a breaking news story on the TV identified Aiden as a suspect in a recent crime. Avoiding notoriety will undoubtedly prevent these hiccups in the future. While Watch Dogs is an undoubtedly pretty game, especially running on a high-end PC, it's clear to me now that it's absolutely possible on current-gen consoles. The game, at least in single player, doesn't appear as if it will be as revolutionary as I had hoped. Still, Ubisoft's digital Chicago looks like a fun playground to play in, and Watch Dog's world still intrigues me. Add, Watch Dog's still-unrevealed online mode could be a game-changer--transcending Ubisoft's latest from something much more than "GTA with cell phones."

Click to see six new screenshots

From The Chatty
  • reply
    May 10, 2013 6:00 AM

    Andrew Yoon posted a new article, Watch Dogs preview: Grand Theft OS.

    It's very clear what Watch Dogs is: it's Ubisoft's take on Grand Theft Auto, with a magical hacking twist.

    • reply
      May 10, 2013 6:39 AM

      Good, It looks like a fantastic game. If you're going to use another developers idea and build upon it in a unique way which benefits an experience, then that's fine with me.

    • reply
      May 10, 2013 7:04 AM

      This gives me the idea that a Ghost in the Shell take on GTA might play well. Think of the hacking gameplay that would be possible in a game like that in addition to the mayhem that would be typical for GITS translating to a game.

      • reply
        May 10, 2013 2:06 PM

        Maybe that's the game CD Projekt RED will end up making with Cyberpunk 2077.

    • reply
      May 10, 2013 7:45 AM

      Looks cool.

    • reply
      May 10, 2013 8:41 AM

      I'm not sure it matters that the car stealing stuff looks so GTA, if they can make the other gameplay substantially different. One thing I'd like to see for a game like this is a good wanted system. Vampire: Bloodlines is probably the only intense game about not breaking your cover that I can remember. GTA-likes with magically appearing pursuers that have follow-through-wall-AI-sight then you go to the hospital... it's never been entertaining to me.

    • reply
      May 10, 2013 8:49 AM

      I can't wait. And didn't they say that the PC was the lead development platform?

    • reply
      May 10, 2013 12:10 PM

      GTA+FC3 I hope.

      • reply
        May 10, 2013 2:13 PM

        I sincerely hop FC3 doesn't bleed into other titles. I found the whole approach to that game pretty bland.

    • reply
      May 10, 2013 12:23 PM

      Another 10 years or so and you won't be calling it "magical" abilities, just standard ones of high tech criminals and government agents.

    • reply
      May 10, 2013 2:25 PM

      Already on my pre order list, cant wait. Every preview and vid i see just makes me want it more.

Hello, Meet Lola