Watch Dogs: While the other Dogs are Sleeping…
As many of you know, today marks the release of Sleeping Dogs, an open world GTA/Saint’s Row-like game and, as we’ve seen already, this title is scoring well with reviewers. That said, it is another “Dogs” title I’d like to turn our attention to: Watch Dogs from Ubisoft Montreal, the team that brought you Assassin’s Creed, Far Cry, Prince of Persia, Splinter Cell, and Rainbow 6. A near-future action/stealth/espionage adventure, Watch Dogs has given us hope in the slow decline of this console’s generation, but we haven’t heard a thing about it since its surprising splash at E3. So why call attention to a game we have no new information about? I share my impressions of Watch Dogs because, two months later, this game still blows anything we’ve seen — or will see this year — completely out of the water.
Bringing You up to Speed
In case you’ve forgotten its gist, Watch Dogs is a third-person open-world game that’s set a few years from now in Chicago. Your character, Aiden Pierce, is a low-profile vigilante who uses gadgets, firearms, hand-to-hand, intel, and stealth to take down a vicious criminal network. Ubisoft Montreal has integrated cover-based game mechanics, a bullet-time firing mode, and stylized action moments that you’ve certainly come across during this console generation. If you like Mass Effect, Red Dead Redemption, Deus Ex, and/or Ubisoft’s own Assassin’s Creed, there’s a good chance you’ll be at home with Watch Dogs.
Watch Dogs may walk in its predecessor’s shoes, but it goes down a different path. Despite his combat, driving, and stealth skills, Aiden Pierce is at his best when knowledge is his weapon. With the proper intel, hacking device, or information gained from eavesdropping, Pierce can infiltrate and hack his way into traffic grids, public transportation, heavy security facilities, and, as seen in the E3 demo, personal devices. He can even calculate the probability that someone confronts him with violence.
The Next Generation…Now
So is a new gameplay mechanic what sets Watch Dogs apart from the other titles we’ve seen or will see this year? Yes, but what is more meaningful is how this game stands alone from anything we’ve seen in gaming at this point.
First, there are no currently available games that hold a candle to Watch Dogs’ graphical presentation. The character modeling, environmental effects, and large, but detailed sense of scale, are stunning. Ubisoft Montreal’s demo runs on PC and, although Epic Games and Crytek have wowed us with their newest graphical engines, the gaming industry has not given us that “next step” or graphics technology in a third-person game. Image what Watch Dogs will look like when played side by side with GTA and Saint’s Row.
Second, the premise of Watch Dogs has a relevance to our society today that may alter the course of the gaming industry altogether. In a time when security and surveillance have been adopted in many facets of the public sphere — corporate buildings, airports, sporting events, and even the streets — and in a time when technology influences how we live our lives, our society is fragile. Technology and security have exposed a variety of threats that games like Splinter Cell and Call of Duty: Modern Warfare have delved into, but they have never been made as available to an everyman like they are now with Aiden Pierce. From this, we get a protagonist that destroys a crime ring with minimal bloodshed, and when that core gameplay is accompanied by graphical brilliance and an occasional beatdown, it has a chance to permeate a title and evolve into a genre.
Lastly, Watch Dogs will make its mark because of the sum of its parts. What Ubisoft Montreal has cleverly executed is a less-traveled approach to advancing the storyline and finding Pierce’s way into the action. And when he’s not going John Marston in a gunfight or hiding in a crowd like Ezio, Pierce is engulfed in one of the richest worlds gaming will ever give us. Examine the NPCs’ body language, the characters’ facial expressions in the cinematics, and the way the vapor and dust kick up in the streets. We’ve seen glimpses of an immaculate presentation but never before were its elements tied together so well. It may not have the most original action gameplay mechanics or a plethora of dialogue options, but Watch Dogs has the full package.
We Can Only Wait
Despite announcing Watch Dogs’ availability on PS3, Xbox 360, and PC, Ubisoft has not given a release date but has projected a 2013 launch. Is Ubisoft aiming for a best-seller in 2013 while Sony and Microsoft are active with new hardware but behind closed doors? Based on the E3 interviews interviews, the developer’s objective is to focus on the game and not the platform or public “deadline.” That said, with our currently limited information and visuals, Watch Dogs could be a title that makes its way onto the next generation of consoles, but whether that leaves Xbox 360 and PS3 in the dust is still a mystery.
But it is mystery surrounding a game like this that will keep us hooked in for the months (or years) to come.
Images credited to watchdogs.ubi.com.